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RAISING REGENTS STANDARDS IGNORES UNDERLYING PROBLEM

I am concerned with the general opinion about the new Regents standards. I agree there is a problem in education, but raising the standards will not address it.

People are saying that if kids can't cut it and pass the exam, then they get what they deserve by not graduating. I've heard that kids have graduated without basic skills and that the new standards will stop that from happening. I've read comments in The News from people patting themselves on the back about their "excelsior" districts, or how the Regents has always been a test of "minimal" competency.

All of this strikes me as slightly off-key. I've been working in alternative education for BOCES for seven years. I've taught many children from "excelsior" districts who couldn't read or write well enough to pass any Regents exam when they walked into my room. My colleagues and I gladly work with them and give them the skills they need. But get all of them to pass the new Regents? You've got to be kidding!

These are kids who sometimes have to worry about their next meal, or abuse at home. Is it honestly fair to expect them to struggle any harder than they already are? Don't these kids deserve a diploma if they acquire basic skills?

The Regents competency tests, the minimal standards that are being phased out, test basic skills at a relatively low level. That seems hard enough to me. But do kids really graduate without being able to read and write? How could they pass these tests, which do test literacy, and then forget the skills they needed to pass them? Consider this conversation I had with one of my students, who told me how difficult our summer school program was.

"Why's that Nakia?" I asked.

"Because, Mr. Christie, the teachers here don't give us the answers when we don't know them on the tests."

I thought she was kidding. She wasn't. Her mother confirmed what Nakia told me and also informed me that they had moved because the educational situation was so desperate in their former school district.

She said that she had received more attention from our program than she had ever received before on behalf of her children. I've also talked with teachers who assure me that they have been pressured by their administrators to fudge marks on state exams to ensure future state funding.

Now, I'm not a conspiracy theorist, nor do I believe that this happens in many schools. But I believe it probably does happen, and it would go a long way in explaining why some children graduate without basic skills.

Might attacking this problem be a better avenue of change than raising standards? Sure, many students can make this new standard, but what about those who can't? Are they undeserving of a diploma? Unless something is done about the new standards, capable students will not graduate and, magically, incapable students still will. What then?

Will someone finally call to task terrible teachers and administrators? Is accountability too much to ask for?

Must we continue to condone educational fratricide? Must we resign ourselves to a progression of unfairness in the educational arena? Must we watch our staggering system fall because of an idea that shoots so wide of the mark in addressing any problem that it's almost comical? Almost, but my kids aren't laughing.

PATRICK D. CHRISTIE, a teacher for BOCES, lives in Elma.

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