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.