Murphy’s Law and The Regents Grading Fiasco of 2013

June 21, 2013 — 17 Comments

By: Two Social Studies Teachers for MORE

By nature, social studies teachers do two things: they make it their business to know what’s going on, and they try to answer why is this happening. Perhaps this is why many of the bloggers you read just happen to be social studies teachers.

For high school social studies teachers, this June marks the first attempt at centralizing the grading process for our two exams: Global History and Geography and United States History and Government. According to the plan, student exams, when finished, are placed in a shipping box and sent (to Conneticut, of all places) to be scanned by McGraw-Hill, a private company. The scanned version of the exam is then presented to a teacher for grading over the Internet using software that has been developed by McGraw-Hill.

Teachers have been assigned to report to central grading hubs located throughout the city’s five boroughs. Each hub can accommodate approximately two hundred teachers. The process is supposed to be simple: teachers go to a URL, located on a McGraw-Hill-owned domain, and use their official Department of Education username and password (the same used for email, SESIS, ARIS and the payroll portal [each built by other for-profit corporations]). Upon entering the password, the teacher is presented the test that he or she has been assigned to grade and grades the different portions of the exams.

A few things need to go right in order for this to happen. Well, a lot of things need to go right in order for this to happen. First, the exams must reach their destination and be scanned over the two-day weekend. I’m sure McGraw-Hill swears they were. Then, the Internet connection between the exam locations and the user (the teacher, located at the school) needs to be up and running—and it needs to continue to operate throughout the entire process. Lastly, the servers (including the file server, where the scanned version of the exams are stored and the authentication servers that validate the usernames and passwords for each teacher) must be functioning.

Now, the original schedule for the week included having social studies teachers grade between the days of Monday and Thursday. We were supposed to return to our assigned school on Friday. Remember that original schedule. The fiasco that has ensued since yesterday wouldn’t be the same without referring to this original schedule.

On Monday, we all sat around while the “system” presented exams on our screens to grade. Many teachers were not able to log in (a true problem with the authentication server). Others were able to log in, but not able to access a single exam item to grade. Although the system listed many exams available to be graded, it simply did not present these exams to teachers’ screens for grading. After two hours of sitting around in the borough of Brooklyn, teachers were told to go back to their assigned schools. The system had a problem, the supervisors said. It couldn’t download the scanned exams. Teachers in Queens and Manhattan were given this news one hour later (a noon “dismissal to site” order was given at one hub at least in Queens; a 12:30 “dismissal to site” was given in at least one hub in Manhattan). At that point, teachers in all three boroughs were informed that Friday “may be a grading day.”

Overnight, the system seemed to be doing just fine. Exams were processed and seemed ready to be delivered to teachers’ screens at their “hub” schools. When teachers arrived this morning, everything seemed to be up and running. Now this was similar to the experience that high school English teachers had during the January Regents: The exams weren’t ready to be viewed on the first day, but by the second day, everything was up and running. So imagine the surprise felt on people’s faces when, at around 9:25 (just 25 minutes after everyone in the system was logged in and grading the exams), the system started to experience glitches. It would hang for long periods of time before presenting an item to grade. It would not present exams. It would freeze completely, forcing the user to log out and log back in to try to access more exams.

It limped along until about 11:30 AM (remember that time) and the folks in charge thought they had fixed the glitch. But by about 12:30 in the borough of Brooklyn and 1:00 in the borough of Queens (unknown as of this moment in Manhattan) teachers were, once again, sent back to their assigned schools and told to come back again on Wednesday.

Wednesday was another disaster with the computer system crashing and teachers being sent back to their home schools for a third straight day. Hey, we though this mayor was so concerned with the environment, yet he has people driving back and forth!

Thursday the system worked until 2:00pm then shut down. At this point we have frustrated, demoralized teachers grading exams. That’s not fair to anyone. Per session (over-time) hours are being offered for the weekend. Can this money be better used going to our classrooms and our children?

