Panel recommends new format for Regents exam scores

Statistics course, single diploma proposed

On Board Online • November 28, 2016

By Cathy Woodruff
Senior Writer

New York should design a simple five-point scoring system for its high school Regents exams and, at the same time, lessen the state's dependence on exam scores to determine college readiness, a workgroup of educators established by the Board of Regents has recommended.

"Start afresh," urged committee chair Jack Bierwirth in a presentation this month to the Board of Regents. Bierwirth is a member of the Bronxville school board and retired in 2015 as superintendent in the Herricks school district in Nassau County.

Bierwirth's group suggested a five-point scoring scale for all Regents exams with clear boundaries based on proficiency. Level 3 would be the passing point for all exams, Level 4 would designate "mastery" and Level 5 would show "distinction."

The group also:

  • Called for a Regents-level class and exam in statistics.
  • Recommended new approaches for measuring college readiness.
  • Criticized the state's graduation requirements as overly complex.
  • Recommended the state offer only one high school diploma with additional "endorsements" for special areas of competency, such as career and technical education.

In its report to the P-12 Education Committee of the Board of Regents, the group advised against trying to equate the recommended 1-5 scale scoring levels to a traditional 0-100 scale.

The members noted that the scores no longer are equivalent to percentages and that passing scores vary widely from exam to exam. Regents exam passing scores for students graduating in 2022 are set at 75 for English, 80 for algebra and 65 for other courses, according to the report.

"We recognized the appeal of the traditional 0-100 scale to many," the report said. "However, we believe that the 0-100 scale has become so distorted that it would be to everyone's benefit, on balance, to start with a new scale for Regents exams in all subject areas to ensure consistency."

"We're talking about a proficiency-based system," Bierwirth explained later in an interview with On Board. "Let students get the scores they earned, not based on any curve or artificially set percentage."

The members of the workgroup, who included teachers, administrators and CUNY and SUNY administrators, also stepped beyond their original mission to recommend that New York create a new Regents exam-level math course in statistics, broadening the mathematics options available to students.

"Most college liberal arts majors now need statistics," Bierwirth told the Regents. "In many cases, it's more useful to them than trigonometry."

The workgroup also tackled the issue of how to measure readiness for college and for careers after high school. Currently, the group said, determinations of college readiness depend too heavily on Regents test scores.

"The best indicator of college readiness is the rigor of a student's high school curriculum," Bierwirth said. But strict diploma requirements for passing particular Regents exams can discourage students from taking other challenging courses that would improve their readiness for college, he said.

Students who repeatedly re-take the algebra Regents in a quest to pass it, for example, are unlikely to enroll in other math courses that would expose them to different concepts and skills.

As New York simplifies its scoring system for Regents exams, it should do the same for its elaborate system of diploma requirements, the workgroup said.

"New York currently has one of the most complex sets of graduation requirements of any state in the country," the group's report said. "While designed to meet a wide variety of needs and goals, we believe that the complexity has become counterproductive."

College administrators and employers indicate they are using little of the information that the various diploma options were intended to provide, Bierwirth said.

"If we are serious about preparing students for college and careers, then we need to give them a rigorous course of study in high school," a far more useful consideration cited by college administrators and employers, he told the Regents.

The group recommended a single state diploma with "endorsements" indicating enhanced strength in particular coursework, such as science, technology and math (STEM) or career and technical education (CTE). Educators with expertise in English language learners and students with disabilities should be enlisted to make sure the needs of those students are addressed in any eventual plan, the workgroup said.

"We are recommending one diploma," Bierwirth said. "It will be simpler."

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