Suspend New York State Regulations requiring students to pass Regents exams in 2020-21 to graduate from high school.

Interim Commissioner Rosa, Vice Chancellor Brown, and Members of the Board of Regents

Last year, the New York State Education Department (NYSED) and the Board of Regents (BOR) cancelled Regents exams due to COVID-19 and changed graduation requirements so students could earn a diploma without these tests.

January 2021 Regents exams are cancelled, but New York has not yet determined whether June and August exams can be administered safely and equitably. We need NYSED and the BOR to act now to extend last year’s COVID-19 exemptions through August 2021 so we can plan for the rest of this school year and know what will be expected for high school graduation.

NYSED and the BOR have the power to take action now to ensure that--regardless of whether Regents exams are administered this summer for school accountability--students who meet all other graduation requirements will not lose their chance to earn a diploma because of COVID-19.

To: Interim Commissioner Rosa, Vice Chancellor Brown, and Members of the Board of Regents
From: [Your Name]

We are parents, students and educators from across New York State. As the COVID-19 pandemic rages on, we are writing to thank you for extending COVID-19 graduation exemptions to allow students to graduate without January 2021 Regents exams and to ask you to immediately suspend requirements that students pass Regents exams during the 2020-21 school year to graduate from high school.

Last school year, COVID-19 graduation exemptions reassured us that if students demonstrated mastery of State standards through their coursework – whether in-person, remote or hybrid – this pandemic would not affect their ability to graduate. We are asking you to extend last year’s COVID-19 exemptions through August 2021 because we need to plan now for the rest of this school year and know what will be expected this year for high school graduation.

We appreciate your decision to cancel January exams due to ongoing concerns about how to administer the tests safely, equitably and fairly, and understand that you have not yet decided whether to give exams in June and August. We also know that the federal Department of Education has not yet granted a waiver from state testing requirements under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), as it did last year. However, ESSA requires only that state tests be given, not that they be used for graduation. So, regardless of whether June and August Regents exams are ultimately administered, nothing prevents you from exempting students from the requirement to pass exams this year to graduate.

Extending COVID-19 exemptions now would let students and teachers focus on the work of teaching and learning, confident that students who meet all other graduation requirements will not lose their chance to earn a diploma because of COVID-19. Remote and hybrid instruction is challenging for all learners, and the inequities of remote learning have also been extensively documented. Students from all areas of New York--urban, suburban, and rural--have had a hard time finding reliable Wi-Fi, up-to-date technology, and even space at home to participate in a live class or to study quietly. For students with disabilities and families that speak languages other than English, remote learning is even more challenging. And as we move into winter, many of us are still dealing with the traumas of 2020 and our present circumstances; we are living through the loss of jobs by those close to us, declining mental and physical health, and for some of us, death of family members, friends, classmates, or co-workers.

Requiring students and teachers to prepare for high-stakes, in-person graduation tests--that may or may not be administered--is incredibly stressful and takes away from the work we are all doing to prepare young people for college, career and civic readiness. We are asking you to act now to remove this stress, to allow us all to plan for the year ahead, and to assure students across New York State that, if they complete their coursework successfully, they will be able to graduate without Regents exams this year.

Thank you for your consideration.