Thursday, July 19, 2007

Dumbing Down Trend

The author of this editorial, Marc Epstein, is a teacher at Jamaica High School in Queens and served as dean of students.

Regents exam: American history for dummies

People who took their Regents exams 30 years ago assume that the current version of the tests is essentially the same. They would be stunned to learn how dumbed-down the tests have become. You might say that the American history Regents gives new meaning to the term "E-ZPass."

The test has three components: 50 multiple-choice questions on American history; 15 questions pertaining to eight historical documents, and two essays, one requiring the student to make use of the documents, and the other a general thematic essay. The multiple-choice questions cover a range of topics, from the writing of the Constitution through the Cold War. They are, by and large, fair and representative.

But the 15 document-related questions are ludicrously easy. The documents include some written passages, but are mostly political cartoons and photographs. In the test given last month - which I helped administer and grade - several concerned the women's suffrage movement, such as a photograph of a suffragists' parade showing women carrying various signs containing the word "suffrage." The exam question asks, "What was a goal of the women shown in these photographs?"

This reminds me of the joke, "What color was George Washington's white horse?"

Another document is a reproduction of a Massachusetts Women's Suffrage Association poster listing "Twelve Reasons Why Women Should Vote." All of the reasons on the poster begin with the word "because": "Because laws affect women as much as men," for example. The Regents question reads: "What were two arguments suffragists used in this 1915 flyer in support of their goal?" To get full credit, all the student has to do is copy two of the reasons from the poster!

You are going to love the grading scale.

Once teachers have marked the exams, they are to use a chart created by the state to convert the raw score into a final grade. The extraordinary adjustment built into the chart makes it possible to get only 20 of the 50 multiple-choice questions right and still pass. It's also possible to complete only one of the two essays and pass.

Who benefits by making the Regents Exam so easy that almost everyone can pass?

Related Tags: , , ,


Anonymous said...

I think university professors are getting used to high school graduates who know very little. They're probably ecstatic to find a few who can read well.

But is it really that much worse than a few decades ago?

I recall a fourth year honors history course (I think it was 1991) where the prof started the course by giving us a short literacy exam. In order to continue in the course, we needed a grade of 80% or higher.

We went from a class of 20+ to a class of 6 that day.

And it wasn't a hard exam... or it shouldn't have been for fourth year history majors.

Janine Cate said...