Some people think we put too much emphasis on testing in schools today. I believe that high school students should experience Regents exams early and often. That's what we've tried to do during this first year of my school, Pathways in Technology Early College High School.
Testing is currently underway in the K-8 schools of New York City, and recently New York State released state report cards for 2010-2011. The state report cards for secondary schools do not have any college readiness metrics or any way to address students’ preparedness for college or careers. I think they should.
We all know we need to raise the bar for student achievement at all levels. Middle schools need students who are "high school ready," and high schools need to have "college and career ready" students.
I have been a proponent of the city devising a high school readiness metric for middle schools, so I was glad to hear that the Department of Education is proposing to add a high school readiness section to its school progress reports.
Whether people like it or not, tests are still one of the best measures of how students are doing. I propose we look at it not so much as teaching to the test but as teaching through the test. I look at teaching through the test as a way to help develop a strong school culture.
For example, in our first year at P-TECH we offer 9th graders the opportunity to test in both the English Regents (which is typically offered in grade 11) and the Integrated Algebra Regents in both January and June. P-TECH uses time differently in grade 9, and as a result, students only focus on 90 minutes of English, Algebra, Technology and Workplace Learning and 45 minutes of Physical Education.
However, the hyper-focus and strategies to help improve literacy are paying off. The chart below compares our percentages after one semester to cohort 2007 (graduates of 2011) students who had at least 11 semesters of testing as an option.
As you can see from the chart below, 93 percent of P-TECH students scored a level 2, 3, or 4 on the Math Regents, which out performs New York State and District 17’s averages. For English, P-TECH has 77 percent of students scoring a level 2, 3, or 4, which is higher than District 17 but lower than the state.
Students can no longer graduate from high school scoring a level 2 on Regents. But P-TECH students still have the opportunity to improve on the test results in June and August, as well as for three years before four-year cohort accountability rules are in effect.
Many high schools may not test early and often because they fear being penalized on their progress report. But it is important to note that the world is different for ninth graders than it is for 11th graders.
For example, ninth graders are new to high school, and educators have the opportunity to present them with a new culture of learning. Additionally, parents are more protective of ninth grade students than 11th graders, and as a result, tend to be more actively involved in helping their child.
Furthermore, the risk is not nearly as severe if a student does not meet proficiency in grade 9 as opposed to grades 11 or 12.
Therefore, students can learn valuable lessons of what happens when they do not meet the mark on the first try, and they can learn the importance of being resilient.
In short, I encourage more high schools to be innovative with time during the ninth and 10th grades, and introduce Regents tests earlier, so students have the opportunity to experience success early on.