In New York State the standardized tests for high school students are called ‘The Regents Exams.’ The first Regents exams were administered way back in 1866 and they have been one of the more successful examples of a standardized testing program in the country.
Like all standardized tests, the Regents exams serve many purposes. One is to make sure that students in all schools are learning mostly the same things in their courses. In more recent times the Regents have also served as a basis for ‘growth’ and ‘value-added’ scores on which to evaluate (and close) schools and to evaluate (and fire) teachers.
The Success Academy Charter Network is the education reformer poster child on the basis of their 3-8 Math and ELA test scores. Though the vast majority of Success Academy students are in elementary school, there are a small number of students in their only high school. Their oldest students are in eleventh grade and there are at most twenty students in that cohort.
In New York State students at nearly all the schools need to pass five Regents exams to receive what is known as a Regents diploma. If they pass nine Regents exams, they get something called an Advanced Regents diploma. There are 28 schools in New York, known as The Consortium Schools, that have gotten permission to have their students exempt from taking the Regents exams as a graduation requirement. Those school have been permitted to use other assessments and things like portfolios and projects instead. Success Academy, to my knowledge, is not a Consortium School.
Success Academy has gotten so much attention (and money) for their high 3-8 test scores that it is only natural to wonder how the few older students they have in their schools have fared after 8th grade. One thing we know is that Success Academy eighth graders have not done well on the specialized high school entrance exam to gain admissions to one of the eight specialized high schools. They have had three cohorts of students take the entrance exam and the first two cohorts had no students gain admission and the third cohort had six students out of two hundred eligible gain admission to one of the eight specialized high schools.
Last year I checked to see how their students had done on the Regents exams and was unable to find their scores on the public data site. I made some calls to the state, but they said they did not have the scores or know how to get them. This year I tried to find their 2016 Regents scores and also had no luck. I speculated that either Success Academy is not reporting their Regents scores or that maybe their students are not taking the Regents.
After my last post about this, I have learned from two credible sources that Success Academy students do not take the Regents exams. So one mystery is solved, but an even bigger one rises to take its place: Why don’t Success Academy High School students take the Regents exams?
I have three theories:
Theory 1: They think that the test prep they do for the 3-8 tests will not work for the Regents exams and that their students will bomb these tests so they got permission for their students to not have to take them so it doesn’t become public knowledge that their students peaked in 8th grade.
Theory 2: Since ‘growth scores’ that evaluate schools and teachers are based on how high school students perform on the Regents relative to their scores on the 8th grade tests, Success Academy would risk getting low ‘growth scores’ since their students do so well on 8th grade tests so even average Regents scores could lead to low ‘growth scores’ which would be a blemish on their reputation.
Theory 3: When Regents data from a school is reported and posted on the public data site, a lot of other information comes along with it, like the breakdown of how students in the different subgroups scored. Since Success Academy is so secretive about their data, having all these numbers to analyze could reveal something they are trying to hide.
Whatever the actual reason is that Success Academy does not have their high school students take the Regents exams, it is certainly not for the benefit of the students. Reformers are supposed to be all about ‘exposure to rigor’ and things like that. In some states they even force students to take the AP exams and even when students do poorly, the districts brag about how the number of test takers has increased and they are doing students a service with their ‘exposure to rigor.’
For Success Academy, the champions of the standardized tests, to evade ‘accountability’ by not having their own students take the Regents exams is one of the more ironic things I have ever seen in my years following the modern education ‘reform’ movement. Who would have ever guessed that the highest profile ed reformer of them all, Eva Moskowitz, would be such a fierce proponent of the opt-out movement?