fuzzy math

The state is tinkering with Regents exam scores, but advocates say that means prior test-takers lose out

Some teachers and advocates are concerned about changes to the scoring system for the algebra Regents exam that could result in higher scores, by one measure, for this year’s test-takers. They say the adjustments, announced by the state in June, put students who took the test in 2014 or 2015 at a disadvantage.

“If I were a student [who took the test last year] I’d want to retake the Regents this year,” said Megan Roberts, the executive director of Math for America.

When the state switched to tougher Common Core exams, officials vowed that they would make the tests harder, but preserve roughly the same passing percentages. But last year, the first in which all students had to take the exam, the percentage of students who passed fell by nine percent, causing anxiety for high school teachers and students.

In June, officials said they were performing “scale maintenance” in order to keep passing percentages roughly equal to what they were before Common Core. Students had to answer about two fewer questions correctly in order to pass the exam this June, though that could partly indicate a harder test.

Regardless, the “scale” scoring, which plots student scores on a scale of 0 to 100, appears to have gotten easier. The number of raw score points it took to earn an 80, for example, dropped 18 points this year.

State officials said the focus on scaled test scores is misplaced since those scores are not how they mark progress. Instead, they’re encouraging students to concentrate on their 1-5 scores. Using those, there is a less dramatic drop of 5 points in what it takes to get a level 4, the official marker of college readiness.

But some advocates worry that message will get lost in translation. It’s hard to tell students to ignore scale scores, they say, if they’re still being seen by students, teachers and colleges.

“Do students, parents and teachers really understand that they shouldn’t ever be looking at those numbers?” asked Kim Nauer, education research director at the New School’s Center for New York City Affairs.

The tinkering and backlash are an early indication of how challenging it will be to both increase the rigor of a diploma and simultaneously keep graduation rates stable.

The students are “getting caught in an experiment,” said education consultant David Rubel, “These are real kids, and now they’re being tossed around by various policy directives of NYSED.”

Raise your voice

Memphis, what do you want in your next school superintendent?

PHOTO: Kyle Kurlick for Chalkbeat

Tennessee’s largest school district needs a permanent leader. What kind of superintendent do you think Shelby County Schools should be looking for?

Now is the chance to raise your voice. The school board is in the thick of finalizing a national search and is taking bids from search firms. Board members say they want a leader to replace former superintendent Dorsey Hopson in place within 18 months. They have also said they want community input in the process, though board members haven’t specified what that will look like. In the interim, career Memphis educator Joris Ray is at the helm.

Let us know what you think is most important in the next superintendent.  Select responses will be published.

Asking the candidates

How to win over Northwest Side voters: Chicago aldermen candidates hone in on high school plans

PHOTO: Cassie Walker Burke / Chalkbeat Chicago
An audience member holds up a green sign showing support at a forum for Northwest side aldermanic candidates. The forum was sponsored by the Logan Square Neighborhood Association.

The residents filing into the auditorium of Sharon Christa McAuliffe Elementary School Friday wanted to know a few key things from the eager aldermanic candidates who were trying to win their vote.

People wanted to know which candidates would build up their shrinking open-enrollment high schools and attract more students to them.

They also wanted specifics on how the aldermen, if elected, would coax developers to build affordable housing units big enough for families, since in neighborhoods such as Logan Square and Hermosa, single young adults have moved in, rents have gone up, and some families have been pushed out.

As a result, some school enrollments have dropped.

Organized by the Logan Square Neighborhood Association, Friday’s event brought together candidates from six of the city’s most competitive aldermanic races. Thirteen candidates filled the stage, including some incumbents, such as Aldermen Proco “Joe” Moreno (1st  Ward), Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th Ward), and Milly Santiago (31st Ward).

They faced tough questions — drafted by community members and drawn at random from a hat — about bolstering high school enrollment, recruiting more small businesses, and paving the way for more affordable housing.

When the audience members agreed with their positions, they waved green cards, with pictures of meaty tacos. When they heard something they didn’t like, they held up red cards, with pictures of fake tacos.

Red cards weren’t raised much. But the green cards filled the air when candidates shared ideas for increasing the pull of area open-enrollment high schools by expanding dual-language programs and the rigorous International Baccalaureate curriculum.

Related: Can a program designed for British diplomats fix Chicago schools? 

“We want our schools to be dual language so people of color can keep their roots alive and keep their connections with their families,” said Rossana Rodriguez, a mother of a Chicago Public Schools’ preschooler and one of challengers to incumbent Deb Mell in the city’s 33rd Ward.  

Mell didn’t appear at the forum, but another candidate vying for that seat did: Katie Sieracki, who helps run a small business. Sieracki said she’d improve schools by building a stronger feeder system between the area’s elementary schools, which are mostly K-8, and the high schools.

“We need to build bridges between our local elementary schools and our high schools, getting buy-in from new parents in kindergarten to third grade, when parents are most engaged in their children’s education,” she said.

Sieracki said she’d also work to design an apprenticeship program that connects area high schools with small businesses.

Green cards also filled the air when candidates pledged to reroute tax dollars that are typically used for developer incentives for school improvement instead.

At the end of the forum, organizers asked the 13 candidates to pledge to vote against new tax increment financing plans unless that money went to schools. All 13 candidates verbally agreed.

Aldermen have limited authority over schools, but each of Chicago’s 50 ward representatives receives a $1.32 million annual slush fund that be used for ward improvements, such as playgrounds, and also can be directed to education needs. And “aldermanic privilege,” a longtime concept in Chicago, lets representatives give the thumbs up or down to developments like new charters or affordable housing units, which can affect school enrollment.

Related: 7 questions to ask your aldermanic candidates about schools

Aldermen can use their position to forge partnerships with organizations and companies that can provide extra support and investment to local schools.

A January poll showed that education was among the top three concerns of voters in Chicago’s municipal election. Several candidates for mayor have recently tried to position themselves as the best candidate for schools in TV ads.