Update: Friday, over a week and half after the exams were given the system continues to fail. To say teachers are annoyed and mentally drained would be an understatement. We are not robots and this week of a fiasco, out of our home schools, in am environment where we are treated as nothing more than factory workers, teachers are “sick and tired”. The crowning moment was when we were notified that we were required to report back to the grading centers on Monday. Remember if we were in our home schools doing this the right way, we would be done already a long time ago. We try to remain as objective as possible when grading, but we’re not machines and this deteriorating situation has to be affecting the grades. Usually we use this time of year to clean up our rooms, organize our files, collaborate with our colleagues, and prepare for some of the ridiculous new reforms that seem to make its way to schools every year.

Many of us who have been assigned to reeducation—I mean, grading centers—will miss the most important day of the year, graduation day. We all know the media, politicians (both parties) and corporations have attacked teachers and our unions saying we’re the ones who are anti-children, but truth be told, watching “our kids” graduate is our favorite day of the year. Not allowing us to watch our own student’s graduate, the chance to spend one last moment celebrating with them, is an extreme disappointment for us all who have watched our students grow for the past four years.

The greatest travesty is as class-size continues to increase; after-school programs have been eliminated; arts and music, and many other courses have been reduced; yet millions of dollars are being spent on a flawed system. Where are all the “private sector always does it better” folks now? The grading system is impersonal: read the essay, punch in a score, and move on to the next one. This is supposed to a more accurate, fairer system? We think not. The art of teaching and grading continues to be done away with. Cookie-cutter rubrics, scripted lesson plans, standardized testing, and now computerized grading. Millions of dollars has been siphoned off from our public school children instead it goes to further fill the pockets of Bloomberg’s cronies and their corporations who only look to “monetize” our children

There isn’t anyone, even the most corrupt politician, who wouldn’t agree that this money being wasted on a flawed grading system could not be better utilized by going to our children, where it belongs!

So as exceptional social studies teachers we have learned the key to any great lesson is great questions.

The state law says teachers can’t grade their own students’ exams, why did this mayor feel the need to take it one step further and start this new multi-million dollar system?

Why are charter schools excused from this process?

Can the money being diverted to McGraw-Hill be better used for our children and their schools?

If teachers are being evaluated on these tests, how do we know if we have have improved or not without grading the final test?

How can we help our children improve if we don’t grade their last exam?

Is standardized grading the right answer to help all our children become “college and career” ready?

Isn’t a teacher who has taught the student better prepared to grade their essays and know if they have developed their skills?

Does the regents exam and the grading rubric take into account the child’s cognitive skills, socio-economic situation, and level of fluency with the English language?

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17 responses to Murphy’s Law and The Regents Grading Fiasco of 2013

  1. 

    “Isn’t a teacher who has taught the student better prepared to grade their essays and know if they have developed their skills?”
    The simple answer is no. The teacher who has taught the student is better prepared to tamper with the results BECAUSE the teacher knows the student and is tempted to add a few points in order to graduate the student, and make himself look effective, too. Same for principals. Of course, this raises the obvious follow-up: If we can’t trust teachers to grade their students’ Regents, why trust them on course grades? If the notoriously non-vigilant DOE dared to investigate the 65 bulge in course grades, another scandal would emerge. Teachers I have surveyed over the past 10 years admit that 10 to 20% of their passes are really failures. They pass students undeservedly to meet principal quotas and to avoid harassment. Anybody disagree?

    • 

      I resent your implication that all or even most teachers are unethical cheats who sacrifice the interests of children to protect themselves. If this were the case all children would pass their classes and state exams. Sure, like all human beings in all professions a small percentage are unethical. But the idea that anybody should strictly adhere to some arbitrary standard of success on arbitrary questions assessed by exceedingly vague rubrics without considering the circumstances of the child, the specifics of what the child was taught and what the child wrote in their answers is ludicrous and in no way serves the best interests of the child. Shame on you!

      • 
        Philip Nobile June 22, 2013 at 4:41 pm

        As an ATR, I get around to Brooklyn high schools. Many teachers tell me me that they are hassled by principals if their pass rates fall below a certain percent. And not one teacher said, “And I told the principal to shove his quota and if pressured again, I would call SCI.” Actually, former Cobble Hill Principal Ken Cuthbert reported me to SCI for deliberately flunking 27 of 29 students in a tragically illiterate underperforming Global History class. OSI was unable to substantiate and when I asked Cuthbert at a recent U-appeal hearing what evidence he had for accusing me of false grading–a crime under state Ed law 225–he refused comment.

