Thursday, June 26, 2008

NYS Algebra Regents: A National Joke, A Statewide Embarrassment


In the race for the future of Thomas Friedman’s flat world, New York State’s public school 9th graders will be flat-out losers. Here in the world capital of repeated annual dramatic advances in Grade 3-8 standardized math exam scores, the NYSED announced today that a raw score of 30 points out of 87 (just 34.5%!) was all that students were required to earn to achieve a passing grade of 65. In the State’s headlong race to lead American students to the bottom rung of the industrialized world’s academic ladder, we’ve proudly declared a 35 to be our 65. Not the 43 (36 out of 84) that we already embarrassingly accept for Math A. No, we had to lower the bar over 18% more in order to claim our utterly undeserved NCLB laurels.

And what a 35% it is! Decidedly not the kind of 35% some of us experienced in college from professors who routinely crushed their students (and taught us our place) with exams where no student cracked 50%. Not hardly.

Consider first the format (click here to access a downloadable copy of the exam). Thirty (30!!) multiple choice questions, worth two (2!!) points each, comprised 60 of the exam’s 87 possible points, or 69% of the total. Let’s say you know enough math to answer ten (10!) of those multiple choice question and simply blind-guessed the other 20 questions. Basic probability dictates that, on average, five of your guesses are correct, and that gives you fifteen correct answers. At two points each, that’s 30, and congratulations, you just passed the only high school Regents exam you need for your high school diploma. How much math did you know? Twenty points’ worth out of 87, or 23%!!! With only average luck, a 23% is now New York State’s 65% level of math expectations.

Consider second the complexity of the questions. Can you tell a straight line from one that isn’t straight? Can you count the number of equal-sized areas of four different colors on a spinner divided into eight pie-wedged segments? Can you figure out gas mileage given a number of miles and a number of gallons of gas consumed? How about the volume of a cube or the surface area of a rectangular box? Sound like high school math? Oh, never mind. What’s the point? These 9th graders don’t even have to memorize such basic formulas as the slope of a line or the fundamental right triangle ratios for sine, cosine, and tangent – they get a reference sheet for that!

To anyone who still believes that the State’s testing regimen isn’t being dumbed down while having its bar successively lowered, it’s time to wake up. Worse, to anyone who believes the incessant, self-congratulatory hype from Albany and (especially) New York City’s Mayor and Chancellor about standardized exam passing rates in grades 3-8, guess what? They’re absolutely illusory, with nearly zero carryover effects to even the most menial high school math. What today’s results make clear is that the City’s and State’s children are only improving in one area of mathematics – taking those Grade 3-8 standardized exams. For all the crowing about results last year or the year before, this year’s 9th graders on the whole were more clueless than ever.

What now passes in New York State for high school level competency in mathematics, represented by the new Integrated Algebra I Regents exam, is by any measure an international laughingstock, an exam that a typical 6th grader in China could ace with hardly a second thought. I know this first-hand -- I could show you required summer workbook questions for incoming 6th graders in China that most adults reading this posting could probably not answer. Actually, I think I’ll provide them in another posting.

33 comments:

Anonymous said...

k-8 tests also have a raw score which is converted to performance score then to a level 1,2,3 or 4. This year, each required percentage for minimum level 2 and level 3 (raw scores) went down across the grades. Check the state website. Perhaps that explains the gains and the narrowing of the gaps that Mills, Bloomberg and Klein are boasting about. Best thing parents could do is join together and demand that all state scores be reported as percentage. A parent who thinks all is well when their child attained a level 3 deserves to know if their child only received a 50% on their Math or ELA exam.

eduwonkette said...

Steve, As always, well done on bringing this to our attention and navigating so carefully through the details.

I do have one qualm, though, which is that the percentage of questions required that a student must answer correctly to pass, in and of itself, tells us little about the difficulty or rigor of a test. It may be the case that a test is very difficult and thus fewer questions have to be answered correctly to pass. Of course, in this case, what you've convincingly shown is that the test was very easy, so we have good reasons to be concerned.

a teacher said...

