New York Regents Knew There Would be High Failure Rate--But Went Ahead with Test
Ohanian Comment: If it hadn't been for the outspoken protests of grass roots resisters--and Fairport Superintendent Bill Cala--the Regents would have let the results of this test stand. When will the media start investigating the physics exam?
Why does New York Commissioner of Education Richard Mills still have a job?
A preliminary report on the problems with a statewide math test needed for graduation from high school in New York State has found that even early trials of the test indicated that the average student would be unable to pass.
But the test, known as Math A, was nonetheless administered in June across the state, causing thousands of students to fail to meet the requirements for a Regents diploma.
After a wide outcry, state education officials set aside the results for high school juniors and seniors.
The report, by a panel of outside math teachers, school officials and other experts, recommended that scores for younger students, most in the eighth, ninth and tenth grades, should be revised upward. State officials said that they would begin work on raising the scores, which could affect the students' placement in future classes as well as their college admissions.
Although the panel is not scheduled to issue its final report until October, the interim report, released yesterday, highlighted a number of issues it plans to study further:
¶The June test was "substantially more difficult" than the test a year earlier, as many students and teachers had claimed.
¶A string of especially tough problems partway through the test appeared to frustrate some students, who simply gave up on the exam.
¶Based on field tests before the actual test was administered, the Education Department expected the average score on the June test to be 46. The expected average for the test given a year earlier was 51 — slightly higher, but still below the score needed to pass, which is 65 for students who entered ninth grade in 2001 or later, and 55 for everyone else.
¶Trigonometry, which was part of the state's Math A syllabus and of previous tests, was not included among the 35 questions on the test. But there were three items that used the Pythagorean theorem, leaving any students who were weak in that area at a disadvantage.
Dr. William Brosnan, superintendent of schools in the Northport-East Northport School District on Long Island, and chairman of the 13-member math panel, said that some of the findings had surprised the committee, and that there were many significant questions left to answer.
"Is there a mismatch between where we are setting the standards and where average students are falling?" Dr. Brosnan asked. "And if so, is it the result of a curriculum problem, a staff training problem, or that the testing standards are simply too tough? It is fair to say that our initial work raises some red flags."
He said that while the panel was just digging into those issues, it wanted to deliver a preliminary recommendation on scoring now so that students could be placed in appropriate classes to start the school year.
Asked why the Education Department gave a test when it expected the average score to be so low, Alan Ray, a department spokesman, said, "The purpose of the test is to measure whether students meet the standards, not to make sure that a certain number of students pass or fail."
The state still does not know how many students took the June 2003 Math A exam, or how many students failed it. But a preliminary survey of school districts by the Education Department in June found that only about 37 percent of the students who took the 35-question test passed.
The interim report and the Education Department's response drew praise yesterday.
Assemblyman Steven Sanders, a New York City Democrat and chairman of the Assembly's Education Committee, said that some of the panel's findings were astonishing.
"The panel has confirmed the worst fears that have been expressed about high-stakes exams for a number of years," he said.
He said that the Legislature, which had planned to conduct hearings on the Regents exam system late this summer, now plans to hold them in October, after the math committee's full report has been released.
Merryl H. Tisch, a Regent from New York City who has questioned whether the Regents exams are performing appropriately, said she was pleased with the panel's "thorough report" — and with the State Education Department's response.
"The good news is that the State Education Department showed that it could have a nimble response to a serious problem," she said. "The other part that is encouraging is that the panel is asking very serious policy questions, like whether the exam is supposed to be at a level that is so difficult that it competes with achievement tests or whether it is supposed to display competency at the end of a course."
The New York City schools chancellor's office released a statement saying that it supported the State Education Department's decision to revise the scores.
Although it is too early to say how much the scores are likely to rise, the education department said that no scores would be reduced. The math committee has recommended a complicated approach that effectively will compare the ninth grade test results this year and last, and then raise this year's ninth grade scores so they will appear similar to last year's ninth grade scores — and will adjust other scores to match those.
The report said that this year's ninth graders scored almost 10 points lower than those in June 2002.
Karen W. Arenson
New York Times
Trials of Regents Test Foresaw Failure at a High Rate