Archives For Regents

The following is an op-ed written by MORE’s Joanna Yip about the effect of the Regents scoring problems on a particularly vulnerable population.

Dear Editor,

Yesterday, SchoolBook, the Daily News, and Gotham Schools reported on the Regents scoring debacle that is unfolding all over the city. I would like to call attention to the ways in which this process has already and may continue to disproportionately hurt English language learners (ELLs) in New York City. I am a high school English teacher in a school that serves ELLs exclusively, and I am furious about what this process will mean for my students.


According to the NYCDOE Office of English Language Learner 2013 Demographic Report, 28.7% of the city’s ELLs are in high school. 74.2% of these students were born abroad. Citywide, 69.2% are eligible for free lunch (the city wide average is 55.6%). Many high school ELLs arrived in the US in the middle of their adolescence and only had a few years to both learn English and to master a high school curriculum that assumed that they had been educated in the United States their entire lives. Imagine growing up in the United States and moving to Japan when you’re 14, and being expected to become fluent in Japanese and pass all of the exit exams required for high school graduation in Japanese. Even with translations, this is a challenge. Yet, for two of the fastest growing immigrant groups in the city who speak Arabic and Bengali, none of the Regents are translated into either of these languages.


As is well known, standardized tests are inadequate instruments for assessing the learning of English language learners. These students are often penalized for their still-developing language development, even when their content knowledge matches their American-born peers. English language learners typically need 5-7 years to become truly comfortable enough with English, so asking them to perform well on high-stakes Regents exams when they have only been in the country for 2-3 years is a very tall order, but one that these students take on with diligence and hard work. Shael Polakow-Suransky, formerly a principal of a school that serve high school ELLs exclusively, said it himself yesterday on the Brian Lehrer show that ELLs typically need more than 4 years to successfully perform well on those exams and graduate. Because of the increasing challenge of passing the Regents exams, graduation rates for ELLs continue to lag behind the general population. 


With this in mind, approximately 20 high schools in the city, all of which serve only or very large populations of ELLs, petitioned to have separate scoring sites for the Regents exams. The idea was that ELLs should be graded by teachers who have a familiarity with the writing and usage particular to those students who are learning a new language. These teachers, because of their expertise in teaching this population, understand that ELLs can still demonstrate understanding of content, even if their syntax and grammar may not be fluent. 


In mid-May, I attended a training session for site supervisors where I learned that the exams of ELLs would be graded in separate scoring sites, that their exams would be routed specifically to be graded by teachers who teach ELLs.  This sounded very promising and supportive of immigrant students. When scoring began on Friday, scorers at my site began seeing a few very disconcerting patterns.  The first problem was that, because many exams were not scanned properly, we saw that we were reading tests of students that came from high schools that we knew for a fact did not have many ELL students. Why were we scoring their exams when we were only supposed to be scoring the exams of ELL students? More importantly, this raised a much more serious concern, which was whether or not the exams of ELL students were being graded by teachers who have never had experience teaching ELLs.  If that was the case, we would be seeing lower scores for ELLs because the norming process for grading does not include any training on how to grade the responses of ELLs.  The Regents scoring guides for all subjects pretty much only use anchor and practice papers written by native English writers. This is true for all subject areas.


We found out today that, in order to route the ELL exams to the ELL scoring sites to be read by ELL teachers in the McGraw-Hill system, the students’ exam booklets had to be labeled with a particular label that would indicate that the student was an ELL when the test was scanned. When a teacher pulled up an ELL exam on the McGraw-Hill web application, there would be an indication that the student was an ELL. Yet, many administrators across the city, never received instructions, or received inaccurate instructions for placing this extra barcode label on their ELL students’ exams.  As a result, ELL students exam booklets were not labeled to indicate that they were ELLs, and were graded by teachers who have never had any training in how to score responses written by ELLs.


Yesterday, principals in schools that serve a large number of ELLs began receiving some of their students’ test scores back. Sure enough, there was a huge discrepancy in what teachers would have expected their students to score, based on their knowledge of the students’ classroom performance, to what they actually scored.  Furthermore, as of this evening, the sites that were designated to score ELL exams were not operational today and might not be operational tomorrow. There is still a large number of ELLs whose exams have not yet been scored. Who is going to score these exams? If the scoring sites with teachers who are specifically trained to read ELL exams are not scoring them this week, does that mean that the still remaining ELL exams are going to be scored by a very frustrated group of teachers this weekend along with the general city-wide pool of exams?


Not only are these tests unfair to English language learners.  This scoring process means that ELLs are going to take yet another hit because they are not being scored fairly either.