I am a high school math teacher and I was mortified when the scaled scores came out this morning. I am proud of the high standards of the school in which I teach but greatly embarrassed by the low standards of NYSED. What can teachers do? Set their own classroom standards higher than that of the NYSED. What can parents do? Demand that their teachers set higher standards and lobby to change the way the Board of Regents operates. Let's face it: the tests are meaningless. I advocate a return to the type of tests we had with Course I, Course II and Course III but without the omits. No student should be allowed to omit part of his test. I am also not a big fan of formula sheets. They current system can be changed, but it will take all of us to change it.

Anonymous said...

I too am a high school math teacher and I really would like to see a minimum of 50% required for a passing grade. I know that means that more students would fail, but it also means that a passing grade indicates some real knowledge of HS math. It truly is a sad day in MYS math education.

Steve Koss said...

In response to Eduwonkette's comment, I would respond that the question of degree of difficulty on the questions is of course relevant, and it's also a factor that is difficult to quantify and even more difficult to encapsulate in a short blog posting. I saw nothing in looking through the test that struck me as particularly more difficult than prior Math A exam questions, nor would I expect SED to do that.

My own guess, one I did not articulate in my posting, is that the low cutoff score reflects nothing more than the lack of a dozen or more prior exams from which students could prep and study. Everyone who has ever taught math Regents courses in NYS knows that these exams have a certain style and repetitiveness in types of questions that makes them easy to prepare for by simply doing multiple prior year tests. The higher results consequently don't reflect better mathematics learning as much as they reflect better preparedness for that particular Regents exam.

Anonymous said...

I wish David Letterman would get this info! Not only is the scale a joke, but the entire test was absolutely horrible. Then there was the fiasco of UPS getting them to Texas instead of flooded Iowa. Being a high school math teacher I find this a disgrace to our teaching.

Anonymous said...

Here is one Bronx teacher's perspective...

The Algebra test actually was not nearly as easy as this year's Math A. I gave my students both Algebra and Math A and on average their raw scores went up 7 points from Algebra to Math A, though there were 5 extra points to be earned on Algebra.

In fact, I had students go up as much as 28 points from one to the other.

Part of the problem with the Algebra Regents was there was very little pure math...no "solve for x" problems.

So much of it was critical thinking or wading through long word problems to get to the math.

Sadly, many of my students are very weak readers, some because they are ELLs, but others just, well, because. Students like this can excel anytime you put an equation or a problem with mostly numbers in front of them but falter every time they have to read a long set-up.

One of my struggling readers had a raw score of only 18 on Algebra, but jumped all the way up to a 42 on Math A for a scaled score of 70, which is precisely what she got in my class as well.

Of course we want our students to critically think and apply their skills, however, a test on math should more accurately measure the math that our students truly know.

And yes, the 30 pass point was ridiculous (though a fine display of "Cover Your Ass"), but the test itself, and the incredibly bloated and expansive 89 standards in the "Algebra" curriculum are more so.

Anonymous said...

Steve Koss raised a very good point - a new test is always more difficult due to unfamiliarity on the part of the teachers who prepare students. However, I still believe that scores should be reported in percentages. A recent Daily news article writes that critics call into question the reliablility of the K-8 Math and ELA tests due to such enormous gains in only a year. The percentage required for levels 2 and 3 have consistently dropped on the elementary math tests since 2006. I looked it up on the state web site. So naturally, kids are not prepared for Algebra when they enter high school and therefore, more scaled scores are given. The idea of scaled scores bother me tremendously. For years scores were reported as percentages. Perhaps the general public should be aware of percentages and then the issue of the 'difficulty' of the tests can be dealt with. Furthermore, the closing of the 'gaps' may be due to the fact that levels two and three are much wider than level four. I also don't see that the elementary exam percentages required for levels 2 and 3 should have been lowered. I am a high school math teach with an elementary school aged daughter. I did not think that the tests were more difficult this year than in the previous two years. In fact, I think that the recent scales should have been less generous than two years ago since we now have the benefit of repetition. Many mathematicians believe the elementary math exams test trivialities. As a high school math teacher, I agree. My high school also has high standards and many of our incoming students are not ready for algebra. But, they somehow manage to 'pass' these regents. I believe the problem in testing is a k-12 problem and there are many problems - content and scoring! I was sick this morning when the scale came in - 30/87 became a 65. Lets either throw out the test because it's too difficult or just say loud and clear that the new passing score is 35%.

