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January 29, 2014
As crises ebb, educators adjust to new Common Core curriculums
Midway through the first year with new Common Core-aligned teaching materials, some educators say they are fundamentally flawed. Even teachers who praise the materials say they require serious adjustments and threaten to leave many students behind.
December 10, 2013
As testing anxiety peaks, student media campaign urges calm
From left: Columbia University volunteer Andrew Zola; Nichole Urena; Hudson High government teacher Elizabeth Schurman; principal Nancy Amling; Christina Auricchio; Bruce Dixey. Like students across the city, those at the Hudson High School of Learning Technologies can rattle off many reasons to loathe the state Regents exams. Teens at the Chelsea school have had to slog through Saturday test-prep classes, retake tough tests several times, appeal low scores and — in at least one student’s case — retake two of the all-important exit exams this summer on his 17th birthday. But unlike most students, those in Hudson’s 12th-grade government class decided to turn their Regents animus into action by launching an outreach campaign aimed at lowering the temperature around testing.
November 22, 2013
Tisch: Student's test woes show need for more diploma paths
Philip Yeung with his daughter, Tiffany, whose struggle to pass one Regents exam has kept her from earning a diploma. A student stuck without a diploma after 11 unsuccessful attempts to pass a test is the “poster child” for a need to create new ways to graduate, a top state education official said this week. Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch was asked Monday about a recent GothamSchools story on students who have failed to meet the state’s new higher graduation standards, which went into effect last year. She said such students prove the need for diploma options that allow students to substitute an alternative assessment for one of the five required Regents tests. “Should that student be denied a high-school diploma? I don’t think so,” Tisch said about Tiffany, a would-be nurse who has yet to pass her global history and geography Regents exam more than a year after she had hoped to graduate. Tiffany, who still takes Regents-prep classes at Francis Lewis High School in Queens nearly 18 months after her senior year there, asked that her last name be withheld so that potential employers and others would not learn of her graduation struggles. “She’s my poster child for why we need multiple pathways [to graduation],” said Tisch, adding that she would like Tiffany to attend a Regents meeting next month where the board will consider proposals for more routes to a diploma.
November 14, 2013
Tougher diploma rules leave some students in graduation limbo
Philip Yeung with his daughter, Tiffany, who has tried to pass a single Regents exam 10 times since the state raised the minimum pass score. If Jessica Fuentes had better luck with timing, she might be in college now. But because she was a high school senior in 2012, the year the state raised the minimum exam scores required to graduate, she missed the new cutoff score on a few tests, failed to receive a diploma, and withdrew from the college she had planned to attend. Today, after many unsuccessful attempts to pass the tests, she is juggling three jobs while studying for a high school equivalency certificate. “I did four years of high school,” said Fuentes, 20. “What a waste of my time.” Fuentes is one of an untold number of city students ensnared by the state's efforts to raise graduation standards. Those efforts, meant to ensure that high school graduates are prepared for college, have in some cases stranded students in graduation limbo, where because a single test score is a few points too low, they must set aside plans for work and college to take taxpayer-funded test-prep classes.
November 11, 2013
Coalition wants the state to let more schools skip the Regents
A sign inside Urban Academy, a New York Performance Standards Consortium school, details the coalition's past struggles to maintain its Regents-exam waivers. A coalition of small high schools where students complete graduation projects rather than take most Regents exams could soon add several more schools to its ranks – if the state lets those schools skip the tests. The New York Performance Standards Consortium is in talks with the state to get Regents-exam waivers for as many as 22 schools that follow the group’s instructional model and use alternative assessments, but currently must also administer the Regents tests. The schools, which have been part of a multi-year pilot, include several high schools in the Internationals and Expeditionary Learning networks. Many of them have staff members who worked at consortium schools in the past. The consortium currently includes 28 public schools — 26 in New York City and one each in Rochester and Ithaca — where students are exempt from taking all Regents exams except for English. Instead, they must earn class credits and complete intensive projects to graduate. The group and its supporters – which include the city teachers union and more recently the city Department of Education – have lobbied the state to let more schools trade the Regents tests for the long-term projects, citing data showing higher-than-average graduation and college-enrollment rates among consortium schools. “I think it’s a disgrace that these schools have to apply for a waiver to do more work and prepare children better,” said United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew, adding that obtaining the state waivers is rarely easy. “We know every time we do it it’s a political battle.”
September 13, 2013
After two companies botch test scoring, city to recoup money
The city canceled a contract with one testing vendor and won't get charged by another after the companies bungled exam scoring in separate incidents earlier this year, the education department announced today. Officials announced this afternoon that they are canceling a $9.7 million contract after the vendor, CTB/McGraw-Hill, botched a new electronic grading process for the city's Regents exams, causing confusion for tens of thousands of students who needed scores to graduate or move onto the next grade. The city will also recoup $2.1 million from Pearson for major errors during its administration of a gifted exam. The news comes less than three months after officials sought to downplay the issues, which included a series of technical glitches that resulted from logistical problems, faulty software and low school bandwidth. Spokeswoman Erin Hughes said the department was still negotiating how much money it would recoup from the contract, which was in its second year of a three-year deal. As a result of the cancellation, she said, the city planned to move back to paper-and-pencil scoring in 2014.
August 12, 2013
Chelsea students to retake lost Regents exams
Among the city students to take the state’s English Regents exams on Tuesday are 75 students at Chelsea Career and Technical High School whose original…
August 8, 2013
New State Math Exam Harder, But Not Due To Rigor
As a high school teacher, I am not well versed in elementary school tests, but I have spent a substantial amount of time scrutinizing New York state math Regents exams, so I thought I’d look at the eighth-grade math questions that were released to the public. I was quite surprised by what I saw.
