kitchen table math, the sequel: smoke

Thursday, July 5, 2012


The real horror, however, was on a one-page sheet – this was not on the agenda and was meant to be buried — titled, “Summary of January 2011 Regents.” The sheet had a very simple chart showing results of the Regents Exams — the tests taken by all New York State high schoolers, many of which have to be passed for graduation. Easy to read: Exam subject, number of students who took the exam, number of students who passed: 41 kids took Integrated Algebra and only 10 passed; 27 took Global History, 5 passed. Of the ten exams given that fateful January day, only 34 of the 129 students who took them (26%) passed. And this was before any budget crisis. “We’ll look into it,” said the Super.

Field Notes: Wake Up and Smell the Smoke - or Not
by Peter Meyer


Jen said...

If they're taking this in January, doesn't that mean they've already failed it?

lgm said...

Not necessarily. Some re-take so they can raise their score and qualify for the 'honors' designation on their Adv. Regents Diploma. The ones that fail usually retake in August after taking a summer school course in the subject, or in June after retaking the entire course. There may also be students trying to test out in Jan. The Super would have to get details to draw conclusions.

Jen said...

Well, not a lot of them will have gotten "honors" designations nor have tested out, it looks like!

All I can say is thank heavens the state "exit exams" were delayed in PA, possibly indefinitely, by budget woes. Here's hoping they're last on the list of things to replace.

Glen said...

Jen, why is the lack of an exit exam an advantage? (Or is it the design of the specific tests that were delayed that you object to?)

Jen said...

Glen, having seen the tests that the state developed (and the rubrics for scoring them) for the PSSA, our state tests for NCLB, I had no faith in their ability to choose excellent test writers, to test important concepts in many different subjects, and a big fear of how quickly those tests would narrow the curriculum.

There is also the floor and ceiling problem. An "exit exam" required before graduation should show that a student has a minimum knowledge -- only an extremely well-designed test can actually array the students out for you in a meaningful way between "floor" and "ceiling." That is, it's very hard to design a test that can truly tell who should and shouldn't graduate AND also show you the extent of the highest scoring students' knowledge.

Never mind the costs of creating these behemoths, along with the costs of grading them (unless it's all multiple choice or you go with the "fact free" essay scoring computer programs).

So, to sum up: too big a project, unlikely to be done well for its purpose, likely to narrow teaching to its contents, and extremely costly -- there were going to be somewhere between 8 and 15 of these if I recall correctly.

And I say this as a parent of two kids with IB diplomas (I can say that now that kid #2 got his results!). I'm not at all test averse. But those tests (and related work that's submitted) are NOT what our state would come up with.

Catherine Johnson said...

The whole testing issue is a HUGE issue for nominally high performing schools.

There is research showing that states with exit exams have higher-achieving students (I'll try to track that down I recall, the research was done by an economist at Cornell some years back).

But the era of NCLB testing has been a disaster for districts like mine (though not necessarily in terms of Regents exams).

Glen said...

Jen, now I understand what you meant. I'm not sure that having no exit test is a better situation than the one you describe. It seems to me that a narrowed curriculum could easily be an improvement. It also seems that, if the exit exam can provide a threshold (floor) to aim for, discrimination of those above the threshold can (and will) be done by other means: SAT, ACT, AP, etc.

Even so, I really don't know. When so many things are wrong with a system, an addition that would be an improvement in the context of a healthier system could easily make things worse. You could be right that that's the case here.

And congratulations on the two IBs!

gasstationwithoutpumps said...

California has an exit exam (CAHSEE) for high school that is designed to test approximately 8th grade material. It is deliberately set as a very low bar, and I'm not aware of any schools teaching to that test (though maybe some of the worst schools are).

"Students first take this test in grade ten. If they do not pass the test in grade ten, they have more chances to take the test. In grade eleven, they can take the test two times. In grade twelve, they have up to five times to take the test."

Most students pass it the first time, but some struggle with it:
"The 2010–11 exam results show increasing passing rates among most demographic subgroups of students by the end of their senior year. Overall, approximately 94.6 percent or 422,558 students in the Class of 2011 successfully passed both the English-language arts (ELA) and the mathematics portions of the CAHSEE by the end of their senior year."

The failure rates are correlated with race, but I I believe that they are even more correlated with poverty (but the CA government does not like to report about poverty in CA, so summary data are harder to find).