NYC Educator said...

In this era of "accountablility," no matter how hard the questions may be, it's remarkable that the passing percentage is not revealed until after the test is given. You'd think the people paid to design the tests would either know enough or field-test enough to get it right in advance.

Certainly, for anyone wishing to juke the stats, the option of revealing the grading system after the test is actually given is highly attractive.

I believe I was asked very early on to place the value of questions right on every test paper I design, and I've done that for years. Why can't these highly paid experts come up to the standards of a lowly teacher like me?

David M. Quintana said...

I found this is another enlightening post by Steve Koss...Yesterday when I got my daughters final report card, the Math Regent score wasn't listed...When I asked my daughter if she knew why it wasn't on the card, she matter of factly informed me that they hadn't "curved" the score yet...I think this speaks to the dumbing down of America by the Bloom/Klein Administration...Great job, Steve..!

Hall Monitor said...

Check out http://detentionslip.org for all the latest in school headlines. Voted #1 source for crazy education news.

Anonymous said...

How can the State justify passing students who get 35% of a test correctly? This is a blatant attempt to cover their ineptness. Two years and numerous field tests, predictive assessments, and a fortune on rewriting curriculum, resulted in a test in which blind luck would produce a passing score in more than 1 of 50 students. No wonder our nation is sitting near the bottom of the world in Math and Science.
The parent who wrote that her child, who got a grade of 54, knew nothing, was absolutely correct. But do not be hard on the child, after all the State just taught him 25%=54.
How hard is it to make an exam out of 100 points???? This is not done because then every would immediately notice the scam. It is a scam. The State and New York City brag about increases in test scores, when the State simply lowers the score required to pass. It is sickening.
I taught a Math B course this year (in 2 terms). I had to make my students relearn good study habits. They started out overly confident, bragging about their grade of 72 on the Math A. They were disgusted when I showed them the Math A conversion chart. When I taught the probability section, we calculated the probabilty of guessing every multiple choice question and omitting every free response question and receiveing a grade of 55 to be 1 in 50.
I think the test should be formatted like the Sequential exams were. Perhaps with fewer ommissions allowed.
I just remembered that students with Learning Disabilities are allowed to gradeuate by taking the Math RCT. They need to get 65% correct to pass! I’d bet there are many 55 and 65 Math A and Integrated Algebra students who would not come close to passing the Math RCT.

ak11357 said...

I have been looking around for comments on the Integrated Math regents. It is trully amazing that the newspapers do not report on this sham. Bloomberg and Klein really do control the media. The curve and level of the Math A regents has always been a sad joke.

I have been teaching Math A for 5 years. Now this year the new Integrated Algebra Regents was supposed to raise the standards. First of all there was no material for teachers to review with students of what actually was going to be on the exams. In past years we had plenty of old regents to review from. Secondly the level of difficulty between the 2 exams should have been comparable. The same level of students that took Math A and Integrated Math scored 10 points higher.
But the worst aspect is the "curve on the exam". How do you call a 30 out of 87 a passing grade? Now these students who supposedly know enough to move on I will have to try and teach a geometry curriculum which historically is much more difficult. Teaching geometry proofs is tough enough for students who know algebra. And of course we will be strongly encouraged to pass these students even though their math and algebra knowledge is minimal at best.

