Teachers have long relied on past Regents examinations for increased understanding of curricula and as resources for classroom instruction. During the 1870's, the secretary of New York's Board of Regents recognized the influence of past examinations on teaching praxis and published books of prior Regents examination questions so that teachers and students would know what to study in their classes.
Throughout most of the 145 year history of Regents mathematics examinations, the examinations were elitist in nature. To sustain a Regents examination and earn a Regents diploma was to set yourself apart from the common. In the early days of the examinations, secondary education was primarily delivered through the old academy system of boarding schools that preceded the current era of modern high schools. Only the middle class elite attended these academies and all were required to take Regents examinations, because the Regents diploma was the only diploma recognized by the state.
During the first decade of the 20th century, New York enacted effective child labor and compulsory school attendance laws, and students of all social classes entered New York's secondary schools. As the composition of high school students was changing, the local option diploma was created in 1906. The local option diploma gave progressive educators the ability to design curricula to meet the needs of a changing studnent demographic, while ensuring that Regents examinations could continue as a form of elite academic credentials for students with superior skills, most of whom were associated with the middle class. This dual diploma system lasted for over 100 years, and is ending this year.
In 1996, the board of Regents implemented a decision (pre-NCLB) to require all students to sustain five Regents examinations in order to obtain a high school diploma. This decision will be fully implemented in the upcoming 2011-2012 academic year, when all general education students must sustain five Regents examinations with scores of 65 or higher in order to graduate. Between 1996 and the present, as Regents diplomas have become popularized, we have seen a tremendous decline in the credentials value of a Regents examination, and a corresponding decrease in the percentage of raw score points necessary to sustain an examination. The Integrated Algebra examination currently requires approximately 34% of the possible raw score points to sustain the examination, and half of these raw score points might be realized by chance on multiple choice probems.
Regents mathematics curricula have never strayed far from their roots in classical humanism, and most of the topics being tested today were also tested in curricula dating back to the 1800s. What we are teaching in today's Regents mathematics curricula isn't all that different from what we taught 100 years ago. What has changed is who is being required to learn the Regents curricula. What was once an elite middle class curricula is now a common curricula for all, and the past examinations that have long been availabe to elite middle class students are suddenly being framed as too expensive for a more inclusive population of students.
Does anybody really think this is about saving money? We went through two World Wars and a Great Depression without restricting access to previously administered Regents examinations. Money had to have been tight during those years, but the elite middle class students were still given access to previously administered examinations. We have already lost the value of the Regents examinations and the Regents diploma as elite education credentials.
We need to preserve the 145 year tradition of pubishing previously administered Regents examinations so that they can continue to inform teaching praxis and provide valuable teaching resources for classroom use.