Graduations are happening, and schools are figuring out what this means for the many ELLs who often have to wait to the last minute to find out if they are going to graduate. But there are longer-term consequences as well. As the tests have gotten more difficult to pass because the standards have increased, ELLs are going to continue struggle to overcome these hurdles, but appear to be receiving very little support from the system, which seeks to hold these students accountable. Furthermore, as the teacher evaluation system comes down the pipe, what does this kind of grading system mean for the teachers and schools who serve these students?


When we first started the scoring process last Friday, I was very confident that this process could not only be more efficient and fair, but could mean an increase in instructional days because teachers would need less time to administer and score the exams. I have lost all faith in this system at this point, and I am incredibly disappointed in the mayor and the NYC Department of Education for allowing this to happen. All of these glitches should have been anticipated. I myself predicted back in May that exams might get lost on the way to Connecticut, and sure enough, the Daily News reported that 80 Regents exams are nowhere to be found. When my students come to me to ask what happened with their Regents exam scores, what should I tell them?

 Joanna Yip

By: Two Social Studies Teachers for MORE

By nature, social studies teachers do two things: they make it their business to know what’s going on, and they try to answer why is this happening. Perhaps this is why many of the bloggers you read just happen to be social studies teachers.

For high school social studies teachers, this June marks the first attempt at centralizing the grading process for our two exams: Global History and Geography and United States History and Government. According to the plan, student exams, when finished, are placed in a shipping box and sent (to Conneticut, of all places) to be scanned by McGraw-Hill, a private company. The scanned version of the exam is then presented to a teacher for grading over the Internet using software that has been developed by McGraw-Hill.

Teachers have been assigned to report to central grading hubs located throughout the city’s five boroughs. Each hub can accommodate approximately two hundred teachers. The process is supposed to be simple: teachers go to a URL, located on a McGraw-Hill-owned domain, and use their official Department of Education username and password (the same used for email, SESIS, ARIS and the payroll portal [each built by other for-profit corporations]). Upon entering the password, the teacher is presented the test that he or she has been assigned to grade and grades the different portions of the exams.

A few things need to go right in order for this to happen. Well, a lot of things need to go right in order for this to happen. First, the exams must reach their destination and be scanned over the two-day weekend. I’m sure McGraw-Hill swears they were. Then, the Internet connection between the exam locations and the user (the teacher, located at the school) needs to be up and running—and it needs to continue to operate throughout the entire process. Lastly, the servers (including the file server, where the scanned version of the exams are stored and the authentication servers that validate the usernames and passwords for each teacher) must be functioning.

Now, the original schedule for the week included having social studies teachers grade between the days of Monday and Thursday. We were supposed to return to our assigned school on Friday. Remember that original schedule. The fiasco that has ensued since yesterday wouldn’t be the same without referring to this original schedule.

On Monday, we all sat around while the “system” presented exams on our screens to grade. Many teachers were not able to log in (a true problem with the authentication server). Others were able to log in, but not able to access a single exam item to grade. Although the system listed many exams available to be graded, it simply did not present these exams to teachers’ screens for grading. After two hours of sitting around in the borough of Brooklyn, teachers were told to go back to their assigned schools. The system had a problem, the supervisors said. It couldn’t download the scanned exams. Teachers in Queens and Manhattan were given this news one hour later (a noon “dismissal to site” order was given at one hub at least in Queens; a 12:30 “dismissal to site” was given in at least one hub in Manhattan). At that point, teachers in all three boroughs were informed that Friday “may be a grading day.”

Overnight, the system seemed to be doing just fine. Exams were processed and seemed ready to be delivered to teachers’ screens at their “hub” schools. When teachers arrived this morning, everything seemed to be up and running. Now this was similar to the experience that high school English teachers had during the January Regents: The exams weren’t ready to be viewed on the first day, but by the second day, everything was up and running. So imagine the surprise felt on people’s faces when, at around 9:25 (just 25 minutes after everyone in the system was logged in and grading the exams), the system started to experience glitches. It would hang for long periods of time before presenting an item to grade. It would not present exams. It would freeze completely, forcing the user to log out and log back in to try to access more exams.

It limped along until about 11:30 AM (remember that time) and the folks in charge thought they had fixed the glitch. But by about 12:30 in the borough of Brooklyn and 1:00 in the borough of Queens (unknown as of this moment in Manhattan) teachers were, once again, sent back to their assigned schools and told to come back again on Wednesday.

Wednesday was another disaster with the computer system crashing and teachers being sent back to their home schools for a third straight day. Hey, we though this mayor was so concerned with the environment, yet he has people driving back and forth!

Thursday the system worked until 2:00pm then shut down. At this point we have frustrated, demoralized teachers grading exams. That’s not fair to anyone. Per session (over-time) hours are being offered for the weekend. Can this money be better used going to our classrooms and our children?

