What Do You Need to Pass the Algebra 1 Test In NYS? Not Much.

“If you’re giving a kid a diploma based on a Regents score, does that pass mean that the kid has sufficient math skills?” asked Kim Nauer, education research director at The New School’s Center for New York City Affairs.

Not in New York. Although, of course, students and their parents have no way of discerning this detail.

Back in the olden days when I took Regents exams, you needed a 65% to pass. Pretty straight-forward, right? If there were 100 questions, you had to get 65 right. But that was then and this is now. Today the New York Post reports that the new passing grade on the Algebra 1 Regents test, newly aligned with up-to-date standards, is 31.4%. Out of the 86 points, high school students have to get 27 right.

What’s changed?

That’s an easy one. Back in July 2010, the New York State Board of Regents adopted Common Core standards for language arts and math. These standards differ from NYS’s old ones because they actually require student to be proficient in skills that adequately prepare them for college and/or careers. So they’re harder, even with the recent tweaks, requiring higher-order critical thinking skills and comprehension, not rote memorization. Seven years later, school systems haven’t quite caught up. So the Board of Regents keeps lowering the passing score in order to maintain the illusion that all our kids are, to borrow from Garrison Keillor, strong, good-looking and above average.

The Post quotes Aaron Pallas, chair of education policy and social analysis at Columbia’s Teachers College, who said  that the threshold for passing should get higher as math skills sharpen. “Kids should be doing better,” he said. “It should require a higher score to be proficient, but that’s not yet what we’re seeing. It’s going the other way, which is puzzling.”

And Bob Schaeffer of FairTest said, ““Cutoff scores have been manipulated to produce politically desirable results in many jurisdictions.”

Families should be able to rely on a clear lens to be apprised of their children’s proficiency, not a rose-colored one. Is it any surprise that students enter college and, according to Higher Education, “every year in the United States, nearly 60% of first-year college students discover that, despite being fully eligible to attend college, they are not ready for postsecondary studies?”

That’s not transparency. That’s opacity. We can do better, both in preparing students and being honest with their families.

What do you think?

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