Friday, March 22, 2019

NY State Regents--No Reading Necessary for Reading Exercise

The more I work with the NY State English Regents exam, the more I hate it. A big part of it is multiple choice questions, which I generally do not like or use on tests I write. From speaking with people who've taught this to ELLs before, I'm beginning to understand this is the toughest part of the test for them. They're able to master the pseudo-writing for the other parts by memorizing simplistic formulas, but if there are four answers, they really have to pick the right one.

There are strategies. For example, if it says the answer is on lines 5-8, you can underline them and focus right there. In fact, you can underline all the lines to which the questions refer, and then ignore the rest of the piece utterly. It's a real time-saver, and several of my students have figured this out. A lot of my students are from China. From what I hear, testing is a big thing over there. Perhaps my students have looked at these things from angles I'd never have imagined.

One thing I'd never have imagined is a reading test that doesn't require reading. Yet that's precisely what we have here. I think there was one question about overall theme that may have required a quick scan or so, but for the most part it was look at these lines in isolation and don't fret about the rest.

I'm one of those old-fashioned English teachers who thinks it's our job to inspire children. It seems to me that I ought to be trying to instill a love of language in my students. I want them to love speaking it, hearing it, reading it, and writing it. That's not how David "No one gives a crap what you think or feel" Coleman envisioned Common Core, and whatever they call the test this year, it's still Common Core.

As if that's not enough, I have a whole bunch of students who've studied this test before. Some have passed, and some haven't. But all have taken practice tests, likely as not the ones I'm giving them. So if I pull a set of ten questions and use it for a quiz, for all I know, they've seen and reviewed it before. A colleague suggested I write my own, but I'm not doing that. I don't mind writing materials for my classes, and I do it frequently. But I'm not going to spend my prep time preparing crap.

Also, I'm in half a classroom with the kids sitting at tables of four. The only way I can give a quiz without cheating becoming the national pastime is by putting up dividers. While the dividers preclude a lot of copying, they're far from ideal. This is because no matter where I am, I can't see 80% of my students. How hard would it be to pull up the answers, available on the net, on your phone, and just hide it whenever that awful teacher comes by?

Here's how far I will go with that--The next time I give a ten question quiz, I will rewrite the answers in a different order. I will then check for students who gave the series of answers that's on the test. If anyone has the test answers, I'll be a little suspicious.

I can do this stuff, and I will do this stuff. I'll bet a lot of English teachers come up doing this stuff. I'd wager some have known nothing else. Sadder still, we have children who've known nothing else. This is work for me, and that's it. Taking the test is work for them, and that's it. Of course I've done a lot of other things. I've seen some supervisors who mistake studying the Regents exam for studying English.

How pathetic is it that New York State brings up our children to value prose and poetry not at all, and instead has them indulge in the drudgery this test dumps over their heads? If I were a NY State Regent and my name were attached to a test like this, I'd have trouble sleeping at night.
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