My real question is how come this is not being reported by the media. But of course if it was it would be the teachers fault and not have anything to do with students ability.

Regi S. said...

I'm not a NYC parent but my son took the new regents exam. He and his fellow students were stumped by part 2. They were informed there would be this enormous curve because it was material not covered during the year. I imagine the state was trying to find some kind of benchmark? 30 out of 87 is shocking but makes more sense if a third of the questions are on material that hasn't been covered.

Anonymous said...

An Upstate parent here - my son took the test and everything on the test WAS covered in his class.

Anonymous said...

To the teacher who said he/she had nothing to prepare with -- sorry, no. A test sampler was released in October that was INCREDIBLY similar to the test given in June. As for parents crying foul -- hello! This is not news! The passing score for the Math A has been in the high 30's for years!!! This is entirely in line with the middle school standards, btw, where a score of 2 (good enough to pass) is also at/around 35-40.

Speaking of the Math A, there was a far heavier stats component to the Integrated Algebra, as well as greater emphasis on inequalities, which accounts for the lower scores. I think in the future they'll move up to the high 30's and even (dare we dream) the 40's.

This is simple. Everyone wants higher standards until they're implemented. When the Math A was introduced with (initially) a relatively high passing standard, there was a revolt across the state! What do you mean my kid won't graduate? They go to class most days, don't they?

Everyone knows this, colleges included -- there's no big secret here, no wool being pulled over your eyes. And no, this has NOTHING to do w/ Bloomberg and Klein (even scoundrels are innocent sometimes). Expect the Geometry and Algebra 2 exams to have scoring curves in line with the Math B -- those are the ones elite colleges look at. Those are the ones that count.

Anonymous said...

There is too much material to cover in the course. That's the real issue. Less topics and topics more targeted at Algebra Only then would the scale will become reasonable.

It's the same old story with NYS. They do not and did not take into account NCTM Focal points. If a teacher can cover the 124 topics in one school year plus at least 32review/test days and teach this course, you taught to the test. Most of the topics can take weeks to teach, not one day. Math education in NY is a joke. There's no major outcry b/c the kids passed..did they learn anything? Of course not.

Anonymous said...

To understand the ridiculously low standards that the current crop of exams embrace, you need only attempt to comprehend the fact that twenty years ago, we had REGENTS TRACK and LOCALS TRACK. Back then, 30-40% of the students taking these exams now would never have been taking them.
I am a NYS math teacher and I too am appalled by these curves. Yet the answer is a lot more complicated than pointing the finger at teachers and schools. I donated 40+ hours of my free time for 21 straight days leading up to the regents, for which I did not receive a dime. I still wound up with a 96% pass rate and only a 25% mastery rate. Want to know why? It was not because of a lack of effort on my part, I can tell you that!
How easy do you think it would be to teach quadratic-linear systems to a student that did not speak a word of the language in which you were explaining the subject matter? How well do you believe a student will do on such an exam when they miss 23 days of school (whatever happened to compulsory attendance laws??) without even counting lost classes due to lessons, play rehearsals, family vacations, etc.? Predictably, they will NOT DO VERY WELL.
Decades ago, we honored the cold, hard fact that many people do not attend college. They pick up trades, run grocery stores, rebuild our roads, police our streets, and do about a half million other worthy and essential tasks that DON'T REQUIRE THINGS LIKE SOLVING MULTI-STEP ALGEBRA PROBLEMS THAT ARE POORLY WORDED TO BEGIN WITH!!!
With the advent of NCLB, as well as a myriad of other steaming brown piles of legislative handiwork, which are specifically created to uphold the appearance that our elected officials actually do something to earn their salaries, we have been forced to believe that every student in an American high school is, and should be headed to an Ivy League school.
What I would like to know is when precisely will the public remove its collective head from its collective a$$ and realize that this is wishful, utopian, and truly destructive thinking??!!
Let's get back to basics, and start making certain that we no longer turn loose upon the country young people who are incapable of multiplying single digit numbers without the aid of a calculator, REGARDLESS OF HOW LONG IT TAKES TO ACCOMPLISH THIS! When was the last time that proper grammar or spelling was emphasized in an English classroom? Probably not since they started calling English by its new monicker, LANGUAGE ARTS!!!
The Algebra I test, along with its scoring key, was a farce. However, let's not forget what kind of educational philosophies got us to this point. If we would truly hold parents and children accountable for their actions, and stop bull$hitting ourselves about how every child can finish AP Calculus by the end of high school, then perhaps this kind of crap won't continue to increase in prevalence and absurdity every year. The End.

