A tale of two tests

Schools to focus on old Regents instead of new Common Core


With the end of the school year on the horizon, Rockville Centre School District administrators were forced to make a choice for eighth-grade algebra students: Which of the two Regents exams that will be administered in June should they prepare them for?

New York state has recently ruled that eighth-graders taking algebra do not have to take a state mathematics exam, but will still have to take two Regents exams: one based on the new Common Core

curriculum, to be administered in early June, and another based on the old curriculum, in late June.

Because the two exams are so different in approach and content, administrators concluded that teachers would not be able to prepare students for both, so they will focus on the old Regents, Integrated Algebra. “If we were to try to do both, I think we’d come up short for both,” Superintendent Dr. William Johnson said at a Board of Education briefing session on Jan. 8.

This is the last year Integrated Algebra will be given by the state. By next year, all algebra classes will have made the switch to the Common Core curriculum.

Johnson said that only the higher of the two Regents grades will be listed on students’ final report cards. According to Johnson, the state has said that it would try to finalize the Common Core results at the same time as the Integrated results, but is not promising it will.

The reason the Common Core Regents grading will take longer is that the state is using what it calls a “post-administration standard setting” on the exam — it will decide what grade is the pass/fail mark after all the exams are graded. “It’s like telling the kids to run the track, and we’ll decide where the finish line is,” Johnson said.

Amid discussion of the tests, concerns were raised about the way the new Common Core curriculum is structured. The curriculum — which the state calls “modules,” and which is available online — is divided into 180 lessons designed for hour-long classes. Rockville Centre has a total of 180 days of school a year, and classes are not an hour long. And students lose days of class to field trips and in-school activities.

Teachers, administrators and Board of Education trustees said they were concerned not only about teaching the curriculum, but about some of the questions. One sample question, for example, required that students watch a video of a man diving into a 1-foot-deep pool. The video sparked concerns about students emulating the video, thinking it may be safe because it is part of their instruction.

“I have worries about the math education our students are going to receive,” said Dr. Carol Burris, principal of South Side High School.

Administrators said they were also concerned that, even if teachers focused on the Common Core exam, students would not have the background in that curriculum to do well on the Regents, since this is the first year they are taking Common Core math.

The focus on the Integrated Algebra Regents will mean that, as Johnson said, students will be “somewhat underprepared” for the Common Core test.

“We have to make a choice,” Johnson said. “We don’t know how to fully prepare somebody for the Common Core because we’ve never seen it before; we don’t know what it is. So I don’t even know how to fully prepare them for that. I do know how to prepare them for the Integrated. So we’re going to prepare them for the Integrated and do our best to fill in around the edges, and make sure the kids at least make a serious run at doing well on the Common Core.”