New York plans to make Regents exams optional, no longer needed for high school graduation

New York State's Education Department shared its official plan to sunset the Regents exams, the make-or-break tests required for a high school diploma.

Under the new plan presented at Monday's Board of Regents meeting, students would no longer need to pass the three-hour Regents exams to graduate. Regents would instead be offered to students who want to "demonstrate their proficiency in meeting the State’s learning standards."

New York students must earn 22 credits and pass at least four Regents exams for a Regents diploma. Students must pass at least seven state exams for the advanced diploma designation, seen as giving a boost to their college applications. The exams were first given in high school in 1878, and now, New York is in the minority of states that require exit exams to graduate from high school.

Efforts to nix the current state-level examination requirements were led by now-NYSED Commissioner Betty Rosa, who had argued that graduation rates remain stubbornly tied to by race, poverty and special needs.

"Why would we think that one single test is going to give us the results we need?" she asked FOX 5 NY's Jodi Goldberg in a November 2023 interview.

This file photo shows a student taking a test (Photo by Ben Hasty/MediaNews Group/Reading Eagle via Getty Images)

In 2019, a Regents-appointed commission of parents, students, educators, researchers and community leaders was launched "to explore what a New York State diploma should signify." 

The plan presented Monday is the state department's "vision to implement the [commission's] recommendations," which "are intended to ensure that all New York State public school students receive the educational opportunities and supports they will need to succeed in school and beyond."

Along with removing the Regents exams requirement, the NYSED proposed to adopt a "Portrait of a Graduate," meaning students must demonstrate that they are "critical thinkers," "culturally competent" and"global citizens" – among other proficiencies – to graduate.

The department also recommended redefining its credit system to align with this "Portrait" and moving to a system with only one diploma available to all public school graduates.

Critics of changing requirements worry that getting rid of the Regents could share the wrong message.

"I have a problem with the lack of standards and accountability. How do you measure their ability to succeed?" college advisor Andy Lockwood with Lockwood College Prep told FOX 5 NY.

"I agree younger students are over-tested, but I don’t think they’re being over-tested in high school," said Alan Singer, a professor of education at Hofstra University. "The exams shouldn’t be abandoned until after assessments are developed."

NYSED will conduct a series of public forums from July through October before presenting a projected timeline and other considerations to the Board of Regents in November. The board must approve any changes to New York State’s graduation requirements. In the meantime, existing graduation requirements, including the Regents, apply to all public school students.