In New York State students in grades 3–8 take annual exams in English language arts and math, typically administered in April. Students in grades 4–8 also take a state exam in science.

One of the most controversial changes in education in New York State in the past decade was the introduction of new, more difficult tests, supposedly aligned with the Common Core State Learning Standards. For years, the tests were too easy—and children who graduated from high school ill prepared for college got a rude awakening. Now, the consensus seems to be that the tests—at least for reading—are too hard, too confusing or poorly constructed.

Some parents have responded by boycotting the tests: The “opt-out movement” in some parts of the city has frustrated education leaders who see the test as a crucial tool for evaluating schools. In 2016, the state responded to concerns that multiple days of on-the-clock testing produces stressed out kids by making the tests untimed. The Department of Education also parted ways with the unpopular test-making company Pearson, and brought on Questar Assessment Inc., a smaller company based in Minneapolis, beginning with the 2016–17 year.

Whatever the flaws of the tests given to children in 3rd–8th grade, they do give a rough approximation of which schools manage to bring their children up to a high level. The thing to remember is that the state standards represent a political decision, not necessarily an academic one. Test scores go up and down from year to year depending on decisions in Albany about how hard to make the tests. That’s why other measures like school culture, range of class offerings, class size and teacher satisfaction are so important. We have found that parents—and schools—who focus exclusively on the state tests, are usually missing something.

Regents Exams

High school students must pass five Regents exams to graduate: English, history, math, science and one other (usually a second history exam). For an Advanced Regents diploma, students must pass a foreign language exam, two additional math exams and one additional science exam. For more information see Graduation Requirements.