June 26, 2013
With Regents exam scores coming in, attention turns to appeals
With a 92 average in her classes and two passing scores on Regents exams last year, Jacalyn Swintelsky had reason to be optimistic on her way to pick up her report card at Midwood High School this morning. But when she got there, Swintelsky was stunned to see that she had failed the Global Studies Regents exam. Her score was two points shy of the 65 required for graduation and well below her marks on the three other Regents exams she took this year. "I was really shocked," said Swintelsky. "I expected to pass, that's for sure." The outlier on Swintelsky's report card stood out for another reason: It was the only test she took that was graded using the city's new online scoring system that CTB/McGraw-Hill developed for four frequently taken Regents exams. Serious glitches in the scoring system caused delays in getting grades and introduced concerns that scores might be artificially diminished. Now, students such as Swintelsky and their teachers are crafting plans to appeal lower-than-expected scores.
June 24, 2013
Regents test scoring to conclude on Tuesday, finally, city says
A picture that a teacher took of the electronic grading system this afternoon showed that scoring was nearing completion but that thousands of test items still remained to be graded. The drawn-out scoring process for four Regents exams administered earlier this month will come to an end on Tuesday, nearly a week after the first of the exams were supposed to be graded, according to Department of Education officials. The department informed principals this afternoon that some teachers might have to report for scoring on Tuesday, the penultimate day of the school year. "Thank you for your continued support as we approach the completion of Regents exam scoring," wrote Niket Mull, the head of the department's Office of Assessment. Originally, the department had intended for the four exams that are being scored electronically this year — English, global studies, U.S. history, and Living Environment — to be graded by Thursday and entered into the city's data system by today. But a series of glitches in the process engineered by CTB/McGraw-Hill, the testing company, has repeatedly delayed scoring. Those glitches continued over the weekend, when the city had recruited teachers to score exams. A department spokeswoman, Erin Hughes, said McGraw-Hill's scanning of exams over the weekend exceeded the capacity of the company's server, making weekend scoring less efficient than expected.
June 21, 2013
Broad concerns about "harsh" ELA Regents conversion charts
The grading of high school Regents exams isn't even over, but some city educators are already registering concern about the new state conversion charts for English tests. Bronx Center for Science and Math Assistant Principal Stephen Seltzer sent a letter to State Education Commissioner John King expressing frustration about the new conversion chart that has made it more difficult for students to pass the English Regents exam. Seltzer writes that "the rubrics and conversion charts must be aligned and consistent, and both should be made available when teachers are preparing students, not at the time of the exam."
June 21, 2013
UFT protests Regents grading issues; UFT downplays concerns
UFT President Mulgrew and Council of Supervisors and Administrators, a principals union, outside Stuyvesant High School this morning. A top Department of Education official said Friday that effects from delays caused by city's new electronic grading system were "overblown" and estimated that only a small percentage of students would participate in graduation ceremonies without knowing their final grades. "Every kid will have their diploma before the end of [the school year], no one's being kept from walking," Chief Academic Officer Shael Polakow-Suransky said at International High School at Lafayette in Brooklyn, shortly before taking stage to speak at the school's graduation ceremony. "I know that it's stressful and I feel bad for the kids that it's stressful," he said, then added, "I do feel like it's a little bit overblown." Polakow-Suransky's comments came following days of complaints from teachers about the grading process of four of the most-taken Regents tests — Living Environment, Global Studies, U.S. History, and English. The exams are being scored electronically this year through a "distributed scoring system" to improve the efficiency and accuracy of the process used in previous years, which involved teachers grading their own students' exams.
June 20, 2013
With Regents delays stretching on, city recruits overtime scorers
A teacher took these pictures of a computer screen at a Regents exam scoring site today. One message shows that all of the items that had been scanned had already been scored. The other shows that many answers remain to be graded. The Department of Education originally said scoring would be complete today, but the timeline has been extended. The Department of Education is desperately recruiting teachers to make up for Regents exam scoring time that CTB/McGraw-Hill lost. The department needs thousands of graders to work through tens of thousands of test questions that were supposed to be scored already. The scoring hit snags because of breakdowns in the electronic process that the testing company set up, leaving students without scores as high school graduations begin. "As you know, there have been problems in processing and scanning exam materials for the June Global and US History exams which have resulted in delays grading these exams," reads an email that history teachers received late Wednesday. Later, it notes, "Participation is voluntary, and we encourage you to consider taking part in this activity and help to complete the scoring of these exams in as timely a manner as possible." Several teachers said they and their colleagues were torn about whether to take the overtime offer, which would net them just under $42 an hour on Friday night and over the weekend.
June 19, 2013
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.
June 18, 2013
Serious glitches with electronic grading delay Regents scores
A slew of glitches in the city’s electronic grading for Regents exams have delayed scores for several subjects, just days before high schools are set to begin holding graduation ceremonies. The problems represent at best a significant inconvenience and cost and at worst a threat to students' scores and graduation status, according to educators with knowledge of the grading process. This is the first June that all Regents exams taken at city high schools are being graded through "distributed scoring," an arrangement devised to prevent teachers from scoring tests taken by students at their schools. Until last year, teachers graded their own students' exams, but under pressure to show that test scores are not inflated, the state barred that practice. The city's scoring system extends the state's rules. After a pilot last year, the Department of Education opted to have four of the most-taken tests — Living Environment, Global Studies, U.S. History, and English — scored electronically. McGraw-Hill, the vendor administering the process, collects the exams at schools, transports them to a scanning site in Connecticut, and then distributes answers one by one to teachers stationed at computers in city grading centers. The company is getting $3.5 million this year from the city to administer the distributed scoring program, part of a $9.6 million, three-year contract to manage the logistical acrobatics that the new arrangement requires.
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