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To Help the Regents' Exam, Maybe They Should Bring Back the Regents' Prayer

Like many other things in public education, the New York state Regents’ exams for its high school students aren’t working as planned:

The big story in New York education circles is the further confirmation of what longtime critics have alleged: that the feel-good story of rising student test scores over the last several years is largely an illusion produced by dumbed-down tests. David Steiner, appointed State Education Commissioner last year, believes that the system has led to “systemic grade inflation.” Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch agreed and enlisted Harvard testing expert Daniel Koretz to evaluate the state exams. On July 19, a preliminary report, based on Koretz’s findings, revealed that the jump in state test-score results over the past four years was indeed too good to be true: improved test results, it turned out, didn’t mean that more students were adequately prepared for high school or college.

Unfortunately, the story of New York’s testing mess doesn’t end at the elementary-school level. The state’s once-vaunted Regents exams, given to high school students, have long since become a shell of their former selves. Success on them signifies little—certainly not the ability to excel in college. Teachers have been complaining about this problem for years.

Good students of American history (of which there are fewer, thanks to our inadequate teaching of the subject) will remember that it was the New York Regents’ Prayer that was was the issue in the 1962 Supreme Court case Engle v. Vitale, which ejected open prayer from public schools.

Unfortunately that case and its progeny have engendered the illusion that, if we pursue religous cleansing in our public schools, they will be better.  We have and they are not.  Until we focus on what’s really important in public education, the results we have will continue.


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