31 Reasons Why We Eliminated Regents Exams

Back in October 2009, at the request of my principal, I gave a presentation to the Board of Education in order to convince them (and the community) that our students and teachers would benefit tremendously if the Board would free them from the pressure of preparing for non-essential Regents exams. In the end, the Board agreed and supported our decision. This article from the local paper has all the details:

I created a lengthy packet responding to many concerns the Board might have. It included research articles about depth vs. breadth, Modeling Instruction, examples of projects, and a sample of my standards-based grading system. I even color-coded the pages for easy reference. Here it is, I hope you find something useful in it:

But what did my students think of this type of instruction? Did they resent the fact that they couldn’t get an “A” by filling in worksheets? Did students complain that I wasn’t giving notes or lecturing them everyday? Did students loathe coming to class because I made them work together in order to figure physics out on their own instead of reading a textbook? So, like every good teacher should, I asked my students to fill out a survey. Here are their responses:

Consider the fact that since there is no Regents exam for the course, we can now spend more time on activities and discussions and working problems in class. For example: the videos you made for the Mythbuster labs, the egg catcher project, the Kobe lab, the tug-of-war analysis, and all the whiteboard discussions that went with these activites. If we had the exam, we would not have had time to do most of these activities. What do you like/dislike about this type of instruction? Do you think this has had a worthwhile impact on your learning and understanding of physics? Give an example.

