ALBANY -- Students who had planned to take a Regents exam this June as part of their high school diploma requirements will be exempt from passing the now-canceled exams, achieving the graduation requirement by passing the class instead.
State Education Chancellor Betty Rosa on Monday announced the June Regents exams will be canceled and on Tuesday state officials released a five-page guidance memo outlining exemptions for students who have not already passed their required Regents exams.
Students may meet the exam requirement by passing the course associated with a particular exam or by passing the course over the summer.
The exemptions granted amid the school closures set to last until at least April 29 were welcomed by various education interest groups. In a statement, Robert Schneider, executive director of the New York State School Boards Association, said students across the state "can breathe a collective sigh of relief" on Tuesday.
"No student should be denied course credit or a high school diploma or otherwise penalized due to these extraordinary circumstances," Schneider said in the statement. "[The state guidance] focuses on ensuring learning outcomes and standards, rather than on testing. In our view, that is the proper focus."
Andy Pallotta, president of New York State United Teachers, in a prepared statement called the state's new guidelines "the right decisions that will allow our students and their families to first and foremost focus on being safe and healthy without having to stress about preparing for traditional end-of-year exams this June."
The special exemptions largely leave the fate of students in the hands of teachers and administrators who will determine whether students have achieved a passing grade to earn the diploma credit that will fill the place of passing the Regents exam. Educators last month were granted leeway to grant students a passing course credit even if not all subject material is covered in a class due to school closures.
As state officials have responded with a litany of changes to schedules and requirements in recent weeks, educators have eagerly awaited word on what would become of the Regents exams, one of the most closely watched education topics in the state due to their outsized importance in students graduating.
"Everybody is waiting with baited breath to see what the state is going to say this afternoon," Schenectady High School guidance counselor Earl Barcomb said Tuesday morning during an interview on a separate topic. He said once the state released specifics of the new requirements, school leaders and educators would set about figuring out where each student stood and what the new standards would mean for them.
"That will be all hands on deck," he said.
The state guidance outlines how students can earn an advanced diploma by scoring a calculated average of 90 or above on all exams that apply to their diploma. The guidance also informs districts that state officials will follow up with a special process for recording students as utilizing "COVID-19 Exemptions" as part of their diploma.
The exemptions will also allow students as early as seventh grade to replace the exam requirement by passing the course; a seventh-grader, for instance, who passed the Regents Algebra course but was unable to take the June exam will be exempt from having to pass that particular Regents exams. High school juniors who are taking Regents English language arts this year and will not be able to take the test in June will be exempt from passing that particular test if they pass the course; they will not have to take the test, or the course, as a senior.
Students across the state are required to pass four or five Regents exam, with some exceptions, to earn a high school diploma. While many students have passed the required exams by the end of their junior year, others are still working to pass the exams through the end of their senior year, sometimes walking across their graduation stage just days after passing their final exams.
“It is most important that during the time of closure, educators be able to continue to focus their efforts toward local school and community needs and not have to be concerned about preparing students for state assessments,” according to the state guidance.
The steps to exempt students from this spring's Regents exams comes as state education officials were moving forward with a broad review of the state's graduation measures. Prior to the onset of the pandemic, the state Education Department had started hosting public forums and sought input on how to best measure students' progress toward and diploma and what should and should not be included in diploma requirements. A broad reconsideration of the Regents' slate of mandatory high school exit exams was underway.
Education advocates and some members of the Board of Regents in recent years have pressed to allow new ways for students to demonstrate academic proficiency through portfolios, special projects and measures other than testing.