In New York State, the high school standardized tests are called ‘The Regents’ exams. Unlike the state tests for grades 3 through 8, which are graded externally, the Regents have always been scored by the teachers in the school. After they are graded, the tests would then sent off to Albany where they could be audited if there is suspicion that they have been graded improperly.
At my school we would take all the tests and split up the task among the math teachers, being careful that no teacher grades his or her own class. The scoring rubric is often very vague and we would have a lot of heated arguments about how many points of partial credit to give for this or that, as we tried to fairly interpret the guidelines.
This year we learned that instead of grading the students in our school, the math teachers would all go to another site where the Regents for many schools would be sent and we would work together with teachers from other schools to grade the Regents centrally.
One reason for this new policy is explained by a recent New York Post article entitled “High schools that didn’t grade their own Regents exams last year fared worse than those that did.” According to the article, as the title suggests, students somehow got a “Home Field Advantage” when teachers from their own school graded them. I’m not surprised by this. It isn’t that I think that many teachers were trying to cheat to make them or their students look better — though that is certainly something that must happen. It is actually possible that the grades, even though they are higher, are more accurate when they are graded by the teachers at the school.
Within the school teachers may have taught a topic in a particular way which is a bit unfamiliar to teachers in another school which might cause those other teachers to grade the test lower. Either way, if the grades are more accurate or less accurate, it is a fact that when tests are graded by teachers from a different school, they are lower.
At the end of the article we are assured, “This is the first year all high schools are barred from scoring their own Regents.” And this is something that I welcome. As long as all schools are doing it, it would eliminate that home field advantage, particularly for charter schools who have the most incentive to inflate their grades, consciously or subconsciously.
So I was quite surprised when I got a tip from a teacher at a school that is co-located with a charter high school that the charter school was grading their own Regents. I checked around and got confirmation from another charter school that they, too, were grading their own Regents. For charter schools, it seems, the centralized grading is merely optional. So much for accountability.
Over the summer when we hear about how charter schools outperformed the nearby ‘failing’ school on the Regents, I hope they will put an asterisk by the statement.