Update: Friday, over a week and half after the exams were given the system continues to fail. To say teachers are annoyed and mentally drained would be an understatement. We are not robots and this week of a fiasco, out of our home schools, in am environment where we are treated as nothing more than factory workers, teachers are “sick and tired”. The crowning moment was when we were notified that we were required to report back to the grading centers on Monday. Remember if we were in our home schools doing this the right way, we would be done already a long time ago. We try to remain as objective as possible when grading, but we’re not machines and this deteriorating situation has to be affecting the grades. Usually we use this time of year to clean up our rooms, organize our files, collaborate with our colleagues, and prepare for some of the ridiculous new reforms that seem to make its way to schools every year.

Many of us who have been assigned to reeducation—I mean, grading centers—will miss the most important day of the year, graduation day. We all know the media, politicians (both parties) and corporations have attacked teachers and our unions saying we’re the ones who are anti-children, but truth be told, watching “our kids” graduate is our favorite day of the year. Not allowing us to watch our own student’s graduate, the chance to spend one last moment celebrating with them, is an extreme disappointment for us all who have watched our students grow for the past four years.

The greatest travesty is as class-size continues to increase; after-school programs have been eliminated; arts and music, and many other courses have been reduced; yet millions of dollars are being spent on a flawed system. Where are all the “private sector always does it better” folks now? The grading system is impersonal: read the essay, punch in a score, and move on to the next one. This is supposed to a more accurate, fairer system? We think not. The art of teaching and grading continues to be done away with. Cookie-cutter rubrics, scripted lesson plans, standardized testing, and now computerized grading. Millions of dollars has been siphoned off from our public school children instead it goes to further fill the pockets of Bloomberg’s cronies and their corporations who only look to “monetize” our children

There isn’t anyone, even the most corrupt politician, who wouldn’t agree that this money being wasted on a flawed grading system could not be better utilized by going to our children, where it belongs!

So as exceptional social studies teachers we have learned the key to any great lesson is great questions.

The state law says teachers can’t grade their own students’ exams, why did this mayor feel the need to take it one step further and start this new multi-million dollar system?

Why are charter schools excused from this process?

Can the money being diverted to McGraw-Hill be better used for our children and their schools?

If teachers are being evaluated on these tests, how do we know if we have have improved or not without grading the final test?

How can we help our children improve if we don’t grade their last exam?

Is standardized grading the right answer to help all our children become “college and career” ready?

Isn’t a teacher who has taught the student better prepared to grade their essays and know if they have developed their skills?

Does the regents exam and the grading rubric take into account the child’s cognitive skills, socio-economic situation, and level of fluency with the English language?

Regents Grading Fiasco

June 19, 2013 — 7 Comments

NYS Regents Exam Grading: Unfair for Teachers and Students


For Immediate Release


 This June marks the first attempt at centralizing the grading process for two exams; Global History and Geography and United States History and Government. Completed student exams were placed in a shipping box and sent to be scanned by McGraw-Hill. The scanned version of the exam is then presented to a teacher for grading over the Internet using software that has been developed by McGraw-Hill.


Teachers arrived to their grading centers Monday to face one issue after another. Many teachers were not able to log in due to a problem with the authentication server. Others were able to log in but not able to access a single exam item to grade. Some of the essays were so poorly scanned that half of the content was covered. Although the system listed many exams available to be graded, it simply did not present these exams to teachers’ screens for grading. After two hours of sitting around, teachers were sent back to their home school.


Tuesday continued to pose problems. The software continued to freeze, worked only sporadically, then at 1:00pm it ceased to work at all. Again teachers were told to return to their home school. Teachers are hard working professionals who should not be sent from one place to another, especially when the scoring centers and home school may over an hour away from each other by public transportation. All while students await test scores to know if they are allowed to attend graduation.


A Brooklyn Social Studies teacher says, “The greatest travesty is the money being wasted, that could be going to our kids, is instead lining the pockets of private corporations. Bloomberg knew exactly what he was doing when he put the DOE in Tweed: the last ten years have been nothing more than an all out offensive to siphon as much money and resources as they could out of our public schools and into the hands of these corporations and wealthy individuals.”


The entire process was so poorly organized and shamefully inefficient. It needlessly created delays and unnecessary errors. This will inevitably require that personnel be hired and more money will be spent to grade these tests to make up for the wasted time. Teachers have always graded these tests with accuracy, diligence and in a timely fashion. McGraw-Hill was paid millions of dollars to set up a defective system. The mayor is guilty of wasting tax-payers’ dollars, that could be better utilized by reducing class-size, restoring after-school programs that were cut due to austerity measures, and giving educators the contract they deserve!