Thursday, June 23, 2011

Fuzzy Math, Courtesy of Your New York State Board of Regents

I thought, when a heard a math teacher from my school ranting white with rage about a question on the algebra Regents, that this was an isolated incident. This particular teacher was so incensed that he was putting together a PowerPoint breaking out every single thing wrong with the question and showing it to his colleagues, all of whom were shaking their heads sadly. Yes, I thought this was an isolated incident, but I am wrong. (Even if you're not a math teacher, click over to take a quick peek at the post from JD2718; it's short and you'll get the point.)

Yet we as teachers are supposed to be just fine with having these tests, and the people who create them, holding the swords of Damocles over our jobs. I've scored both the middle school ELA exams and the English Regents exams at this point, and there are many multiple-choice questions that are ambiguous or can have more than one "correct" or "best" answer choice. Even the Common Core Standards, which are supposed to drive our instruction now, recognize multiple perspectives and encourage students to work within them.

I ask you, then: How much do we really want to make these multiple-choice tests count--for students, for teachers, for schools? If questions like the one JD2718 referenced above and the ones about which my colleague was fuming come every year, that's a lot of bad questioning and, therefore, faulty data emerging. But who will be "accountable" for the results? Probably not the Board of Regents, but you, dear teacher, who missed the cutoff for "effective" by one or two points because your test scores weren't high enough.

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