Administrator tells school board drop in chemistry Regents caused by test inexperience, difficulty, open enrollment

An administrator told the Pelham school board the 21-percentage-point drop in students attaining proficiency in the 2022 chemistry Regents examination was the result of inexperience with the state tests, their difficulty and the  district’s open enrollment policy.

“This particular cohort of students who took the chemistry Regents did not have prior Regents experience,” said Dr. Alice Bowman, assistant superintendent for teaching and learning, during the Sept. 7  board of education meeting. In the previous two school years, the Regents were not administered because of the Covid-19 pandemic, and last year’s was the first when the students enrolled in the class had to take one of the state examinations, she said. Many students were not accustomed to lab requirements, double periods or standardized tests as a whole, she said. 

The day before the school board meeting, the Pelham Examiner reported for the first time that high school students attaining proficiency on the chemistry exam fell to 67% from 88% from 2019 to 2022. Overall, Pelham high school and middle school students reaching proficiency dropped in seven of eight Regents tests this year, with the largest declines coming in geometry, chemistry, earth science and high school algebra I, the Examiner reported after reviewing data from the school district obtained via a Freedom of Information Law request.

Bowman told the school board that Pelham’s policy of open enrollment was also a cause of the recent Regents exam scores. “As time goes on, more and more districts do not have open enrollment to these courses,” said Bowman, while Pelham’s policy allows students of any academic level to challenge themselves in Regents courses such as chemistry and geometry.

Because chemistry is not required for graduation, “the rubrics designed to grade the exams, and the exams themselves are more rigorous,” said Bowman. (A student needs to pass one science exam for a Regents diploma.) She did not go into detail in addressing the drops in proficiency on the other 2022 tests.

Superintendent Dr. Cheryl Champ reviewed the opening of school, saying many of the changes made because of the pandemic had ended and the schools were returning to their normal, pre-Covid procedures.

Parent-teacher conferences and open houses will be in person. After a positive Covid-19 test, five days of isolation will be required and then students and staff may return to the building in a mask for the next five days, Champ said. 

With the schools shifting back to normal, the district hopes to address problems that were made worse by the pandemic, she said. The cafeteria in Pelham Memorial High School leaves many students without a place to sit, with some resorting to eating on stairways or on staircase landings, which crowds the building in tight places.

“I think with Covid and all the spacing requirements, that definitely put that into a new light for all of us,” said Champ. With PMHS an open campus for grades 10, 11 and 12 this year, the superintendent said she and her cabinet aim to direct their focus on managing space for all high schoolers during their lunch periods. Last year, the open-campus privilege was extended to freshmen, while this year it is not.

Assistant Superintendent of Business Jim Hricay described work done on the buildings over the summer. District-wide, all buildings were cleaned and floors waxed, and parking, play and safety lines were repainted. All of the locks at Hutchinson Elementary School were installed, and a teacher’s room at Siwanoy Elementary School was renovated with repurposed cabinets.

The next board of education meeting will be held on Sept. 28 at 7:30 p.m. in the Pelham Middle School library.