Regents wake-up call

When you get 30 out of 50 questions wrong on a test, you're supposed to fail. But not on the this year's American History portion of the New York State Regents Exam. According to Marc Epstein, the once-revered but now "hopelessly manipulated" Regents tests are plagued by a host of problems that make their results meaningless at best and fraudulent at worst--and the U.S. history component is a perfect example. First, its grading formula is so convoluted that ridiculously low raw scores equal passing weighted ones. (If you're curious, Epstein explains the formula here.) This is possible because subjective parts of the exam, notably the essay portion, are much more heavily weighted in the final score than are the multiple choice questions. These essays are typically document-based questions where students are asked to respond to a prompt. No previous knowledge of the subject matter, in this case history, is needed, even though this test is supposed to be testing subject matter knowledge. And there's more. The questions themselves tend to be laughably easy, especially on these prompt sections; for example, specific key words that get points from graders are often included in the question stem itself, meaning all that's needed to answer the question correctly is the ability to read and, perhaps, a smattering of common sense. This test needs a makeover.

"The Regents, Re-dunce," Marc Epstein, City Journal, July 31, 2009