Now, fix the Regents exams

Now that New York has raised its definition of proficiency in exams for grades three through eight, it’s time to fix the high school Regents exams, writes Marc Epstein in City Journal. The Regents have been dumbed down, charges Epstein, a high school history teacher in New York City.

The Global History and Geography Regents requires no knowledge or geography, he writes.

One handout shows a man sitting in a pedicab while the driver tries to walk the bicycle pulling the passenger through about three or four feet of water. The question asks: “What was one problem that people in the Varanasi region of India faced once the 1983 summer monsoons arrived, based on this National Geographic photograph and its caption?” If you couldn’t figure it out just by looking at the picture, the caption informs you that there was flooding and sewage, along with floating animal carcasses.

. . . A second part of the test, known as the thematic essay, asks the student to write about change and ideas, selecting two famous people—from a list including Nelson Mandela, Karl Marx, Galileo, and Mikhail Gorbachev—and explaining a specific idea the individuals developed, the historical circumstances surrounding its development, and how it influenced a group, a nation, or a region. After two years of global history, it’s safe to say that even your marginal students can find something to say about Marx and Communism or Mandela and apartheid.

The U.S. History and Government exam asked students to “write about the positive and negative effects of technology on the American society and economy,” a “rehashed question” from an old test designed for special-needs students or those who couldn’t pass the Regents exam, Epstein writes.

The document-based questions on the History exam were just as risible. A cartoon from the National Temperance Almanac depicts a saloonkeeper laying bricks around the entrance to his saloon—with the bricks labeled “wrecked lives,” ruined fortunes,” “lost virtue,” and “ruined characters.” The question then asks the student to state two effects that alcohol had on American society.

Students can pass by answering only one of two essay questions if they do well enough on the multiple-choice and document-based questions.

Proficient should mean college ready, backed up by automatic admission to a state  university, writes Core Knowledge’s Robert Pondiscio on Answer Sheet.

For low-income families with high aspirations but little educational experience, all they know is what the state and public schools tell them. And they’ve been misled. Seeing their children through the K-12 pipeline with a clear picture of readiness and a guaranteed college acceptance would likely be the difference between success and failure.

“’Proficiency’ on our exams has to mean something real,” (New York Education Commissioner David) Steiner wrote recently. “No good purpose is served when we say that a child is proficient when that child simply is not.”

Sol Stern writes about the history of New York’s testing mess in National Review.

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