New York’s new integrated algebra test administered in June was so hard that a student could get a “raw score” of just 30 points out of a possible 87 and still pass.
That’s because the state Education Department uses a “scale score” for its final grade, which gives greater credit for answering the harder questions.
A student who was able to correctly answer only half the questions could get a grade of 76 percent, well above the 65 required to pass.
The state’s use of a scale score has been questioned before. But the state Board of Regents says it uses the method because it’s a more accurate gauge of whether students are meeting the standards for understanding a subject.
“It takes 30 raw score points out of 87 to get a passing score of 65,” Jonathan Burman of the state Education Department said Monday. “Some have said this is too low. But you will find that it was a challenging test and the questions that must be answered are appropriate. Many students still did not pass at that level.”
Under a raw scale, a low “cut” level for passing means the test is more difficult than if the cut was set higher, requiring more and easier questions to be answered correctly.
Test questions for Regents exams are devised in committee by some of the state’s top teachers and are field tested before they make it to a Regents exam offered in January, June or August.
After the June test, the state also had to issue a directive clarifying how to score one question for partial credit.
The statewide failure rate hasn’t yet been calculated for the test, which is mostly taken by ninth-graders, Burman said. There have not been any complaints, but the review of the test is continuing, he said.
One of the groups that closely monitors Regents tests and is critical of high-stakes testing, Time Out from Testing, is checking with parents and teachers about their view of the new exam. Jane Hirschmann, a leader in the group, said she didn’t immediately hear of any complaints.
“It’s very important to remember that this June’s exam was the very first administration of this test, so it can’t yet be compared with any others,” Burman said. “Since the standards are new and the test is new, we’ll be examining performance closely once we’ve collected all the information statewide. It’s simply too early to draw conclusions.”
The scaling system has been criticized before, usually by groups and advocates opposed to tests they fear are flawed or too subjective. But the Regents use the scaling to try to make sure no version of a Regents test — many of them required for graduation — is harder than another.
For example, in June the math “A” Regents exam, which is being phased out by June 2009 in favor of the integrated algebra test, allowed students to pass after getting 36 points out of a perfect 84 in a raw score.
The follow-up math “B” required a student to get 46 of 88 points in raw score to pass. A student could get 40 out of 85 points in a raw score and still pass the living environment exam in June. A student would pass the chemistry Regents with a raw score of 49.
In 2003, the state overhauled math education with advice from an expert panel of professionals and academics. The review was triggered by results of a math Regents exam.
The state re-scored the Math A test taken in June 2003 by adding several points to all tests and allowing hundreds of students to pass the test and graduate.
Shortly after the test was taken, state Education Commissioner Richard Mills gave schools the option of discarding the scores and substituting coursework results for upperclassmen who needed a passing grade to graduate that June.
The physics test was also changed in 2003 after two years of criticism by parents and teachers that it was unfairly difficult. Some of the state’s top students scored poorly or failed the optional test.
In each case, the state Education Department acted quickly, often within days, to review the tests and adjust grades.