Saturday, January 30, 2010

Regents Week Wake Up Call

In January we devote an entire instructional week to Regents Exams- New York's exit exams. There are no classes, instead there are tests to proctor. Students do not come to school unless they are scheduled for a test (and sometimes not even then, of course). It's pretty nice until we start grading the things. After that the gloves came off, a lot of people got ornery, and a lot of students were put to the test. After all is said and done, the testing, grading, passing and failing get to you and the week becomes as rough as any other.

The Schedule
Each teacher is given a schedule of proctoring and grading periods. This is the first thing that raises the level of irritation amongst the staff. Our building only has so many rooms and so many teachers, the combination of which is very difficult to piece together so there are enough staff and enough rooms to go around. In spite of that difficulty and the effort made to maintain equity, many teachers have had numerous free periods, while others have to proctor and grade the entire week straight.

Students are not in classes and therefore are providing fewer opportunities for the teachers to complain, the amount of grading required and the number of tests that one must proctor immediately fill that void. Any slight variance in equity becomes a complaint given to other teachers and administrators. Administrators then might go to more experienced staff to try to shift the work load around a bit, the result of which is more irritation.

For some the proctoring schedule is completely absurd, as it is with our special education department. The teachers we have in that department are scheduled to administer tests for between seven and nine hours straight every day of the week and are only relieved when they text someone a reminder that they are stuck in a room with students and have to go to the bathroom.

The Grading
Each teacher has to grade tests in his or her subject area. That means all of the social studies teachers team up to grade the social studies exit exams, all the math teacher do the same, etc. This is necessary so that teachers do not grade their own students' exams, and also provides the teams an opportunity to come together to talk, bond, ignore one another, etc.

The complaints in this department center on how much grading each person actually does when compared to the number of students they actually have taking the test. I was pretty guilty of this one. I had four of my eighth graders take the eleventh grade exit exam, but I assisted in the grading of well over a hundred exams. That's fine. I wouldn't have nearly as large a problem with that if I wasn't made to give a large test to the rest of my eighth graders and then grade it entirely by myself outside of school hours by the end of the week. My complaints were quieted by the logic that I'm lucky to have the time off from teaching and should be quiet, though that didn't really make me feel a whole lot better.

The fact that we grade the exams in-house baffles me. If these tests are important at all, why in the world would the state expect people who are supposed to be very emotionally engaged in the success of the students grade the very exams that are supposed to be objective measures of their competency?! Teacher's and administrator's jobs depend on those test scores and we're the ones grading them? Because I do not teach high school and my students aren't actually expected to pass these exams, I find myself being most objective and holding the highest standards for students to actually pass the tests, while my colleagues tend to be a bit more lenient when it comes to marking down . Even still, many of the students taking the exam are my students from last year, which means however much I want to be objective about them, I cannot be.

Moving Forward
The first whiff of how difficult my job would be in the Bronx came when I graded the August Regents Exams in the summer of 2008. I came in fresh from college and used to reading high-level student work. I was shocked by the fact that students couldn't do well on the exams, let alone even pass them.

When your job is to get students to learn an important base of knowledge and develop the skills they will need to be successful in life, it's an incredible shot to the gut to find out that all of your hard work results in many students failing a minimum competency test. Your pride is cut down; your self-esteem dissolved. As you calculate the scores a sort of numb feeling grips you as you search for meaning in the fact that few of the students are able to pass what has become one of the largest measures of your performance.

While I'm not yet a seasoned veteran, I can imagine how difficult it is to see students do so poorly year after year. In spite of all our efforts, it may come down to the fact that our current system simply cannot do what we want it to do. With class sizes so large, teachers demoralized (and demonized), and public favor of the public schools waning, all we can do is keep marching and improving what we're doing with students. Maybe it is a losing battle in this system, but that doesn't mean we'll give up the fight. Hopefully someone figures out how to dig us out of this mess while we're still standing.

Today's Wine: Casillero del Diablo Carmenere. My impeccable and flourishing Spanish (I learned the word for "question" the other day) tells me that Diablo means "devil," so of course I had to buy it. This guy was fruity, full-bodied, not too dry and not at all expensive. Great job.


  1. I wrote about my Regent's Week on my blog- you pretty much summed it up- stuck for 8 hours a day proctoring.

    It is somewhat unfair to make a blanket statement that public support for the public school system is waning. Check out any of the newspaper reports on Thursday's meeting at Brooklyn Tech about school closures. (mainstream or alternative media)

    It is unfortunate feature of the current educational system that the public is squeezed out of having any say about public education. While the mayor's office can be bought, there never will be a public school system that is responsive to the needs of its participants.

    Check out

    My wine on Friday, whatever cheap zinfadel the "librarian" at the local "library" kept pouring.

  2. Perhaps you're right about the call on waning support for public schools. I may be projecting my own restlessness with the system onto other people as well, but it seems like people want a major change and the only one being offered on any large scale is the charter school movement. It would be nice if someone like Klein, Duncan or Gates could figure out how to reform the current system, rather than abandon/snub it.

  3. Read "Tis" Apparently it has ever been thus.