Dumbing down New York’s Regents exam

New York has dumbed down its Regents exam to avoid failing too many students, writes Michael Winerip in the New York Times. This year, for the first time, high schools students must score at least 65 on five exams — English, math, science, global history and U.S. history — to earn a diploma. But it’s easy to score 65, Winerip asserts. Literacy is optional.

The three-hour English test includes 25 multiple choice questions, an essay and two short responses. A student who gets 1’s on both responses is likely to reach 65, Winerip writes. What does it take to score a 1? The state teachers’ scoring guide gives an example of a 1-worthy short response:

These two Charater have very different mind Sets because they are creative in away that no one would imagen just put clay together and using leaves to create Art.

He also provides the start of an essay that deserves 4 out of 6 points, according to the guide:

In life, “no two people regard the world in exactly the same way,” as J. W. von Goethe says. Everyone sees and reacts to things in different ways. Even though they may see the world in similar ways, no two people’s views will ever be exactly the same. This statement is true since everyone sees things through different viewpoints.

I suppose one could argue that blathering, bluffing and echoing the words of authority figures are important workforce skills.

Winerip, never a fan of standards and accountability, doubts “there are new and higher standards, stronger curriculums and better tests just over the next hill to solve all our problems.”

“Four now,” he writes, “Wm. Shakespare must Be a turnover in his Grave (1 point).”

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  1. We’ve seen this pattern a million times:
    1. Observe that lots of kids are graduating without the skills implied by the diploma
    2. Create a test to expose which kids those are so we can treat the problem
    3. Be horrified that many kids are failing the test
    4. Dumb down the test in order to conceal the problem again.

    Lather, rinse, repeat.

  2. Agreed. That’s what happens when you play the one-size-fits-all game. In the real world, some kids should never enter any academic institution, some should have primarily life-skills and low-skilled job training, some should have enough knowledge and skills to do entry-level jobs (with certification or CC options) or to enter the military and some should be encouraged to apply to serious voc ed or college prep programs. In the latter two cases, only those demonstrating appropriate knowledge and skills should be accepted. Pretending that ALL can meet any standard beyond breathing is an exercise in futility, not to mention stupidity. It should be remembered that a not-insignificant fraction of the total student population has an IQ below room temperature and that fraction varies wildly by school/district; it’s not PC to mention it, but it’s reality.

  3. Momof4: Be careful! Posting stuff like that on the Internet these days can get you a knock on your door by the FBI or Dept. of Justice…

  4. This is not the first school I have heard of doing this. What bothers me is that it continues to happen with what seems like little backlash from the public. Parents will move across town lines to ensure that their child is in a “premier school district” but yet many parents say nothing when these same schools lower expectations for graduation?! We talk about wanting to improve society, but in most cases betterment is dependent upon the raising the bar of our educational system. How can we lower standards and expect greater outcomes? Charles F. Kettering stated, “High achievement always takes place in the framework of high expectation;” yet too many schools continue to lower expectations to meet their lower performance levels. I personally find this a bit backwards!

  5. Michael E. Lopez says:

    When a person succeeds where others fail, it is a mark of distinction.

    But the public school system cannot, for (perhaps) very good political and moral reasons, be an institution that expects a certain amount of failure. It has to be premissed on the possibility of success for everyone.

    Accordingly, that success is going to lack distinction.

    So people who wish to demonstrate their distinction, their merit, will go elsewhere.

    • Sean Mays says:

      Michael, I agree with your conclusion, but question the premises.

      Political and moral reasons are determined by people. At various times different societies have allowed wildly different moral and political values (marriage patterns, discipline of children, murder, cannibalism, etc). Just as obviously, the same society has reached different judgements over time (think Prohibition). Neither of these value systems gives us an “absolute” frame of reference. It’s a decision, rather like consent of the governed. May we not, as a society, flip the switch back to achievement and distinction, even if there is a concommittant increase in failure?

      • Michael E. Lopez says:

        It’s true what you say: different situations have yielded different moralities.

        Let’s imagine for a moment that you’re also correct that this means it’s relativistic, so that none of these various social situations are actually wrong, and that there is thus no moral problem with “just switching”. I don’t believe this, but let’s assume arguendo.

        May we not merely choose to switch? Well, yes. BUT.

        In the first place, we’d have to be motivated to switch. And by making the relativistic argument we’ve undermined that motivation. Why bother switching if any one socio-moral situation is as good as any other?

        Also, while switching sounds nice in theory, in practice it’s hard. Let’s go with a really simple example: think of a food you really hate. Can you just “switch” your values so that you like it? The answer, of course, is “yes, you can.” But it takes a tremendous amount of effort, and probably a little of what most people would call non-rational indoctrination. You have to set out to purposefully condition yourself to change your tastes.

        And that’s if you WANT to change.

        Now let’s up the stakes and talk torture instead of broccoli (to use the supposed Russell example). We’re going for something deeply held, something many people don’t want to give up… something held for at least perceived reasons. Let’s also change it from an individual attempting a bit of self-guidance to a society attempting widespread change.

        That sort of thing happens, true. But it happens hard. It often takes radical changes in environmental circumstances and/or paying a terrible cost. (Think Civil War-, the invention of cheap, easy, semi-reliable contraception-, and the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki-kind of hard.)

        Don’t get me wrong — I’m no fan of the underlying morality I described above. That’s why I said “perhaps”. While I admit that the arguments in favor of the no-failure school system are at once reasonable and even persuasive on a couple of counts, I think that failure is important. (See here: http://higheredintel.blogspot.com/2011/12/gratuitious-repost-practice-failure-and.html )

        I’ve probably gone on way too long for a reasonable blog comment, but your comment was thought-provoking and I thought deserved a serious response.