N.Y. Regents Set to Alter Rules for Grading State Exams

Courtney Williams's picture
Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Teachers in New York State will soon be banned from grading their own students’ state standardized tests, a Board of Regents committee decided on Monday, part of an effort to curtail cheating on the high-stakes exams.

The ban, which will go into effect in the 2012-13 school year for all elementary school, middle school and high school standardized exams, will reverse a longstanding practice that State Education Department officials say is inappropriate in an era when student test scores are used to evaluate teachers and principals. It is also a move to avoid the kind of cheating scandals that have erupted in cities like Atlanta and Washington. The full Board of Regents, which sets education policy, is set to formally approve the ban on Tuesday.

“The Regents and department have faith that virtually all educators are doing the right thing,” said John B. King Jr., the state education commissioner, explaining the need for the ban. “However, where possible, if we can eliminate potential breakdowns in test integrity, we should.”

Audits by the state comptroller dating back to 1990 have shown that schools tend to give more lenient grades on state Regents exams than do teams of expert scorers. In addition, state officials have known for years that many more students score just at or above a passing grade on Regents tests than just below a passing grade, a sign that graders are helping to push some students over the bar.

Districts will have a year to figure out how to set up new systems for grading the exams, whether at different schools, by computer or at regional scoring centers. The shift may lead to additional costs for districts and will most likely require that Regents exams, now given just before high school graduation, be held earlier in the spring.

The Regents committee also agreed to ask the governor and state lawmakers for $2.1 million for a series of anticheating measures that would take effect this year, officials said, including about $1 million to analyze erasure marks on 10 percent of the tests the state gives annually. Officials also want to try computer-based testing, which they hope will be in wide use by 2015.

Separately, the Regents committee signaled on Monday that New York will seek a waiver from the federal No Child Left Behind law’s requirements, joining the majority of states in seeking relief. The Regents had previously created a group of educators from across the state, including education professors and district administrators, to help write its application for the waiver, which is due in February.

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