Samista said...

I am an 11th grade math teacher in the south bronx, and just spent the past semester teaching regents prep classes. I believe 100% that is pathetic that all a student needs to pass the regents is 15 multiple choice questions correct. They do not need to get a majority of the test correct, they do not need to answer any long answer questions that require them to show their work, all they have to do is get 15 m.c. questions right and they fulfill their math requirement for a regents diploma. It is sad and disgraceful. What bothers me even more and disheartens me greatly is that 85% of my students this semester will most likely fail the regents. A regents they should have passed in 9th grade. An exam they have taken now at least twice (some of them 3 times a year) since June of 2006. The regents is a joke, but the level of our students in NYC is so low it is sad. It is sad that our students have no concept of positive and negative quantities, that they have no concept of what multiplication or division means, that the look of a fraction sends them into panic mode; it is sad that they refuse to do homework, study or even pay attention in class. It is sad when you hand feed them information, give them detailed and clear notes, ample practice and still have so many struggling and failing students. A lot of me blames the early foundations. The fact that a lot of my kids grow up in houses where they weren't taught math (counting, adding, subtracting, estimating) in every day life, combined with elementary teachers that are unskilled in math seriously effects their performance in high school. The regents is a joke, and I think that the state needs to invest time, money and effort in reforming primary mathematics education.

Anonymous said...

Samista wrote: "elementary teachers that are unskilled in math seriously effects (sic) their performance in high school." This is absolutely true and a serious concern. The students who are scoring 35% on the Algebra Regents today can easily continue on to become elementary school teachers in 4 years. How many of these teachers would say 5 - 3 + 1 is 1, because addition comes before subtraction in "Please excuse my dear Aunt Sally"? Or that you can't divide 3 by 5 because 5 is bigger. The state needs to insist that only math teachers may teach math in grades 3 and up, and should pay them salaries equivalent (at least) to HS teachers to do so.

Anonymous said...

how does the state want us to pass the regents if every year it keep getting harder & harder???i get it they want us to study harder but its doesn't really help...they trick us too much...

Anonymous said...

The article is correct.
I am now a sophmore in high school. Last year I was one of the many freshman which took that Integrated Algebra exam. I got an 85 on that regents. I know that the curve was big. Overall high school students today have no math skills. And with this change in courses, their will most likely be a curve in Geometry and Trig the following years since they will be new regents. This specific freshman class that will be the first to take most of these regents, will graduate high school with no math skills. Which is a sad thing, but honestly, should we all recive a failing grade? Is all the students fault?

Anonymous said...

u can fuck off algebra is hard it aint a joke this shit is hard i work hard and do all my work i just dont get it i have an 90 average and math is my lowest its hard so who ever wrote this can fuck off

Anonymous said...

I heard this year exam was the hardest exam in 7 yrs...Has anyone heard of a curve for this years exam. When is that info releasded.

Anonymous said...

