Principals Expect to Appeal More Regents Scores

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New York City principals should get the results from their students’ Regents exams this week, and many are expecting to request a re-scoring because of errors with a new scanning system. 

The testing company McGraw-Hill came under fire this past spring when there were delays and other glitches in scoring the exams. The Department of Education said more schools than usual have asked for exams to be re-scored because of concerns that the grades were not accurate.

Chief Academic Officer Shael Polakow-Suransky said while there were not “big anomalies” in the quality of the scoring there clearly were issues.

"I think we do have to do some hard postmortem work with the vendor and figure out why they had this breakdown, and whether we can continue the relationship with them and what we do for the next round of Regents next year," he said.

This was the first year that the state prohibited schools from allowing teachers to score their own students’ Regents exams. But New York City took that a step further by banning teachers from scoring any exams of students from their own schools. Instead, the essay sections of the exams were scanned at a McGraw-Hill office in Connecticut. They were then downloaded to scoring centers around New York City, where teachers could read the tests on computer terminals without knowing the names or schools of the pupils.

Multiple-choice questions were scanned directly at every school.

Jody Madell, co-director of the Lyons Community School in Williamsburg, said she expects she will ask for more exams to be re-scored because of patterns she noticed in the grades.

“The main thing that is attracting our attention is that for the history exams, many more students than expected scored a 0 or a 1 on one of their essays (out of 5),” she said. “In the past it has been almost impossible for a student to get a 0 and rare for a student to get a 1,” she said, noting that her students tended to do well on essay questions. She offered a theory suggested by other principals as well. 

“The stories that we heard from the grading sites about essays being illegible in various ways is making us wonder if our students wrote essays on the wrong page or other such mistakes that could have resulted in the lower grades,” Madell said.

The principal of a Manhattan high school, who did not wish to be identified, said he also noticed discrepancies between the scores on essay questions and multiple-choice items. He recalled one student who earned 25 out of 25 points on the multiple-choice section of the English Regents, but who earned 1’s on both essay questions. As a result, he said the student failed the test. But this same student scored a 94 on the U.S. History Regents, which requires just as much writing.

The principal said he expects requests to re-score the exams this year will increase “exponentially” because “the scoring was such a mess.” He added that such appeals have always been very rare.

State rules, adopted to prevent principals from cheating, make it difficult to appeal Regents scores en masse. If a school just wants a couple of tests re-scored, the principal needs to get the local superintendent’s permission. But if a principal suspect there are errors for 5 percent of the test takers for a given exam, or five student answer papers (whichever is greater), then the administrator must first obtain permission in writing from the Office of State Assessment.

Principals also have to give evidence that the scores were flawed. And when the tests are re-scored, they can only be reviewed by teachers who did not have the students in their summer or regular school year classes. With fewer teachers working over the summer, some principals worry this will make the appeals process even more difficult.

“I’m curious if they are making this process so cumbersome, most schools will accept the scores as they are,” offered Edward Tom, principal of the Bronx Center for Science and Mathematics.

This is why some principals said they may encourage students to re-take the Regents exams on August 13-14 instead of waiting for the June tests to be re-scored.