        Forgive me for sounding cold, but I’m not impressed by your bleeding students-deserve-a-break-from-objective-grading standards on state tests. According to you, only a student’s own teacher can grade fairly. That’s the kind of old school “holistic” nonsense that encouraged scrubbing and cheated kids out of college-ready education.

        By the way, does your principal have a pass quota and do you know of any teachers whom he/she has intimidated for not meeting it?

      • 

        I wish I could show you the cheating/fudging/scrubbing/”helping” that goes on my district. By admin. By teachers. By paras. I wish I could show you the implied/explicit directives to help kids pass on exams from other teachers, and from admin, both low and higher level. Look, we’re human — we want to protect our keisters and to “help” kids, even to the point of bending ethics. It’s not crazy to think that we need oversight.

    • 
      Joan Napolitano July 4, 2013 at 6:51 am

      I was just wondering if any of you had an opinion on the recent scandal with some of the Long Island schools where the grades were upped so students would pass the regents. Since I believe NY and CA are the only states left doing regents do you think it is fair that for over 10 years grades have been adjusted by certain districts on LI. I am disturbed as the parent of a child who failed and knowing others were pushed through really upsets me and I feel the regents should be discarded like all the other states. It only makes money for the company grading now, and all the prep institutes that work to tutor the kids. Please give your opinion as the people who responded to this seem to know what they are talking about. The scandal item appeared in Newsday as a front cover weekend article about one week ago.

  2. 

    Is MORE following Unity’s lead and endorsing Thompson for Mayor? I shall not be stampeded into voting for Mr. Thompson. If he were so good, why did Unity abandon him in 2009? Why is he being supported by former Sen. D’Amato? There are also reports that he is receiving tons of money from real estate interests. 4 years ago he called for a rent freeze. He is now remaining quiet regarding the 4 and 7 3/4 percent increases that rent stabilized tenants were hit with last night for their expiring leases.
    I’m surprised that under the evaluation system now in effect, students don’t mark the exams. Everyone passes and we all go home happy for the summer.

  3. 
    Jonathan Lessuck June 21, 2013 at 10:29 pm

    Let us not forget that there are reports of middle school science teachers grading the ELA regents. Has this type of thing also been true for the U.S. and Global?

  4. 

    by the end of the year, we should know what skills our students have developed. however, teaching ELLs, i find that i am always surprised at the amount of students that get certain questions wrong even though i know they know the answer. by grading my own students exams, i am able to better understand their thinking process and thus improve my teaching for the following year. the amount of teachers who help their students pass is much lower than you think. the amount of students who get 65s is high. but if you look at the scoring chart, it usually takes a few more points to go from a 65 to 66. so obviously more students will receive the same passing grade.

  5. 

    Just remember that by “modernizing” the grading system to provide tests in this manner prevents us from doing the Rheesonable thing of using a pencil to “Grade or Rheegrade” the tests. Ingenious, yes?

  6. 

    Amy,
    Interesting points. There must be a way to send teachers their students’ essays for the purpose you mention. Also, the scoring charts can be quirky. But I wonder why you think
    Regent tampering was never epidemic. The Wall Street Journal’s devastating investigative story (“Students’ Regents Test Scores Bulge at 65,” Feb 2, 2011) confirmed what every
    teacher in Casablanca knew–a 65 or 66 was more than likely an original 60-64. The bulge at my school–Cobble Hill School of American Studies–was a ridiculous 97-7.

    • 
      Judy Ornstein June 23, 2013 at 9:27 pm

      Philip, Amy, etc. — Whatever our opinions as to how much “scrubbing” goes on, I hope we can agree on a couple of things:
      1. The essay scoring rubrics are ridiculous to begin with. The state’s instructions to teachers as to what merits a 5, 4, 3, etc. on an essay are not consistent with what the students are told to write. For example, on this year’s Global History and Geography exam, the thematic essay asked the students to choose two revolutions from world history and for each one, discuss the historical circumstances and the effects of that revolution. A student who completes that task could reasonably expect to get a top score of “5” on the essay. But then the state puts out its rubrics for teachers, and instructs us that to get a “5”, an essay must be analytical rather than descriptive, should “create” information (a new take on the old Bloom’s taxonomy), etc. — in short, should rise above what the student is told that s/he should do.
      2. It is a royal waste of money to scan every student’s exam and then pay for software to allow teachers to grade anonymous students’ exams. If you want to keep teachers from grading their own students, you can have tests exchanged from one school to another Or you could even, as we now do it on Long Island, just have essays graded BEFORE the scan forms are run for the multiple choice, so teachers aren’t tempted to push up a grade “just a little bit” (because we do not know, when we are grading the essays, what the multiple choice scores are.) Of course, to do this, you would have to believe that teachers are not totally dirt-bags who will do anything to make themselves look good…. I guess that’s a tough belief for some people to hold…
      (By the way, I am a Social Studies teacher who has been teaching for 26 years.)

