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New formula for NY Regents exams

Ben Catalfo, a 16-year-old from Setauket, found an

Ben Catalfo, a 16-year-old from Setauket, found an error in the state Regents geometry test.

Ben Catalfo, 16, finally gets an A+ for perseverance in the pursuit of fairness. The state Education Department caved last week and will give all students credit for a question on the 2017 Geometry Regents exam that Catalfo challenged.

That’s great for Catalfo, a junior at Ward Melville High School, but tough for the state Education Department, which earned a failing grade. At least three questions on the 36-problem geometry exam taken by about 130,000 students this spring were flawed.

Local school administrators say giving students credit for the confused questions won’t help those who spent an hour on a flawed problem taking away valuable time to answer other ones. Even worse, parents and teachers digging in to the Regents test system to find out what’s going on learned they can’t get simple answers.

In the distrust of the Education Department that came after the botched Common Core rollout and state standardized tests, the Regents exams got a pass. That fury focused on tests for third- through eighth-graders written by big corporations, which about 50 percent of Long Islanders and 20 percent of students across the state refused to take in 2017. In contrast, the Regents exams, written by New York teachers, were treated as trustworthy. Now, even those exams are under fire from local officials and parents questioning the whole testing and graduation system in New York.

  • How does a geometry exam, created and reviewed by a committee of New York geometry teachers, have at least 8 percent of its questions wrong?
  • Why does the state continue to maintain that it adheres to a 100-point grading system on Regents exams? For the June 2017 Geometry Regents, students had to earn 34 of a possible 86 points to get a passing 65. But that’s 40 percent.

Why, if all questions are considered “appropriate,” can students pass the Algebra 1 Regents while earning 31 percent of available points?

Why has the passage rate statewide increased from 63 percent in 2014-2015 to 72 percent last year on the Algebra 1 Regents, while the raw score needed to pass declined? Are passage rates being massaged for political reasons?

Should the students instead be tested with national exams like the ACT or SAT, to be assured they meet broadly accepted standards? Studies show having all students take an ACT or SAT significantly increases college enrollment among low-income and minority students.

Are Regents requirements testing kids in the right subjects to assure they deserve diplomas, or is the state hewing to outmoded standards?

The problem with the Geometry Regents this year is alarming, but the need to address the overall Regents exam system is bigger. State officials say a review is ongoing. Much of their focus seems to be on finding ways to loosen the standards, and get diplomas in more hands.

What’s needed, though, is an overhaul dedicated to using tests and criteria that assure we are fairly evaluating students, and that the diplomas and scores they are handed truly mean the students are ready for life after high school.