November 2, 2011
The Regents Exam. OK, I admit it, I have no idea how many states still use them or what the exact graduation requirements are regarding them. When I was teaching I didn’t know. They seemed to change from time to time. For example, you could get some type of diploma with only a 55 on the Regents, and though it changed to 65 there were always students who for some reason the 55 still applied. Things just seemed to change at random so I just worried about marking the tests. I didn’t worry about the rest. That was out of my hands anyway.
Or was it?
There has been a lot of controversy about teachers changing the answers on Regents exams. I NEVER saw that. Period. There has also been a lot of talk about “scrubbing” Regents exams. I saw TONS of that, and I’ll get to it soon. But first a little background.
The English Regents is a two day test with four parts, two each day. You cannot pass if you miss a day. We’d sign up all the kids who were eligible and only a fraction would show up on day one. Those who did not show, while they would be allowed to sit for day two, already failed. It was made clear to them that you could not pass if you only showed up for one day. So we’d start with a small day one turnout and many of the kids, realizing the test was beyond them and they couldn’t pass, never came back for day two. That made marking easy as we didn’t need to mark the first day. They already failed. Of course, there was the occasional odd student who missed day one but showed up for day two anyway. Why? I don’t know.
We had a dismal passing rate at Horror High.
Every year I gave the exam, from 2000 to 2009, the test got easier and easier to pass. And to make matters worse, it was an open secret that the test became easier at certain parts of the year. The June test was the hardest, the January test was easier, and other months easier still. (And the Component Retest? Don’t ask. It was a sort of make-up Regents where the standards were only about 15% of the regular test. Literally.)
Since I am no longer a teacher I can say this now. It took students more effort to fail the test than to pass it. It is a dumbed down, useless test.
Anyone who has never marked the English Regents has no idea how it is scored. Nearly every part has two halves. One is multiple choice, the other is written. The multiple choice half is easily scored. An answer is either right or wrong. All the student has to do is write the number (1, 2, 3, or 4) of the correct answer on the answer sheet. That was a problem for some. For some reason some students wrote A, B, C, and D instead of numbers. Keep in mind, the choices were not lettered, they were numbered. If the kids were in the building when we did the marking we tracked them down and while we watched they changed the letters to numbers. I was never comfortable with that. If the students were not around, depending on the year and who made the call, we either counted the letters as the corresponding numbers (A=1, B=2, etc.) and scored it normally or we marked all the letters wrong, not knowing if they actually corresponded. I felt that was the right way to go, since they did not follow the directions and we could not be sure they didn’t count the choices from left to right or top to bottom. (They were often in columns.)
Worse were the students who left the multiple choice section blank. In that case we went back to the test papers and fond that often they ignored the directions and circled their choices on the test sheet or worse, bubbled in some non-existent bubbles. As before, if the student was in the building we tracked them down and had them transcribe the answers. If they were not they were out of luck. The sad thing is that with all the running around to get the answers, the majority of our kids still failed, and I think you can see why.
But at any rate, the answers were either right or wrong (not counting the times the test was flawed and some questions had either multiple correct answers or none at all) so it was easy to mark. There was no leeway. It was the four written sections where the problems lie. It was very subjective.
Nearly every year I marked the exam I worked with the same partners. There were people I would not work with because they were too slow or we were not in sync on the scoring. The tests are (theoretically) marked by two graders, but very often one just rubber-stamps the other. I only worked with people I liked and scored like I did, otherwise it was a debate as to what score a paper should get. And no fun for me. I worked mostly with Bonnie (her real name- Hi Bonnie!) or Ms. Lake (not her real name, whom you read about last week in part 7.) Let me say that it was a pleasure to work with them. Bonnie was always down to Earth and a great person to work with. I ran the Component Retest and marked it with her too. Ms. Lake? Um, she deserves a week of posts to herself and she’s not going to get it. Let’s leave it at that. Move along. I also later worked with and ran the Regents Exam with another teacher, and let’s leave it at that too.
The written part is graded from 1 to 6, with 4 as passing. It was actually easy. 1, 2, 5, and 6 pointed to themselves. Those are the extreme ends. The only debates were between 3’s and 4’s, just passing or failing, and that is where the majority of the papers fell. And sadly, most were three’s.
Now, this being a subject scoring process, and with a high failing rate, you can see how it would be tempting to change some 3’s to 4’s. Toss in the fact that there is zero oversight. In other words, the test is administered by the student’s regular teachers, scored by the student’s regular teachers, and it stops there. No one above the teachers checks them. The scores are graded and the tests locked in the vault. In a professional world, it would be OK to leave it all to the professionalism of the staff, but professionalism is in short supply in the DOE.
But that is only the tip of the iceberg. The scoring changes from year to year. Every year teachers get a scoring guide and one year certain errors would lower a score and other years it would not. So a failing test may be a passing paper the next year. There was no consistency, so the wiggle room in grading got bigger.
And it gets worse. The final score needs to be divined on a matrix, a sort of spread sheet. The score for the multiple choice was entered on a graph on one axis and the score for the writing on another and where they intersected was the final grade. And again, they changed it every year and made it easier and easier to pass. So in effect, they dumbed it down every year.
To recap: The test got easier every year, and during the course of a year it got easier still at certain months. The scoring system got easier year to year, and those who came close to passing could take the Component Retest in which they only had to retake a part of the test with even lower standards.
I mean what I say. The test is functionally meaningless. Just ask the colleges who spend more money every year on remedial English classes.
So where does scrubbing come in?
If student got a score of 63 or 64 or, if the standard was 55, a score of 53 or 54, that paper was pulled and “scrubbed,” meaning the essays would be reread and if possible, a point would be found. Sometimes 4’s became 5’s, but more often failing 3’s became passing 4’s. Since it was so subjective it was hard to argue when the score was raised but I still did. I never scrubbed and got angry when someone scrubbed my papers. I graded fairly and accurately, unlike some others. In effect, because the scoring is subjective, it is often hard to argue. Personal judgement comes strongly into play. But, looking at it objectively, it is very interesting how often a needed point could be found. Since it was all based on judgement, there were any number of arguements about how a particular paper deserved a particular score. I usually stood by my score. If a score was later changed by someone else after I was done with the paper, well A- I didn’t do it and B- whoever did better have put their initials on the paper right next to mine.
If the DOE wants to stop scrubbing them it has to have the papers graded by either an outside group or, at the very least, swap papers from school to school. It is too easy for “thing to happen.” It is putting the wolves in charge of the henhouse to have the teachers grade their own students tests and them evaluate the teachers based on that passing rate. The conflicts and temptations are obvious to everyone. Everyone outside the profession, that is.
As I said I never saw anyone change a student’s answer and though I saw a ton of scrubbing, I never saw anything outrageous. While I may not have agreed with the raised score, I never saw any scores raised that were not defensible. As I said, it is a subjective system of scoring.
Of course, that only goes for my department. Things I heard, saw, and later learned about other departments are not for me to say.
TO BE CONCLUDED
An interesting view of the Component Retest can be found here.
The Best Regents Exam Ever can be found here.