Regents mull writing requirement
On Board Online • April 29, 2013
By Cathy Woodruff
New York’s high school students could be required to write a five-page research paper in order to earn a Regents diploma under a proposal being considered by the Board of Regents.
High school students would need to cite a minimum of four sources for information included in the 1,250-word paper. Starting in January 2015, the writing project would be required before taking the new Common Core-aligned version of the English Language Arts Regents exam, which students typically take at the end of their junior year.
Deputy Commissioner Ken Slentz told Regents board members at their April meeting that the research paper is envisioned as an opportunity for students to show proficiency in Common Core writing standards and demonstrate college and career readiness in ways that cannot be measured in traditional exams because of time constraints.
“One of the key components required of the Common Core is having a depth of understanding and, certainly, a skill development around research,” Slentz said. “The literacy skills, in general, are critical to students being successful (and) the research component is something that we really can’t over-emphasize.”
Slentz described the research paper requirement as a technique “to tease out where students are in their skills and what they are able to do.”
While the proposal would put the main responsibility for coordinating each student’s Regents research project with an English teacher, Slentz said students could be encouraged to consider topics in other areas, such as science, math or social studies, as subjects for their papers.
Commissioner John B. King Jr. described the research paper as another way to help ensure that students have a chance to catch up in areas where they are deficient before leaving high school, rather than finding out that they need remedial help after they already have arrived at college and are paying tuition.
“We’d rather do that remediation in 11th grade or 12th grade than in college and have the students and their families pay for that,” King said. “Telling them that they are ready when they’re not, and then having them make that discovery in their freshman year, seems unfair.”
A recent survey by ACT, a nonprofit educational testing company, indicated that 89 percent of high school teachers who responded said their students were either “well prepared” or “very well prepared” for college-level work, but only a quarter of college instructors shared that view of student readiness.
Slentz said the research paper requirement is part of the State Education Department’s proposed strategy to help close that gap.
The Regents’ discussion of the research paper took place in the context of a discussion about the timeline for phasing in curriculum content tied to the Common Core standards and new Common Core versions of the high school Regents exams to replace those based on standards set in 2005.
According to that proposed timeline, students entering ninth grade next fall would take English classes aligned with the Common Core and eventually would take a Common Core version of the Regents exam. Students who entered ninth grade in this school year or earlier would have a choice of taking an ELA Regents exam aligned with the Common Core or a “comprehensive exam” aligned with the 2005 core curriculum.
Students entering ninth grade next fall would be the first to take Regents-level math exams in Algebra II, Geometry and Algebra II aligned with the Common Core. Students who entered high school this year or before would typically have a choice between math exams aligned with the old standards or with the new ones.
The Regents could act on the research paper proposal and the recommended timeline for Common Core-aligned Regents exams as soon as June, but several Regents indicated they may want more time to consider how the research paper requirement would be introduced and what sorts of instructional support will be provided for teachers.
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