  1. I enjoy how different this class is compared to any other class I have ever had throughout my entire school career. I enjoy how, instead of going over, with lectures, our majority of class time is used for hands on labs, which I find to be more effective learning than lectures.
  2. I really liked those activities because that is what actually made me learn. I don’t get things when they are first explained, so the labs and activities solidified what the lesson taught, and got me to understand what we were learning. I can now relate what we learn in physics to real life, which is something I probably wouldn’t be able to do if we didn’t do those activities. I probably would be doing a lot worse in this class had we not done them.
  3. I like that we get to design and test our own experiments to learn the facts/stipulations of each topic/law. This is definitely a new type of learning for me but it is the best learning I have done.
  4. I like this a lot better because there is a lot less pressure to get stuff in rather than to actually focus on learning the material. When we can go more in depth to learn I feel it is much more effective.
  5. I like that we are able to focus on more “physics” and not have to spend time on what the exam expects us to learn. The labs make it easier to understand the physics behind everyday activities. I think that these labs have impacted my learning and understanding for the better because I am a very visual learner.
  6. What i like about this type of instruction is that it allows us to learn through labs and we can perform the activities to learn it better. Yes i do think it will have a worthwhile impact because when i think back to the labs i can remember why we did them and what they taught us.
  7. I think that this method of instruction is definitely worthwhile. It is better to learn in more detail about fewer things than to cover too many things not as well. I like doing applications and labs because it makes the class fun and makes physics interesting. I look forward to doing fun things in physics!
  8. I love when we do experiments like the Egg Catcher Project, because it gives us free reign to create something and then compare it to numbers and formulas. The whiteboard discussions are different from the traditional “put your answers on the board” in that we can really see what went wrong and explain our understanding. I feel as though we learn through the explanations we have to give and the little question prompts you give us. I feel as though I would be drowning under all of the terms and relationships if we did not connect them to something hands on. Science is much harder to learn when it’s all textbook and dry labs. It’s great to be able to explore before we actually get the equations.
  9. I really like that there is more freedom in the curriculum of the class. The lessons are more fun, and focus on applying the things we learn to real life situations. This is worthwhile because seeing how these things are used in real life helps me to understand the topic.
  10. I think this type of instruction makes the class much more fun and enjoyable to everyone. the fact that we don’t have the regents allows the class to spend more time on the topics so that everyone can learn physics more in depth as opposed to rushing through topics to meet the curriculum for the regents. It also helps in that for students who have trouble with certain topics, they have more time to understand the subject and learn how it is done.
  11. I really do like the fact that there is no Regents exam at the end of the year! Every time I have a class with a Regents exam at the end of the year i feel like the other reason we are doing anything is just for a test, instead of for the idea of learning. With this new system you get to show us more examples, and get more detailed about every topic. I understand the material better now that we have focused less on the regents then in the beginning of the year when it was all about just learning for it.
  12. Physics can be fun. I’ve been in classes that only prepare you for a final assessment (AP World History). It was not fun. It was awful. This is not awful; I enjoy the projects and also get to see some real-life applications of the material. Also an idea that I like very much.
  13. I think it shows that physics is far more applicable to everyday problems and concepts then we otherwise would have seen. In chemistry, we mixed obscure and generally not household items together, making it seem distant and inapplicable to everyday life. I have had more fun having a slightly less formal and curriculum bound class then I would have with a rigorous class bent on taking a state exam that proves little about our actual knowledge at the end of the year.
  14. I like the hands on learning activities, because it helps us explore the properties of physics ourselves, without just being taught it and having to take notes.
  15. I enjoyed these types of instructions because again, it was unique among most classes. What made it unique was how we had multiple labs for one subject that we are learning, labs that are simple and yet effective. We would then go over these labs as a class, and share our knowledge of the lab.
  16. I believe that not having the reagents this year really makes this class more exciting and a class to look forward to, because there is no pressing appointment to struggle through work for a state test.
  17. I like this type of instruction very much because it is hands-on and allows the students to practice the material almost everyday. Another plus is that these activities are usually fun and we get to work with/meet new people.
  18. I like this type of instruction more than I like regents style instruction. I am not fond of Regents type material, and I like the interactive learning we do in class. These labs are a fun way of learning physics that Regents style lessons are not.
  19. I think that not just having you teach to the Regents test is totally beneficial to the learning in the class as a whole. I think that Regents exams are generally a waste of time and energy, and learning through labs and practical application is much more helpful.
  20. Because we don’t have the regents we are able to learn things we normally wouldn’t have been able to.
  21. This system was absolute beneficial to the students. I think the egg catcher was the most fun I’ve had in class all year. Plus, studying for the Test would require us to cover less interesting topics, I’m sure. In general, I like that we have a more hands-on approach to learning physics.
  22. In general, I enjoy these activities. The idea of Regents exams in general is bothersome to me, because they simply encourage the teaching of a narrow range of material; I like that we actually apply the concepts we learn in class to meaningful activities.
  23. I like hands on activities, especially the egg catcher project, they are helpful and are more enjoyable than lecturing
  24. This is definitely better, because the class doesn’t feel defined by a rigid schedule like some other classes. Also, the examples we learn about seem more relevant to life.
  25. I do enjoy these activities and being able to learn without the Regents curriculum is certainly a relief. I like that we often relate physics to everyday life with these activities. These activities are far more enjoyable than just simple lectures.
  26. It does have a very worthwhile impact on my understanding of physics. I would not believe some of the things we have learned this year if it wasn’t for the real life examples that were shown in these activities.
  27. I love the hands on type of class we have without the regents. I feel like the class is a lot more free and we can explore the topics that interests us the most.
  28. I like that you don’t have to teach to an arbitrary and standardized test, as it allows us to focus on things that are both more interesting and more fun to learn about. It also makes the learning process less stressful.
  29. I like the activities that we do in class because I learn better when its very hands on. This is better because we work together and we get to do work other than just listening to the teacher lecture.
  30. I like this a lot, not following a strict NYS standard lab helps kids to be able to grasp physics in interesting ways. A lot of the NYS labs are boring and don’t catch anybody’s interest therefore making them unfocused on the actual physics of it. I think physics is really cool and being able to explore it in ways that I want to makes me a lot more intrigued.
  31. The only thing I dislike is that I generally do very well on regents, and now I don’t have the chance to use my skill.

You gotta love that last one!

12 responses to “31 Reasons Why We Eliminated Regents Exams

  1. Not sure I understand what this means. I take it the Regents exam is the NY state content standards test at the end of the year? I teach in California and we have the CST (California Standards Test, sometimes known as STAR test). Is what you did like me not having to have my students take the physics CST? If so, from the state’s point of view, how do they know you’re teaching to the standards? It’s hard to imagine a project can show that. Yeah, I know it’s debatable whether a multiple-choice test is any more accurate haha.

    • I teach in NY where a Regents Exam is a state-wide end-of-course exam. There are exams in numerous subjects, but as the newspaper article pointed out, only 5 are required from graduation. (Physics, specifically, is not required, but all students must take at least 1 science exam — typically Earth Science in 9th grade.) Many schools in NY use the Regents Exam as the final exam for a course. However, that means covering the content of the exam. That also means exam prep so kids understand the style of the questions on the exam, etc.

