Friday, May 27, 2011

Scrapping Scrubbing

The NY Times came out with an article yesterday about how NY State education officials have ordered schools to end the longstanding practice of reviewing Regents exam scores that fall just below the passing grade.

The practice, known as scrubbing, was put into effect to protect students whose tests might have been mis-scored, where a careful review might prove that some of those students in fact deserved a passing grade. But schools began to look at essays -- where there is room to interpret what a grade should be -- as opportunities to add points and pass more students who otherwise would have failed.

In February, the city announced that it would introduce regular audits of schools that seemed to show suspicious amounts of grade-changes. But now NY State officials have decided that such audits don't go far enough to prevent grade inflation, and have removed the ability to rescore tests at all.

Let me state for the record that I believe hard work should be rewarded and that as a general rule I am not in favor of allowing students to coast without earning their grades. However let's take a step back, look at the larger picture, and be realists for a moment. First of all, some students' exams will be misgraded, and a review of their score may make the difference between passing fairly and failing unfairly. This is why the practice was begun in the first place. Removing the right to rescore tests in the 61-64 point range is unfair to those students. Second, the removal of the right to rescore does not factor in real world considerations: There is sometimes a hardship to many students and their families created by keeping them back, and a teacher might know of a particular student's situation. There are huge swaths of the population who are not going to be better off in life if they struggle through a class one more time in order to squeak out two more points on a Regents examination but who are going to be worse off if they can't graduate and get on with finding a job and helping out their households. A sad reality, perhaps, but a reality nonetheless.

But the larger problem lies in removing the ability to check altogether, in removing the protection for students who might have been robbed of a critical point of two they had, in fact, earned and deserved. Audits of the nature the city implemented in February are a big enough hammer -- if the state is concerned about unorthodox practices, whether because a school is concerned about getting funding under the No Child Left Behind provisions or because the test grader wants to help a student with his/her real-world needs, the state can simply audit those schools where there seems to be a pattern and practice of abuse. There was no reason to throw the baby out with the bathwater by banning the rereading of tests altogether. What a shame.

-Jack Simony

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