technical difficulties

Regents scoring issues continue to pile up as graduations near

Sweeping and serious problems with a new system for grading high school Regents exams persisted today, the date by which one set of tests was supposed to be completely graded.

The new system, designed to curb score inflation, requires teachers to report to central sites to grade answers that have been scanned and meted out by McGraw-Hill, the testing company. Educators from across the city are reporting that teachers were sent back to their schools early again today from grading sites because there were not enough essays to score. At other sites, scorers said they were told to stay put but not given papers to grade.

“We arrived at scoring today at 8:30 only to be sent away at 9,” wrote a commenter posting as AlvySinger in response to our story about the grading issues from Tuesday.

“1:08 pm. Nothing to grade,” another commenter wrote. The story has received nearly 50 comments from educators and others who are distressed about the scoring situation.

Several readers noted that a solution exists to a different issue that left some essays unreadable in the computer system — but that the fix requires compromising the anonymity of the exams, a main reason for the new scoring system in the first place.

“By simply hitting ‘zoom out’ on the computer settings, the student’s name, school and ID number (if they wrote it) is revealed — worked on EVERY test, EVERY time,” Queens wrote. “However, it allowed for the ‘blocked out’ parts from bad scans to be seen as well.”

The scoring delays are important because some seniors need to earn passing scores in order to graduate. The Department of Education told principals late Tuesday that they should bend the rules and allow seniors who have fulfilled all other requirements to participate in graduation ceremonies, with the caveat that they must be told that they won’t get a diploma until they have a passing exam score.

A teacher who is coordinating his school’s graduation ceremony, which takes place on Monday, said he’s been fielding calls from students who need to pass their Regents in order to graduate. They’ve called to ask if they can pick up their cap and gown or reserve seats for their parents, which they couldn’t do under the regular rules.

“If you’re a senior on the fence, waiting to see if you’re going to graduate, you’re pretty nervous” the teacher said. He estimated that 20 students, or about 10 percent, of students at his school are affected. “There’s not much I can tell them,” the teacher said. “We’re forced to tell them that it hasn’t been graded.”

The teacher called the situation at his testing center “a nightmare, to put it bluntly.” He said mornings have been busy — he’s graded about 40 essays per day — but that scanned tests slow to a trickle in the afternoon. He said he graded three essays yesterday between 12:30 and 3 p.m. Normally, he said he would be able to grade about 20 essays per hour.

Other problems with the electronic scoring system — being used for four frequently taken tests, in Living Environment, Global Studies, U.S. history, and English — have teachers concerned that students’ scores could be negatively affected.

Those issues could be compounded as the department searches for educators to score exams after school and over the weekend. (McGraw-Hill will cover the overtime pay from its $3.5 million contract for the year, city officials said on Tuesday. Its total contract is for $9.6 million over three years.)

“I was just informed that I have been scheduled to grade the Geometry Regents over the next few days. I have taught High School ENGLISH for 14 years–why do I need to spend two days at another location grading a test I have no business being involved with?” wrote Kelli, a GothamSchools commenter.

“Exactly,” wrote Science Teacher, in response. “I was sent to grade Living Environment and I have never taught LE. Granted I am a science teacher and I understood the material, [but] there were other teachers way out of their own subject who were not well versed in the subject.”

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at cbauman@chalkbeat.org.

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”

 

Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”

 

Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”

 

Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”

 

Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”

 

Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”