Board of regents seek changes in state tests

Rich Jacques

The New York Board of Regents is hoping to finalize next month significant changes to mandatory regents high school examinations, Regent Roger Tilles said at a public discussion on education issues with state Sen. Jack Martins last Thursday at Great Neck South High School.

Tilles, who is from Great Neck and has represented the board in the Tenth Judicial District since being first elected in 2005, explained that a recent study was done in New York City which showed kids who pass the mandatory regents tests with less than a 75 grade-point average are not ready for college-level courses and are in need of remediation.

Currently, students must pass five regents exams in algebra, global history and geography, U.S. history and government, comprehensive English and science with a score of 65 or higher to receive a regular high school diploma. To receive an advanced regents diploma, students must also pass additional exams in science, math exam a foreign language.

Tilles said raising passing requirements on regents math an English tests to 75 or 80 will improve flexibility for state students and provide benefits in several areas beyond the classroom.

According to Tilles, the board is also looking to expand the regents tests to art, economics and technology and let a child choose three regions other than math and English to pass the requirement.

“It makes it easier to develop an average and I think many people will benefit from that,” Tilles said. “It means that kids can go in the direction that their strengths are in.”

The regents exams, administered under the authority of the Board of Regents of the University of the State of New York, are prepared by teachers three years before issuance dates.

Elected by the Legislature, 17 regents are responsible for the general supervision of all state educational activities, presiding over the university and the state Department of Education.

In front of dozens of teachers, administrators, parents and students gathered in the Great Neck South library, Tilles and Martins discussed a number of education-related issues and welcomed questions from those in attendance.

The public discussion entitled “Education In New York State Today: An Update From Albany,” centered on the impact of state budgetary and legislative policy on local school districts.

“These are our schools and that is what we are here to talk about tonight,” said Great Neck Superintendent of Schools Thomas Dolan, the moderator of the event.

Regarding the current state of the budget, Martins, R-Mineola, said the governor sets the tone when it comes to preparing and presenting the budget, but it’s up to legislators to “put a human face on it.”

“When there are things that perhaps the governor has cut that should not be cut, it’s up to the Legislature to bring to the governor’s attention.” Martins said.

Martins said the state must find ways to provide quality education and state aid without creating an education gap between those school districts that are well funded and those which rely heavily on state aid.

The first-term Republican lawmaker said he expects cuts across the board in the coming months.

“The question is whether those cuts will be made with a machete or a scalpel,” said Martins.

Tilles said regents have a two-fold mission: to close the gap and make sure all of are capable of coping with the responsibilities of work after graduation.

“When you devote all of your resources to one it’s hard to focus on the other,” Tilles said.

With commercial property contributing twice the amount to the tax roles of any county in the state, Tilles said Nassau County’s classification system has gotten out of whack.

“There’s a tremendous amount of revenue coming into districts like Great Neck without people voting on it,” said Tilles. “Nassau County is the only one in the state where tax refunds go back and are paid by the county and not the school district that they are in.”

Tilles said with such a situation, people from places like Roosevelt help to pay the refund for Great Neck.

“In essence they end up helping to pay Great Neck’s bill,” said Tilles. “I think it’s our responsibility to look at those that are not so lucky.”

As chairman of the local governments committee, Martins said in the next two or three weeks there will be items voted on that have to do with a number of different mandates.

“I am looking at mandate relief as it applies to local governments,” he said.

Martins said he anticipates a “rather spirited and healthy debate” in Albany on pension reform and contributions to health care, which have impacted the Great Neck Union Free School District budget for 2011-12.

“It’s important to realize that they are being discussed,” Martins said. “Before anyone gets alarmed, they are being discussed and I think it’s important to realize that they are being discussed/”

The two guest speakers differed somewhat regarding solutions to the relationship between property tax cap and state mandates.

“I voted for it and I believe that it’s important, especially during these tough economic times, that there has to be a real commitment towards limiting the growth of expenses as they are passed on to out taxpayers,” Martins said.

He said every homeowner is paying for pension benefits, but often times they themselves do not have health care or pensions.

“I think we need to re-evaluate how that works in the spirit of shared sacrifice,” Martins said. “When we do have people who are not contributing and are receiving, we have to consider whether or not it is fair as a basic principle to continue to ask out taxpayers to bear the expense of increasing pensions and increasing health care. There should be a contribution that comes from the employees themselves.”

Tilles said the governor is doing the right thing in calling for reforms in pension and health care “but I don’t think all of these reforms of education in terms of financing, when you are talking about eliminating mandates or reducing mandates should come at the expense of two mandates.”

“I have a real problem with trying to put a cap on superintendents salaries,” Tilles said.

The state board of regents will be calling districts to work on new evaluations for teachers who will be required to achieve and effectively maintain a state teaching certificate in an effort to keep the tenure system in place while improving the overall quality of teachers statewide, according to Tilles.

“Teachers deemed inefficient will lose there certificate,” he said.

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Rich Jacques

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