Here is that editorial in full:
There Has to Be a Better Way to Grade TestsA task force appointed by the New York State education commissioner, John King Jr., is to report next month on ways to improve the integrity of the state’s educational testing system. New York has thus far escaped cheating scandals like the one that exploded in Atlanta. But troubling new developments have shown weaknesses in New York’s testing system that need to be fixed.
The annual standardized tests given in the lower grades and the Regents examination that high school students must pass to graduate now play a crucial role in decisions about how schools are rated and how principals are evaluated. In the future, teachers will also be judged, in part, on how students perform on state tests.
With the tests counting for more, attempts to tamper with them will most likely grow. The state recognized that problem this year when it ended the practice of having schools rescore the Regents exams of students who fell just below the passing level. The intent was to make sure that students weren’t failed by mistake. But an analysis by The Times showed that lots of students were getting the minimum score needed to pass, which suggested cheating. The state has ended rescoring by schools, but it permits superintendents to correct errors.
That change does not cure the far bigger problem. The Regents exams are typically scored in the same school where they are given, often by a student’s own teacher. The state Education Department has allowed this practice to go on because the exams are given very late in the academic year — often just days before graduation — so that it is convenient to have the schools grade the tests. The threat to the integrity of the results is obvious.
For the Regents to be taken seriously, this practice must end. The state needs to find a way to have the exams scored by a neutral party.
This could be accomplished by administering tests online or scanning them into computers and having them graded elsewhere.
Scoring of tests for the lower grades varies from district to district. In New York City, they are administered at the schools and sent to regulated, neutral sites for grading. But this is an expensive procedure that costs the city between $20 million and $25 million a year.
If all districts are going to take this approach, the state should assume the costs. Similarly, if the state wants school systems to use inexpensive test validation procedures — like computerized erasure analysis to check for fraud — it must not foist the costs onto the already underfinanced schools. Even in the difficult fiscal climate, the state has to ensure that student test results are reliable.
This year, the NY Times editorial board got that vaunted new grading system, with teachers no longer able to grade tests in their own schools, with tests now scanned into computers and teachers sent to central locations for grading.
Here's how the NY Times described that process today:
Carlton Swindell Jr., a senior at Chelsea Career and Technical Education High School, dreamed about his graduation day for months: white limousines and fancy bouquets, a line of teachers cheering his name as if he were a basketball star.But when the moment finally came on Friday, Carlton was subdued. As his friends held their diplomas high, he looked down at a Post-it note with his name scrawled in Sharpie.“Everyone else has a diploma,” he said. “It’s a bit of a disappointment.”Hundreds of seniors graduating this week across New York City have yet to receive their high school diplomas because of problems in the city’s new high-tech system of grading state Regents exams.In the past, teachers graded their own students’ tests, spending days poring over questions about “King Lear” and the French Revolution.But the state, concerned that some teachers might be grading too easily, recently ended that practice, and city officials turned to a modern solution: scanning the finished exams and sending them randomly to teachers throughout the city to grade.The computer system, created by McGraw-Hill Education as part of a $9.6 million contract over three years, broke down this week, leaving students and teachers anxiously awaiting results. Passing grades on Regents exams in English, science, math and history are required for graduation in most public high schools. Students can retake an exam even after the school year ends in order to get a diploma; the next round of tests is given in August.Erin Hughes, a spokeswoman for the city’s Education Department, said the city would hire extra teachers for the weekend so that exams could be graded before the school year ends on Wednesday. She said that the problem affected fewer than 3 percent of the roughly 57,000 seniors and that each year there was a relatively small number of students who received their scores, and their diplomas, after graduation ceremonies.“We anticipated there to be bumps,” Ms. Hughes said, noting that the city had originally set a deadline of this coming Monday to have all tests graded. “Things are moving more slowly than we had hoped.”The problem occurred as teachers began grading essay questions for a science exam known as Living Environment and two social studies tests, Global History and Geography and U.S. History and Government. (Not every Regents exam is required for graduation.)The exams were shipped to Connecticut to be scanned, where a computer system experienced “intermittent slowdowns,” a spokesman for McGraw-Hill, Brian Belardi, said. He said the company had been working “around the clock” to remedy the issues.The city comptroller, John C. Liu, said he was considering an audit. Mr. Liu, who is running for mayor, said that the city should recoup the $3.5 million it had already paid McGraw-Hill this year and that the exams should be invalidated.“It is unconscionable that students, families and schools should suffer through fake graduations because their Regents grades are unknown,” Mr. Liu said in a statement.Ernest A. Logan, president of the Council of School Supervisors and Administrators, the city’s principals’ union, said the city needed to improve its oversight of outside contracts.“Once again, they’ve messed up, and now we’re left to clean it up,” Mr. Logan said. “This should be a time of celebration for our students.”
Are they happier with the "integrity"of the results now, with Regents exams having been graded by teachers out of license, with the McGraw-Hill computer system having crashed more often than Bloomberg's 911 call system, with tests having been scanned incorrectly or not scanned at all, with tests having been lost on the drive to Connecticut to be scanned?
It's interesting to me how quickly the editorial boards around the city are to point fingers at individual teachers for problems with testing or grading or the education system as a whole, but when it comes to a widespread systemic failure like the NYCDOE and the NYSED are currently experiencing with this Regents grading fiasco, they're willing to give the powers that be the benefit of the doubt.
In fact, it took the NY Times quite a few days to even do a story on this mess.
Kudos to Gotham Schools, a site which I usually ridicule for being a corporate education reform public relations firm, for actually covering the Regents fiasco from the beginning and getting at the severity of the situation, something which the Times article doesn't actually do.
The Regents grading mess has been a lot worse than the Times article lets on.
I look forward to the Times editorial board writing up a new editorial entitled