      For the physics exam, there’s a lot of breadth but not much depth. I personally would rather give up the topics in modern physics and use that time for more inquiry and depth in other areas. As far as standards go, I would argue that all the work my students throughout the year is a testament to the standards we cover. To me, that demonstrates more than one paper-and-pencil final exam.

  2. Frank,

    Congrats on affecting real change at your school. As a novice modeler and SBG teacher, I find a lot of inspiration in the things you share here and on Twitter.

    I’ve been working on a proposal to change the physics curriculum at our school from a year one-honors/year two – AP C: Mechanics sequence to a year one-honors mechanics/year two- AP C: E&M. I’ve been using Modeling and Sadler’s research as the basis for the discussion. Do you mind if I use some of the resources you’ve created as well as your story of success?

    • Brian,

      Great to hear you want to make changes at your school, too. Feel free to use whatever you want, that’s why I put it out there. I personally know a teacher who does year one AP Mech and year two AP E&M with great success, and he’s a modeler to boot! I can put you in touch if you’d like. Keep me abreast of how everything goes this year!

  3. I’m glad to hear you can get away from the Regent’s exam. I’ve looked at several old copies of that test for various science courses. I’ve gotten some good ideas, but on the whole, I was glad this exam isn’t given in North Dakota. I felt that there was too much focus on specific, technical detail and vocabulary and not enough about the broad themes of the various sciences.

    Sadly, many seem to believe that education means regurgitation of definitions and not understanding. I’m glad you’re resisting this belief and it reaffirms my efforts to do the same.

  4. I wished that Georgia would get rid of the regents exams i t only prevents others from moving to the next step in completing education. There has to be more than one version because i have taken the test twice failed it by 2 0r 3 points and neither test has been the same

    • Betty, I did not know that state universities in Georgia required undergraduates to take state exams to graduate. Sound like the exams are different every year, just like the high school Regents exams here in New York.

  5. I’m a NY high school student and it infuriates me that many regents are being dropped. I am not a hands-on learner. I am good at reading books and listening to lectures and understanding. The survey from your students indicate ‘fun’ and ‘excitement’… forgive me, but I don’t go to school because it tickles me pink. I go because learning skills will prepare me for life. They don’t have to be fun. Without the regents, there will be no way to compare yourself to other students–and, no offense to people who think we shouldn’t be compared, but I intend on climbing to the top. The Regents exams are a way to keep the class on task and weed out the students who just don’t care about success.

    • Lorelai, I don’t think the exams are meant to “weed out.” Academic success is not zero sum – we hope as many students as possible enter into adulthood with a full bag of tools – what you do with those tools will keep you busy for years to come. You have plenty of time and opportunity to distinguish yourself. You clearly care about your education, keep at it!

    • Lorelai,
      Excelling at exam writing does not mean that you have learned anything. Regurgitating information learned from a lecture is not a life skill.
      Good grades do not equate success.
      Rarely in life are there “right answers” or we are give all the information we need to solve a problem. “[R]eading books and listening to lectures” are not going to teach you problem solving skills. You learn problem solving skills by doing (i.e. hands-on activities).
      The problem with Regent exams (and other like them) is often students are taught to pass a test rather than truly understand the material.
      Loreali, I have taught students like you before and often they resist hand-on learning because they do not excel at it. It bothers them that they aren’t at the top of the class and getting the grades they are used to.

    • You’ve nailed it, Lorelai! You’ve got it very right. Our schools provide a mechanical method for systematically separating students. I’m impressed that you are so serious about finding success for yourself, and frankly, acing school, getting good at following directions, passing tests, and looking “top-notch” are the most well-established methods for reaching the Ivy league schools and the upper crust. I truly do not blame you!

      On the other hand, our world is changing drastically, and this will not do in the end. You no longer need to go to Harvard to _______. The changing world is creating miles of new pathways to success. You talk about separating yourself, which is a legitimate view, but the key is being “remarkable.” Everyone is realizing more and more that mastering the core curriculum, meeting standards, and passing tests are far from remarkable.

      My hope is that schools will begin to personalize learning and get kids to make themselves remarkable in ways that are their own.

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts. You’re valued here.

  6. Oh man, Frank. I am seriously jealous. I wish we had that same freedom in California. Perhaps our bid for a waiver will afford us the opportunity for restructuring our curriculum to allow for more depth. Thanks for your thorough response to my comment.

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