Friday, October 11, 2019

Should We Maintain the Regents Exams?

Some social studies teachers think that stopping the Regents exams will be a terrible thing. Given what I saw on the latest iteration of the Global exam, I'm not sure those conclusions are warranted.

The council added that Regents exams in social studies, in particular, "are essential for the survival of a democratic society."

I'd argue that if the stakes were so high, we ought to focus on current events as well as history, and closely examine parallels between the two. Nonetheless, the exam I saw last June tested neither current events nor history, but rather the ability to read for information. For my money, it was a better reading test than the English Regents exam, but that's not saying much at all.

I have not studied history in decades, and I have no particular memories of it. I could perhaps teach social studies, but I have no deep well of knowledge on which to rely. I could read ahead of the kids and be aware of what I was supposed to teach. However, I haven't got any special spark or love of the subject. I wouldn't inspire kids, and I likely wouldn't inspire the survival of a democratic society either.

However, I could ace that test in a New York minute with no prep whatsoever. That's because, in my wayward youth, I picked up every loose paperback my mom left lying around the house and read each and every one. It's because as a child I read every comic book I could get my hands on. It's because I deem it a great luxury to take the LIRR to Manhattan and just sit with a book and read.

Alas I didn't learn that in some class prepping me to take some idiotic test, and I'd certainly classify the new Global Regents exam as idiotic. I don't know what the geniuses in Albany were thinking or smoking when they designed it, or how much they overpaid the psychometricians to lend their magic touch to it, but the test is a piece of crap. It fails to measure whether or not I am familiar with global history. I know precious little about it, did no prep whatsoever, and ought to have failed. Anyone who's a good reader can pass that test.

I'm only familiar with two other state tests, and one is the English Regents exam. This test also asks inane reading questions, questions that no one reading the New York Times Book Review would ever consider. It tests a prescribed bunch of terms that do not determine whether or not you're a skilled reader. It also has you do something or other resembling writing, but really it's picking through pre-selected arguments, regurgitating them, and determining which one you like better. Perish forbid it should ask you to compose your own argument. It's ironic, because I used to teach the English RCT, which did, in fact, require you to produce arguments. It's funny that this test was ostensibly for students who couldn't handle the Regents exam, but abandoned for a Regents exam that holds an even lower standard.

I could write a better test than the English Regents exam in 90 minutes. If I had all the time and staff the geniuses in Albany fritter away on these tests, I'd have a much better exam. For my money, the Regents have been moving steadily backward. Furthermore, if you disregard the abysmal quality of the tests they produce, you can't ignore the fact that they arbitrarily move the cut scores up and down to suit whatever the trendy flavor of the week is in education.

I say let the tests go. Let them all go. Also, let's dump Common Core and every last vestige of it. Let's stop fooling ourselves that whatever they renamed it is different or better. Any Regents in Albany who agree to the David Coleman philosophy that no one gives a crap what you think or feel ought to find jobs more suited to their talents. They always need people in Dunkin Donuts, and if they worked there at least they'd be making people happy.

I agree, in fact, that social studies is quite important. I agree we should study history. However, the fact is if you take New York City away, our state probably chose Donald Trump for President. That suggests a wide swath of our population is poorly informed. We need a social studies curriculum that will allow our children to understand what people mean when they point fingers at universal health care, a living wage, and affordable college and label it "socialism." In fact, we ought to be raising a populous that knows what socialism is, what democratic socialism is, and what logical fallacy is.

The social studies Regents exam I read closely achieves exactly none of the above. I rate it, and the NY State Regents ineffective. Before I demand the tests that bear their name be continued, they'll have to establish they can produce one that isn't total crap.

I shall sit while I wait for that to happen.
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