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A Letter Sent To The State Education Department Written By Long Island Mathematics Directors
In January 2003 educators expressed their concerns about the Math A exam in the following letter to the State Education Department. This letter was supported by the Suffolk County Mathematics Teachers Association and the Nassau County Mathematics Teachers Association. The concerns voiced in the letter were ignored. The abominable results of the June 17, 2003 Math A exam have now created an emotionally damaging experience for the students of our state.
A special thanks to Bob Bieringer for providing this letter to PMCT for inclusion on our website. Bob is currently the Director of Mathematics for the PatchogueMedford School District
This is the letter to the State Education Department sent in January 2003.
We write expressing significant concerns shared by Mathematics Directors and Chairpersons throughout Suffolk County regarding the Math A Regents Examination. We support the New York
State Core Curriculum, which is more problemsolving oriented and relies on critical thinking and
studentgenerated responses. Our society demands such skills and abilities from more of our students.
However, our concerns are motivated by the fact that passing the Math A exam is a minimum
graduation requirement.
We have technical and philosophical concerns:
TECHNICAL
The Math A exam has had frequent ambiguities and problems in the writing and construction of test items. At times, specific units or decimal accuracy has not been
specified; wording has been misleading and the level of reading required on many
problems is overwhelming challenging and intimidating to a significant percentage
of the population. This compromises the validity and reliability of the exam.
The elimination of the use of scrap paper by the student has made the testing conditions
uncomfortable and unnecessarily stressful to many students.
The lack of a consistent passing raw score from one test administration to another
makes it harder for marginal students to "strategize" as to knowing how many points
would be needed in order to pass.
Papers that are called in for "review" are reviewed by the test writing company, rather
than by certified New York State teachers.
The scoring rubrics that are supplied are often unclear and do not account for a broad
enough range of possible student responses.
PHILOSOPHICAL
The New York State Regents Testing Program has for many years been a standard of
excellence, recognized by colleges throughout the country and now mimicked by other
states striving to approach New York State’s level of secondary education excellence.
The Math A Regents is more demanding, requires a higher level of reading proficiency,
allows for no choices (enormously raising anxiety and stress levels for many students),
and requires that students master a much higher percentage of testing material in order
to earn a passing score. {On the Sequential Regents Exams, students needed to answer
correctly 65 out of a total of 140 points in order to pass, or 46.4% of the material;
on the January 2003 Math A Exam, students needed to answer 52 out of 85 correctly,
or 61.2%, or more than 30% more material, than on the Sequential Exams}. The Math
A exam is now a minimum graduation requirement for all students, whereas the
much less demanding Sequential Regents Exams were one means of identifying
higher achieving students. This has put a significant portion of the student population
at extreme potential risk of not graduating.
Many studentconstructed responses require disproportionately large penalties on the
scoring rubrics for relatively benign errors. For example, not labeling the axes used to
incur a onepoint penalty on a problem worth six to ten points (a 1017% deduction).
On Math A, this same act of not labeling on a three or four point problem would represent a
25 to 33% deduction.
The curriculum and exam (in general) are solid. It is a fine standard for most students to
attain , but there remains a significant percentage of the population that will have great
difficulties in attempting to meet these new standards.
The vast majority of our students in time may be able to handle the higher standards
and succeed on the Math A assessment. Yet many of these students, as a result of the items
listed above, are not achieving higher scores (90 to 100% range) with the same frequency that
had been achieved on the Sequential exams and simultaneously, we are witnessing a declining
percentage of students achieving mastery (85% or higher). Will this eventually have a negative impact
on the college acceptance rates and the quality of schools to which New York State students will be
accepted?
We welcome the higher standards that are having the effect of "raising the bar" in order to
meet societal, economic, and industry demands. It is the weaker students, whose graduation hinges
upon passing the Math A Assessment, who are being unfairly burdened. Thousands of students
throughout New York State who exhibit skills and abilities that meet and even surpass the standards of the former Regents curriculum (which was a measure that went beyond minimum graduation
requirements), will not graduate. To simply state that more students will "require a fifth year of
high school" may be smug and insensitive. A.I.S. requirements are already burdening school
district resources. But even more so, there shortly will be thousands of students who will require
multiple A.I.S. classes, allowing little or no time in the school day for electives and classes
that the students might have taken in order to develop special interests.
We present the following recommendations:
TECHNICAL
Insure that test items are more carefully written and reviewed. In addition to fieldtesting,
send questions to a representative sample of educators for opinions and input.
Allow scrap paper to be used by students. There is no reason for this restriction.
Establish a consistent passing raw score from administration to administration. Since
test items are fieldtested and a level of difficulty is assigned to each problem in advance,
this is a very achievable goal.
Papers to be reviewed must be reviewed by a panel of New York State certified teachers.
Make scoring rubrics more broad and wideranging or establish a more general
holistic rubric AND insure that staffing is available to handle questions raised by the
State in a realtime manner (either by phone or by fax).
PHILOSOPHICAL
Establish various diploma levels. Use the existing standards for one (higher level)
diploma and establish a different standard for a "minimum" diploma. Criteria could be set
for the smaller percentage of students who would need the latter.
Address the inequities of disproportionate large deductions for minor errors. This could
be done by increasing the total point value of long studentconstructed response items.
(Also, see #5 in the above section).
Lower the passing standard. Establish the passing standard closer to the amount/percentage
of material needed to be mastered on the Sequential Exams. We accept the level of difficulty overall on the Math A Assessment. However, in its present form, it is too
inaccessible for many students.
We are aware of the fiscal challenges facing the State of New York. However, it is
absolutely vital that a significant, visible presence, dealing with curriculum, resources, and matters
regarding the Regents Exams, exists in Albany. The State Education Department must have a permanent head for Mathematics Curriculum with appropriate staff. If the State sincerely wants
our students to meet the higher standards, this must be a priority!
This letter is written with the input, concern, and support of scores of administrators and
hundreds of teachers from Long Island. This region continues to be a source of top students
and educators in the State. Its voice is credible, valuable, and powerful, and deserves to be heard.
