Easing immigrants’ test-taking burden


When Maimouna Haidaia emigrated from Guinea in West Africa to the U.S. in 2010, she spoke little English.

Four years later, as a senior at the Kennedy campus’ ELLIS Preparatory Academy, she speaks English with ease. Still, taking the English and math Regents Examinations came as a struggle.

Ms. Haidaia and educators at ELLIS hope a recently revised Regents policy will boost graduation rates.

In May, the Department of Education approved a partial Regents waiver for institutions like ELLIS that are in the Internationals Network for Public Schools, a group of schools for English language learners who have been in the country for four years or less and who score low on English language tests at the time they applied to high school.

As of this year, students still must pass the math and English Regents exams in order to graduate. But instead of taking history and science Regents tests as well, students must complete a portfolio and capstone project in each of those subjects. The idea is to prioritize a hands-on approach over test-based learning. 

“I think it’s great, compared to the years we had to take four Regents,” said Ms. Haidaia, 22, who added that the change in policy will allow her to hone her focus on English and math. “It’s a relief, a little bit, for me.”

Jeremy Heyman, a college access counselor at ELLIS, said the new measures increase the fairness and validity of assessing students, particularly those who are still learning English, who come from low-income household or both.

While ELLIS students will still receive Regents training, the portfolio assessments paint a more “holistic picture” of their learning, according to the educator.

“It gives the students less of these high school tests to focus on,” Mr. Heyman added.  

Senior Nelsa Rosario, who passed her English and science Regents last year but has to retake the math exam, said some students complained about having to complete portfolios in classes for which they had already taken the Regents. That is the case for her with physics. Her project in that subject focuses on building a hypothetical bridge over the Delaware River.

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