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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 Patchogue-Medford 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 problem-solving oriented and relies on critical thinking and student-generated 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:


  • 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.


  • 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 student-constructed responses require disproportionately large penalties on the scoring rubrics for relatively benign errors. For example, not labeling the axes used to incur a one-point penalty on a problem worth six to ten points (a 10-17% 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:


  • Insure that test items are more carefully written and reviewed. In addition to field-testing, 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 field-tested 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 wide-ranging or establish a more general holistic rubric AND insure that staffing is available to handle questions raised by the State in a real-time manner (either by phone or by fax).


  • 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 student-constructed 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.