Thursday, January 29, 2009

Regents Week Ruminations

It's Regents week and I've got a couple of things on my mind.

A couple of years ago, my school changed its policy on how to handle Session One of the English Regents exam. For those of you not familiar with the exam, I won't go over the whole thing here, but Session One starts with a listening passage which is the basis for the first task (Part A). Part B consists of a nonfiction article and infographic which are provided in the test booklet. What we did in the past, here and at all of my former schools, was instruct the students at the beginning of the exam to start working on Part B, then we would interrupt the exam about 45 minutes in to do the listening section. The purpose of this was to accommodate students who came in late, so they wouldn't miss the speech.

Two years ago, I convinced my then-AP to change this policy. For one thing, this created a great deal of confusion on the part of the test-takers, who not only would write their Part B essays in the space designated for Part A, but would get interrupted in the middle of their work on Part B, shift their focus to Part A, then have difficulty getting back to Part B whether they did it right away, saving Part A for later, or waited until after finishing Part A to get back to Part B. If this sounds confusing, it is. What is supposed to be a two-part test becomes, logistically, a three-part test. In some cases, students would blend together the material in parts A and B and put parts of each in both essays, write a single essay incorporating both sets of information, neglect to write one of the essays, or produce some other result different from what the test intends.

In addition, the "DIRECTIONS FOR TEACHERS" that come attached to every Regents exam clearly intend that the listening passage be done first. The text of and procedure for the speech are incorporated into the starting instructions.

It never made sense to me that, in order to accommodate the few irresponsible kids who could not be bothered to show up on time for an exam they must pass to graduate, we should not only alter the state-prescribed procedure for administering the exam, but in doing so make things significantly more complicated for everyone else. It took some doing, but I managed to convince my supervisor that the problems outweighed the benefits, particularly when the only real "benefit" is to reward negligence.

Of course, my preference would have been that if a student missed the speech, he missed the speech and would therefore be unable to write the essay, probably fail the exam, and have to re-take it six months hence. As I've pointed out repeatedly, it never seems to occur to anyone that if we continue to bend over backwards to accommodate kids who either refuse or neglect to do the right thing, they will continue to do the wrong thing and have no incentive to learn, change their behavior, or get their overall act together. There is, and should always be, a price to be paid for negligence. The dangers of sending kids who are accustomed to being accommodated out into a very un-accommodating world are real, are serious, and are lost on many educators and parents.

As a compromise, my supervisor and I came up with an idea to have a separate room for latecomers, where the listening section would be done later in the same fashion we used to employ for everyone. We have done that, and so far we've had few problems. This would obviously be more problemmatic in a larger school giving hundreds of exams at once, like the first high school where I taught from 1997-2001 (3300 students, in a building built for 2500). But even then, once the doors close and the exam begins, no one should be allowed into the exam room.

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