THE BLOG
11/26/2010 01:55 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Let's Get Complicated

Every year in New York State, there's an entire week in January devoted to giving Regents exams. Kids can study, prepare, and take tests, or if they're really lucky, get a week off. Meanwhile, their teachers proctor, grade exams, and take care of whatever has to be done before the kids return.

This year things are different. One reason is that there's a new English Regents exam. It's been streamlined and there's less writing. It only takes one day instead of two. And it appears to be largely regulated by a private company called Pearson, contracted for "performance standards revisitation." I'm not entirely certain what that means, but perhaps how kids perform on the test will determine which standards need to be applied. Will the test be easier? More difficult?

No one knows for sure, and that worries those of us who constantly have Adequate Yearly Progress hanging over our heads. In fact, the conversion chart that will allow teachers to turn raw scores into actual grades won't be available for two weeks after the tests are scored.

This brings me to another point -- this test will not be given during Regents week, which begins Jan. 25. Instead, it will be administered Jan. 11. This means New York high school kids will lose, besides Regents week, an additional full day of school. But that's not all. The geniuses at Pearson have decreed that all test papers be scored, recorded, photocopied, and prepared for UPS delivery by 2 p.m. on Jan. 12.

Perhaps Pearson is unaware that ESL and special education students require extra time to take these exams. Thus, they will be around for hours after the native-English-speaking kids finish. It's unlikely their teachers will be around long enough to grade all their papers (and I can tell you from experience it's more time-consuming to read ESL papers than native papers).

What will happen? Likely teachers will need to come back very early the next morning to grade, and English language learners will lose yet another day of instruction.

But that's not all. Kids in classes that focus on the Regents exam will have two weeks of classes that lead nowhere. Not knowing whether they passed or not, will kids be motivated to study for a test they just took? Will they simply assume they passed and tune out? If a teacher chooses to do something wild, say, teach a book without simply focusing on terms mandated by the Regents exam, perhaps she'll get written up by some overzealous supervisor.

It seems obvious the sensible thing to do is give the test after the class ends. Shouldn't we give kids more, not less prep time? And doesn't it make sense to give them additional instruction when it's so easy to do? This is particularly true of an exam no one's ever seen, and giving kids every opportunity to excel seems more important than making things convenient for the folks at Pearson.

I've been saying for years that it's absurd to administer the English Regents exam to my ESL students; they require a very different kind of instruction and examination than those of us born here. Preparing them for this exam deprives them of instruction they will likely need to revisit in college remedial courses -- courses they'd need not pay for if we were free to give them what they need in high school.

The nonsensical manner in which this test will be administered exacerbates an already absurd situation. And it's just one more thing that happens when educational decisions get made without educators' input.