Let Beacon be Beacon: Why PBA Week Should Continue

By Anna Mintzer

The student government’s calendar, indicating the start of PBA week on January 21st.

Editors’ note: Since the original publication of this piece, Beacon has announced a modified PBA week schedule. You can read the Principal’s statement here.

As the semester comes to a close and the end of January approaches, the topic on nearly every Beacon student’s mind is Performance-Based Assessments — PBAs. The DOE announced that Regents week, which normally corresponds with PBA week, has been canceled. This has radically changed the trajectory of the end of the Fall semester. Instead of the PBAs that students expected, there is a major possibility that students will be required to attend classes the entire week. 

According to New York State Education Commissioner Betty A. Rosa, the State canceled the January Regents Examinations because it would be impossible to administer them “safely, equitably, and fairly.” This makes sense because students who feel ill should not feel pressured to come to school to take a mandatory test. But this logic cannot be applied to PBAs at Beacon; students who feel ill have the ability to ask their teacher if they can make up the PBA at a different time, or do it virtually. 

PBAs also differ from Regents Examinations because they are not one-size-fits-all tests. Beacon teachers use their discretion to create a PBA based on what they believe students can produce at the end of a semester. PBAs encompass a variety of end-of-semester projects. Although some teachers may require a more formal math exam or a brief conversation for a language class, other teachers will arrange a 15-minute conversation about your growth in the class or a small group discussion in which you argue a point that you wrote about in an essay. 

Because of the pandemic, about half of the students at Beacon have not taken an official PBA. Many students may be asking why they should jump to defend, what are essentially midterms. The answer to that question is that PBAs are essential to the identity of our school. Beacon High School is part of the NYC consortium of schools that uses PBAs as measures of progress, rather than finals and Regents. Removing PBA week undermines Beacon’s mission. Teachers have built their curriculums on the assumption that students would have a PBA week in January and June. Mr. Anderson, a history teacher, explained at the SLT meeting on January 12, 2022: “Any PBA week that is short of the PBA week that Beacon has adhered to in the almost 10 years that I’ve been here prior to the pandemic–and the almost 26 years that Beacon has existed–is unacceptable.”  

 Continuing PBA week this year is also necessary to establish a sense of normalcy.  All of our students missed a year and a half of in-person education, including a sophomore class that had a delayed transition to high school. The junior class must balance the traditional workload from junior year while simultaneously filling the many gaps in their education due to online learning. And the senior class has missed out on many aspects of a typical high school experience. Although online learning was unavoidable, our school still has the power to allow PBAs to take place and restore balance after nearly two years of disruption. 

Holding a traditional PBA week is critical so that students can take a much-needed break from their regularly scheduled classes and focus all of their attention on their PBAs. The fact that students do not have to attend typical classes allows them to prioritize their mental health. 

On January 14, Alan Cheng, the DOE superintendent overseeing NYC’s consortium, plans to ask the DOE to grant Beacon a waiver to hold PBA week as planned. The PTA recently asked all parents to sign a letter that will be delivered to Superintendent Cheng demanding the preservation of PBA week. All students should ask their parents to sign the letter as soon as possible. 

Students have been working diligently this semester with the understanding that we would have a Project-Based Assessment as a culmination of our work in each class. Canceling PBAs would undermine those efforts and betray the trust that we have placed in the school. PBAs should proceed as planned. 

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