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Broad concerns about “harsh” ELA Regents conversion charts

The grading of high school Regents exams isn’t even over, but some city educators are already registering concern about the new state conversion charts for English tests.

Bronx Center for Science and Math Assistant Principal Stephen Seltzer sent a letter to State Education Commissioner John King expressing frustration about the new conversion chart that has made it more difficult for students to pass the English Regents exam.

Seltzer writes that “the rubrics and conversion charts must be aligned and consistent, and both should be made available when teachers are preparing students, not at the time of the exam.”

In the letter, sent Thursday, Seltzer writes that there is a four-point difference in the June 2011 and June 2013 conversion charts. He gives the following example to illustrate his point:

A student who scored a 23 in the multiple-choice and a 7 in the writing received a 79 in 2011 but a 75 in 2013; a student who scored a 21 on the multiple-choice and a 5 on the writing passed with a 65 in 2011 but failed with a 60 in 2013.

The change to the conversion tables was made without corresponding changes in rubrics, which makes it more difficult for teachers to identify where students’ must improve if they have to take the test again, Seltzer writes in the letter.

“A child can receive a higher raw score, meaning they’ve answered more questions correct, but receive a lower actual grade,” said Bronx Center Principal Ed Tom. “You’ve technically done better on the exam, but the score will reflect a lower grade.”

The issue of changing conversion charts has rattled English teachers across the state, who began complaining about the issue shortly after the tests were administered on June 11. A data specialist posted to a popular statewide education listserv on June 14, “Has anyone had any complaints about the English Conversion Chart? It seems a bit harsh. Do you think NYSED will make any adjustments?”

In response, Steven Katz, director of the Office of State Assessment, said the conversion charts were set by a panel of state high school English teachers through a process called standard setting.

“The achievement standards established by this panel are kept consistent for all the administrations of the same examination with the use of an equating procedure.  As a result, the efforts that all students are required to make in order to earn a given score on the various administrations of this examination are equivalent,” he wrote.

NYSED spokesperson Dennis Tompkins reiterated Katz’s explanation and said the grades are always equal year to year.

Tom said his school usually has about a 90 percent passing rate on the ELA Regents exams. But this year the school is at a 75 percent passing rate. Tom said he looked at individual student grades and the numbers don’t seem to make sense.

He said a number of students scored well on the multiple choice section, but they struggled to received credit on the short answer and essay sections, which require human grading.

“As we’re looking child by child, we’re noticing that it simply doesn’t make sense that a kid would know so much information to score almost perfectly on the multiple choice and not be able to write a short response or essay to get any points,” Tom said.

A copy of the letter is embedded below:

Letter to Commissioner ELA 2013