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Queens Chronicle

Many Regents exams are still missing

Tests lost after going out of state

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Posted: Wednesday, July 3, 2013 10:30 am | Updated: 10:42 am, Thu Jul 11, 2013.

Chronicle Contributor

The city Department of Education has lost some students’ Regents exams due to a new and complicated grading system that sent the exams to Connecticut to be graded.

The system, called “distributive grading,” was initiated by Mayor Bloomberg this year in light of last year’s cheating scandal at Stuyvesant High School, and bans teachers from grading their students’ exams.

As part of the complicated procedure, Regents in Global History, US History, English and Living Environment were sent out of state to be scanned into a computer and sent back to New York via the internet so teachers could grade the anonymous exams.

The scanning machines in Connecticut could not accomodate the size of large print exams that had been shipped out of New York.

“These exams got lost on the way back to New York — we have an entire batch of missing tests because of the DOE’s incompetence,” Adam Bergstein, United Federation of Teachers Chapter President of Forest Hills High School said.

The notice that advertised available positions to grade the Regents did not say having a teaching license was required. One teacher in the ESL department of Francis Lewis High School who graded the English regents reported that when the group of graders was asked how many had never graded a Regents before, half of those in the room raised their hands.

Arthur Goldstein, an ESL teacher and the UFT Chapter President at Francis Lewis High School, was told that those people with no grading experience were let go. The DOE claimed to void the exams they had graded, but Goldstein suggested that those graders may be one reason why some students received grades that were much lower than expected.

Goldstein also explained how insulted he was by the DOE’s opposition to teachers grading their students exam because of their fear of cheating.

“This line of thinking that because I spend a year with a kid — because I read his papers every day — I should not be entitled to evaluate this kid, it’s like saying I shouldn’t be taking care of my daughter because I care about her,” Goldstein said.

“In fact I know my students better than strangers do. It’s just such a ridiculous thing and not only do they not let us grade, but they took the papers and stuck them on trucks and shipped them to Connecticut to be scanned. They added all these extra steps and paid millions to do it for no reason whatsoever. It’s mind-boggling how stupid this is,” he said.

Goldstein explained that as an ESL teacher, he is familiar with common mistakes made by individuals learning English, but that another grader may not be.

“A stranger won’t know the limitations of the student, but I do. All ESL teachers are sympathetic to English language learners. We find the meaning behind the writing, rather than penalize for small errors,” he said.

“You had hundreds if not thousands of English teachers just sitting around for a week and a half because they were forbidden from grading their exams,” Bergstein said. Some teachers were sent to district school sites such as Cardozo High School, but the scanner that was used to grade the exams was behind schedule.

“Not only did you have this productivity loss, but you had teachers sitting around waiting because they were unable to accurately grade essays because the process was being halted or slowed down or not even working entirely,” he added.

Many students who are usually academically high-achieving students, including those in honors and Advanced Placement classes, did not even pass the Regents exam.

Bergstein said, “With no explanation, no evaluation, no appeal, there wasn’t anybody looking into how all of these unbelievably strong academic students did so poorly on exams that normally they would have walked away from with high 80s, low 90s. They have to take this test again so that’s a whole other issue that has deeply upset and concerned teachers. How do you take really strong academic candidates and put them in a situation where they did so poorly?”

In some instances, essays were partially cut off when they were scanned into the computer system in Connecticut, leaving out sentences and paragraphs of the students’ writing. The computer also often omitted the question that was being graded, making it impossible to evaluate the work. And though the grading system was designed to create anonymity, the students’ names and schools were visible.

“The one thing I took from all my fellow colleagues is just the sheer dehumanizing aspect of sitting in front of some terminal hour after hour grading essays,” Bergstein said. “And in some instances it’s entirely unfair to students because although they’re trying to eliminate cheating, if you have somebody who’s not all too comfortable working on a computer to grade essays, these students aren’t being given the opportunity to be judged accurately.”

When the Chronicle contacted the DOE, the DOE alluded to their statement released two weeks ago from the executive director of assessment, Niket Mull, to school principals that said “We understand the importance of having Regents scores back as soon as possible, especially for graduating seniors, and apologize for this delay. We are continuing to work closely with the vendor to accelerate scanning and address the situation. At this time, we expect schools to have access to final results by the end of the day Monday, June 24, as scheduled.”

High school seniors signed waivers and graduation ceremonies were reworded to show that graduation was contingent upon the results of the Regents.

“There’s a likelihood that you have hundreds of students who are going to have to wait until July or August before they even know if they passed a class or passed a Regents or will graduate at all because the DOE decided to basically look outside the city workforce to try to find a cheap source to scan grades into computers,” Bergstein said.

Parents of one student whose Regents is lost emailed Mull to voice their outrage and ask what is being done to find the exam.

The Queens Chronicle obtained Mull’s response which said, “Unfortunately, the exam scoring process was delayed beyond the expected schedule, and a small number of exams are continuing to be scored. We hope to be able to share an update soon, and final results will continue to be loaded for the remaining exams into early next week.”

Mull and the testing coordinator, Marc Bush, did not respond to requests for comment.

“The DOE doesn’t seem to be taking it with a seriousness or importance that it warrants and they really haven’t explained a clear explanation for how they are going to find missing exams,” Bergstein said. “They made a mistake and they broke what wasn’t broken and now they don’t seem to want to take responsibility for fixing it. They’re going to try to find it, but nobody seems to know the procedure and process which will be implemented.”

“They lost boxes of Regents — can you imagine if city teachers did things like that?” Goldstein said. “Bloomberg makes these outrageous gaffes and nobody says anything. It would be funny if it wasn’t so absurd, but this is emblematic of every reform Bloomberg has brought to New York City schools.”

The grading system created by McGraw-Hill Education cost the city $9.6 million. “Money that could have been used to fix up deteriorating buildings or provide supplies for classrooms was wasted on contracting computer-scanned tests,” Bergstein said. “These poor kids are going to have to wait around to see if this incompetence can resolve itself and find what they lost.”

“They don’t make anything better — they make things needlessly complicated and funnel money into corporations,” Goldstein said. “They help nobody except Bloomberg’s friends. I have not seen substantive improvement in education under Bloomberg and his band of people — none of whom are educators or teachers. I’m a teacher — I really know what goes on,” Goldstein said.

He continued, “They never say they’re sorry. They never take responsibility. They cry for accountability but there’s none for them because being a reformer means never having to say you’re sorry. Their fanatic ideologies accomplish nothing — you watch this stuff happen before you and it’s like a catch 22.”

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