  7. 

    More outrageous info on the high school ELA Regents exam: there are elementary and junior high school teachers grading the ELA exams (even though plenty of ELA high school teachers applied to grade and were not accepted); these are teachers who have never even seen the test or know what students’ writing is like at the high school level. Training was a mess — there was no guidance given about the fact that a 3/6 is a failing grade and a 4/6 is a passing grade, for instance. Furthermore, teachers unfamiliar with ESL and ISS (Special Ed) students are grading very harshly, giving zeroes because of just one spelling error, even though spelling is only one part of one of the categories on the rubric. And never mind all the computer glitches that don’t allow teachers to see the full test or even the full writing passage they’re working on before being forced to grade it! Teachers are also being reprimanded for taking too long or not enough time grading each test since they are being timed on the computers and are not allowed much break time, which is unreasonable since they have already worked a full day and then are expected to grade non-stop for 4 hours in the evening (all the testing is being done after school, for per session — teachers are also grading from 10am-6pm today, Saturday, because of all the problems).

    This is an excellent chance to ally teachers (who are shocked and saddened for our students — many of our wonderful seniors will not be graduating on Monday because of this test), administrators (who are furious), parents (who should be asking to see their kids’ tests but probably don’t know they can do this or how), and students (who should learn how to empower themselves). Together, we need to get the word out to the news media and PROTEST the devastating effects of this bungled effort on our students. Would MORE please start organizing something to this effect?

    • 

      Thank you for your brilliant and informative comment. I hope you don’t mind, but I showed this to some (or all) of my friends, and sent it to Chancellor Walcott’s secretary after she responded to my initial request for a review of flawed regents scores. (Obviously, that request was wholeheartedly ignored.) I gave appropriate credit and linked back here.

      I agree that this should be highly publicized, and in the exact manner you portray it here. Nothing mamby-pamby will suffice. I expect the fiasco to surface somewhere in the media soon, but one never knows… Perhaps correspondence with the NYTimes is in order.

      I’m a junior in a high school in Brooklyn, by the way.

  8. 
    A Former Teacher June 24, 2013 at 3:00 pm

    This, seems to me, and feel free to disagree, the first step to outsourcing teaching to somewhere where it could be cheaper to grade. They have moved the tests from NYC to Conn to scan and we have no idea who actually scanned the exams into the computers. Now,we are sitting in front of computer terminals and grading at grading centers. As other teaches have mentioned, we could all log in and grade from home. The only reason that we can not grade from home is some city regulation that all city workers must be present on site to be paid. Once we get rid of that rule (and we have been getting rid of many rules quite easily lately), we will be marking from home,which opens the door to sending the tests to other states to have them graded and possibly other English speaking nations. We are complicit in our own demise. We are destroying ourselves by going along with this methodology of grading.

    • 

      NCLB was pushed on schools nationwide and still haunt us – the privatization of testing and grading and consulting created a monstrous industry that has just grown. Now they’ve begun supplying full year curriculum materials in NYC schools in Math and ELA.

      The evaluations are what should be evaluated here.

      I saw two good teachers leave the profession this week. One couldn’t bear to have books imposed by Pearson and Scholastic. Another was crushed when they merged Social Studies into English and ironically called it “humanities”.

      Part of the new “subscription” model also tells teachers HOW they have to teach, as if people at desks know better than teachers in the classroom.

      In my school, the testing and grading made us miss 28 days of Math and ELA learning time, expanded by 33% since 2011. I don’t need a rubric to know that’s taking us in the wrong direction.

Trackbacks and Pingbacks:

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