From the Editors: On Regents, DOE earns another F

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To say that the DOE’s new Regents grading system proved itself more inefficient than useful would be an understatement. Last June’s grading blunder not only skewed the results of many test scores and delayed some seniors’ graduation plans, but it wasted millions of dollars that could have been used elsewhere, and wasted the time of educators who are already hard-pressed for it.  Under Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the city government has delighted in grading everything it can as a prelude to closure or termination; after this fiasco, would any independent assessor call the mayor’s latest educational policy anything but a failure?

The grading system–a partnership between McGraw Hill and the DOE–was meant to streamline the supposedly messy practice of scoring tests by hand. However, the execution was filled with glitches: graders weren’t able to log in to the servers, pages took minutes to load, and some test answers were partially obscured. Hours spent looking at unresponsive computer screens no doubt frustrated the teachers who were working overtime to make up for the system’s shortcomings. Worse, the city budgeted $9.6 million dollars for the faulty program, when the whole scoring process could have been done at no cost, and in a quicker time frame.

Even if the online scoring had worked, the cost mitigates the system’s true impact. Graders may have done their jobs a bit more efficiently, and perhaps it’s preferable to scoring tests manually, but it certainly doesn’t change the state of education that so many elected officials and the elected-to-be describe in political rhetoric. Why are we more concerned with finding out who exactly is failing a test instead of figuring out how exactly to help everyone–schools, students, teachers–succeed? For Mr. Bloomberg, who approved the program, this failed system adds little to his legacy of soda bans and bike lanes, all small, Upper East Side issues in comparison to what middle-class residents face every day.

Initially, the scoring system was introduced to deal with the suspicion that some teachers were grading their own students’ Regents exams too easily. This may have been a valid concern, but it was wrong to place the localized practice of scoring exams in the hands of a third party that scanned each hard copy from Connecticut, another state, and couldn’t even manage to have them viewed from its own servers.

The system was trying to solve a small problem in an extravagant way, and it failed to deliver. Not all teachers were inflating the grades of their own students, and the ones who were suspected of doing so should have been dealt with separately.

Even worse is the fact that the system appears to have produced unreliable results.  How can a student here earn a high mark on an AP test and not achieve Mastery on a Regents?  The fact that officials refuse to hear our appeals–likely because they believe we shouldn’t be complaining with a 99% pass rate–is unacceptable.  If a teacher misgraded an exam, refused to reconsider, and withheld the specifics of how she determined the scores then DOE officials would do their best to fire her and would lament their inability to do so.  How could high stakes exams not be held to the same standard?  We desire transparency and accountability from the DOE.

The fact that this scoring system was only implemented in NYC, and nowhere else in the state, reflects a mistrust of teachers in urban settings, who face bigger pressures of having to do their jobs well in spite of larger class sizes and a less personalized curriculum. Taking away all of the teachers’ rights to score their own students’ exams, in effect, places a barrier between educators and the city government that shouldn’t exist, especially not now, when they have to work together to improve students’ performance.

The multi-million dollar McGraw Hill program, originally a three-year contract, has since been abandoned by the DOE. It remains to be seen whether or not the alternative–moving the physical tests around the different NYC schools to be graded by different teachers–will be any better. With the inauguration of a new mayor in the coming months, we will hopefully see funds put towards improving the big picture for both students and teachers.