Opinion
Education Opinion

Regents Blues

By Ilana Garon — January 23, 2013 3 min read

I’ll preface what comes next by saying that I’m a bit cranky, both because it’s 11 degrees Fahrenheit in New York City right now (cue citizens from all cities north and northwest of here to say it’s positively balmy compared to Boston or Portland or Fargo or Madison, and I should stop complaining), and also because we’re in the middle of New York State Regents Week. The kids don’t like Regents Week because they have to take boring state exams for days on end. The teachers don’t like Regents Week because we have to proctor and then grade boring state exams for days on end.

Here’s how my day looks: For three hours this morning (THREE HOURS!), about 100 other teachers and I get “normed” in the grading of the Regents essays--really, one essay and two short-answer questions. The process of being “normed” involves reading the rubric for each question, reading dozens of sample responses with grades and without grades already on them, discussing in groups why they received the grades they did, and vowing to grade these same questions in a matter of hours according to the uniform standards that we’ve just received.

Now, I wouldn’t inherently object to this--good that we’re all on the same page, as graders--except that (a) I don’t see why it needs to take three full hours to be “normed” on grading one essay and two short answer questions, particularly when we’re provided with sample essays and a rubric for marking each question, and (b) since I’ve already proctored and graded this same test approximately six times since the change-over to the new Regents exam in 2010, I’m not sure why I’ve needed 18 total hours of “norming” for these essays over the past three years. I mean, seriously. Eighteen hours? To put that in perspective, that’s the same amount of time I’ve spent with a given class over the course of one marking period.

And furthermore, since I just graded the June Regents exams six months ago, not to mention my constant in-class efforts to train my students to answer the Regents questions, I think one could reasonably assume that I haven’t forgotten everything about Regents in that short span of time--and that I won’t suddenly forget how the essay should look just because it’s based on a different quotation than last spring’s question. June wasn’t that long ago, and my summer vacation wasn’t so crazy as to supplant all memories of the previous school year.

So, this already makes me a little cranky. Another thing that makes me cranky is the fact that I have to go to a different campus--not my own school--during Regents week in order to grade tests. Ostensibly, the reason for this is that no teacher should grade his or her own school’s exams. Fine. However, I don’t understand why that requires my leaving my campus to go to a totally different one, particularly since my school’s tests were sent to that same campus anyway. What’s the logic in my moving, then? And, why were other teachers from my school sent to different campuses? And, if the higher ups really want to shuffle around the tests so that no teachers are grading their own, wouldn’t it make sense simply to send the tests out, but leave the teachers to stay put on their own campuses (to receive another school’s tests)? Or better yet, to have us switch tests “in-house” with any of the other six small schools on our same campus?

All this prep work doesn’t even begin to take into account the unnecessary complications once we begin scoring: We now are assigned “rater numbers,” with which we have to sign off on any score we give an essay, and then sign the same scoring sheet again at the bottom with our rater number and initials, and then sign the outside of the box the tests all came in, and then sign three different attendance rosters on top of that. Also, each “section” of a test (basically, any classroom within any school where kids take a test becomes a “section”) is kept in an individual polyurethane bag--as though contaminated--and cannot be separated or mixed with other tests from that same school (even though all the tests in any box are from the same school, and thus have the same end destination.)

Regents Week always stands in my mind as an example of system-wide redundancy, inefficiency, and impracticality. I wish our higher ups would devise a better way of handing state exams, preferably one that involved less paper work, time wasting, and general red tape.

The opinions expressed in View From the Bronx: An Urban Teacher’s Perspective are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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