New York hoped to make its English Regents test scores more objective by barring teachers from grading tests from their own schools.
What the state got was a huge drop-off in the number of students passing a test that is tied directly to their graduation, and concern over just how liberally teachers in previous years were grading the exams.
According to Kerry Burke, Ben Chapman and Stephen Rex Brown in an exclusive for the New York Daily News, 373 out of 490 schools saw their passing rates drop from 2012 to 2013 once outside graders took over.
Students must score at least 65 out of 100 to pass the test and graduate from high school. Beginning in 2018, students will have to score a 75 on the English test and an 80 on the Algebra test to pass in concordance with the Common Core Standards. New York officials are yet to decide if they will do away with the Regents exams once the switch to Common Core is made in its entirety.
Starting next year, both tests will be administered to students, who are allowed to keep only the higher set of scores on their final transcripts. School administrators are concerned that the closeness of the two tests – the Common Core exams are scheduled for two weeks before the Regents – will have students not trying as hard on the second go-round.
Teachers and former teachers quoted by The Daily News refused to call previous years' performance a result of cheating. Instead, they referred to the practice as "grading the exams generously" and "assessing kids based on their strengths and weaknesses."
But with former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg using high school graduation rates as a basis for not only awarding bonuses for principals, but also to decide whether or not to close campuses, it is not difficult to see the pressure and temptation of grading tests favorably.
An audit done in 2012 which re-scored 5,000 exams found that students at 14 different schools should have failed but received passing grades regardless.
The English Regents test is not merely a multiple-choice exam given via Scantron, but instead is broken down into four different units:
- Part 1: Listening and writing for information and understanding
- Part 2: Reading and writing for information and understanding
- Part 3: Reading and writing for literary response
- Part 4: Reading and writing for critical analysis
While there are some multiple-choice questions, most of the exam is writing on the part of the student. The grading rubric for teachers is complex – a 75-page document was given to scorers for the 2011 exam.
Both teachers and students are required to sign an oath saying they are not receiving or giving help during the exam, and that students do not have access to any mobile devices – notably cell phones, smartphones, tablets, etc., during the testing time.