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Gary Rubinstein's Blog: Why Don’t Success Academy High School Students Take Any Advanced Regents Exams?

Success Academy is a charter network with about 40 schools in the New York City area. They are known for their high standardized 3-8 test scores. Though it has been proved that their test scores are somewhat inflated by their practices of shedding their low performing students over the year and also by, at some schools, focusing exclusively on test prep in the months leading up to the tests, they still have these test scores to show their funders and the various charter school cheerleaders.

In June there was an article on the website of something called Albany Strategic Advisors, some kind of consulting firm about how well middle school students at Success Academy performed on four of the New York State Regents exams: Algebra I, Living Environment, Global History, and English. The last sentence of the second to last paragraph explains that these results are important because “Taking the exams in middle school allows students to take more advanced college preparatory courses in high school.”

These ‘more advanced college preparatory courses in high school’ include 10 other courses that have Regents exams including Geometry, Algebra II, Chemistry, Physics, US History, and Spanish. The minimum requirements for getting what is called ‘a Regents diploma’ in New York is one math Regents, one science Regents, one Social Studies Regents, and the English Regents. But to get an ‘Advanced Regents diploma’ you need all three maths and all three sciences and one foreign language Regents. Most competitive high school have their students take these other Regents which are known to be fairly straight forward tests with very generous curves.

About 8 years ago I noticed that there were no Regents scores for any of the other 10 exams in the Success Academy high school. Then 6 years ago I found that some of their students actually were taking some of the more difficult Regents but they were doing very poorly on them. And now, 6 years later, I checked up on them again to find that in the three Success Academy high schools which enroll a total of about 1,100 students from grades 9 to 12, they again do not have any scores for any of the Regents that are typically taken at competitive schools.

So why does this matter?

Well, Success Academy has spent eighteen years carefully cultivating their image. They want families to think that they have the highest expectations and that families should trust them to educate their children because those higher expectations will lead to those students learning the most. And we all know about their 3-8 state tests in Math and ELA. But it is pretty ‘odd’ that their students don’t take the more difficult Regents. The most likely reason for this is that Success Academy only wants information public that makes them look good and avoids any action that could reveal public data that reveals that they do not live up to their reputation. So I believe that they don’t allow their students to take the Regents because they believe that the scores on those Regents won’t be as impressive as their 3-8 state test scores compared to other schools. If I am right then this is an example of Success Academy choosing to preserve their inflated reputation over giving their students the opportunity to challenge themselves on these competitive exams.

This is important because Success Academy is held up as a model network that gets so much media attention every time ‘100%’ of their seniors are accepted to college and every time state test score results come out. It is kind of like the Lance Armstrong of charter schools. And when it was revealed that Lance Armstrong was actually not as good as he pretended to be, it was a big deal for sports writers to write about. But a thing like Success Academy’s lack of Regents scores is not something that any inquisitive professional writer about education in New York thinks to investigate. Perhaps there is a good reason that Success Academy does not have their high school students take the advanced Regents. We won’t learn that reason if nobody asks about it.

The New York Regents data I studied for this post can all be found here.


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Gary Rubinstein

Gary Rubinstein is a high school math teacher. He is the recipient of the 2005 Math for America Master Teacher Fellowship. ...