Raising Regents Standard And Managing The Numbers

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WSJ chart on city and state diploma rates over time

Next year graduation rates are expected to drop after the State makes it much more difficult to pass their test.

The city’s graduation rate has increased steadily over the past several years, peaking at 59% last year. [Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch noted that three-quarters of city high school graduates entering city community colleges fail the entrance exams.

She said one way to make a diploma mean more is to raise the passing score to higher than 65.

“Maybe it means 75. Who knows, maybe it means 80,” Tisch told the Daily News. “We are saying that with this diploma, they should be ready to enter a four-year college.”

She was also quoted in the WSJ as saying:

“Our Regents diploma doesn’t mean college-ready,” said Merryl Tisch, chancellor of the Regents, noting that “75% of the youngsters who graduate from the city schools who go to City University require remedial work” in math and English.

As someone who has done research on educational outcomes, the following warms my heart:

Last month, the Regents decided that beginning in the next school year, answer sheets for six of the 17 Regents exams would be scanned and submitted to the state for potential analysis. All Regents exams are to be scanned by the 2011-12 school year. The current practice is for schools to take the exams, grade them and then keep the tests for a year, at which time they can be destroyed.

Scanning the tests means the state can keep the test answers in electronic form indefinitely and use them for analysis. The analysis could include checking for suspicious erasures or unusual answer clusters that may suggest cheating.

Yesterday, the New Schools’ Center for New York City Affairs released Managing by the Numbers: Empowerment and Accountability in New York City Schools, which has been described as:

a very thorough study of the city’s A through F grading system for public schools. Researchers interviewed hundreds of principals and administrators over the past three years and also visited dozens of schools, especially in the Bronx. They gave the city credit for helping failing schools improve by giving their principals more power. But the report found the city’s A through F letter system to be “deeply flawed.”

The report’s senior editor, Clara Hemphill, says she saw mediocre schools that were rewarded with A’s while good schools that engaged their students through the arts and a challenging curriculum weren’t recognized for making progress. She blamed that on the city’s over-reliance on state math and reading tests, which account for 85 percent of a school’s grade.

“The problem is that they’re being used to measure progress — year to year progress — and the tests just are not precise enough, they’re just not designed to do that,” Hemphill explained. She said most test questions are used to determine whether a student will pass, and don’t yield enough nuance about the child’s performance.