My child scored an 88% on the June 2009 Alegebra exam after being in the honors level albegra class all this year. She was well prepared for the exam and is actually only in 8th grade. According to the match teachers in our Top Rated school district, the highest score was a 95%, although most of the scores considered "good" scores were in high 80%s and low 90%s range in our district of 10,000+ students. Most of the scores were relatively low compared to last year's exam. The teachers in our district said the exam was much more difficult this year, probably because of all the criticism due to past year's exams. We were assured 88% this year was an awesome grade due to the level of difficulty of the June 2009 exam.

cougarkid said...

ny spends the most of any state on each individual student (almost $23,000 dollars!) yet none of our kids learn anything! out on long island alone the number spent is even higher and the excuse is the living expense. just because live in a richer region of the country. yet test scores plummet. as a high school kid who passed because of this curve, i know for a fact i learned nothing in my math b classroom...how do they expect ny kids to live in this world and make the and of money they need to make to even stay in the state with the highest taxes on...pick anything! this dumming down must stop or the whole state will suffer when its people can no longer find jobs.

Infernobones95 said...

I took that exam and was the only onein my school of nearly 600 people to get a perfect score. i disagree with the low standard y classmates and i were held to but honestly. they barely pass. i took this test as an 8th grader in advanced courses. I am now moving on to the ninth grade for geometry and am hoping to have a better regents this year. alot of the ninth graders who took the exam failed. badly. i feel like maybe i should give up on public school and go to a private one where i can get a challenge.

Anonymous said...

If you in NY think your exams are too easy, you should look at what is happening in the rest of the country. I grew up in NY and took the Regents exams. I thought they were pretty challenging even though I was a really good math student. Now as a parent in Virginia, I am dismayed at the low standards of the Virginia SOL exams--about 50 very easy multiple choice questions, with formulas provided and calculators allowed. My daughter, who is one of the top math students in our entire county, breezed through the Virginia SOLs with perfect or near perfect scores, without even studying for the exams. So I gave her a Regents B exam to see what she *really* learned in Algebra II and I was shocked when she scored about 60%. That's not even including several questions she couldn't do because her class didn't cover the material. That's only the questions that she should have known how to do but they were *so* much harder than anything she ever got asked in Virgina, she couldn't do them. Even though the passing cutoff in New York is so appallingly low, the Regents tests do set a MUCH higher standard than the minimum competency required in many areas. So at least there is some motivation for teachers to teach beyond the bare minimum to those students who can handle it. In Virginia, we have no such motivation. If you are going to use a single test as a minimum standard and also hopefully to challenge and really test the better students and encourage teachers to set high standards, then you probably are going to be stuck with such ridiculous pass rates. But it's way better than the Virginia approach of just doing away with all the hard questions and not expecting teachers to teach anything more to those students who could learn it.

Anonymous said...

can someone help me out? my daughter took her regents and because of 2 points she is not graduating from high school. Still the principal wont allow her to walk on the graduation day. My daughter needs to take the test again on august. She is alright with that. I don't think is fair what is happening to her. The score is 55 and she got 53
Please someone give me some advice what to do???? her graduation is on monday the 27th.

Anonymous said...

Need emergency phone numbers for the Dept of Education

Infernobones95 said...

@anonymous. If you were worried about her not passing you should have made her take the rct which is easier and if passed fulfills the graduation requirement. It is too late now so there is nothing you can do.

Anonymous said...

The great state of NY says all a 9th grader needs to know to be successful in 10th Grade is 34% of the material in their math 9 Regents test. I don't know about you but no way would I want a doctor or anyone else doing a job if they only knew 1/3 of the information that they needed to do it right.
It is an insult to the kids telling them they are too "dumb" so we will lower what you need to pass. rather than raising them up , the state exams are doing the opposite

Anonymous said...

I am currently in 9th grade but last year in 8th I took this exam and the regular NYS Earth Science exam. I am very proud of my two teachers of these courses for working with what they had- which was a lack of time. We worked very hard in both classes to prepare. The thing that helped me most was when they would print off old exams and assign them as homework. I do not mean to brag, but I did extremely well on both exams. I felt very bad for my Algebra teacher especially because she had so much material to teach. Unfortunately, I will be part of the class each year that gets to take the new Regents exam, so this was not the first this will happen to my class.