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Common Core rollout reaches Regents exams, but older tests remain

Teach Marisa Laks, center, works with students in 2014 ahead of a Regents exam the following week.
Teach Marisa Laks, center, works with students in 2014 ahead of a Regents exam the following week.
Patrick Wall

Students are sitting for the first-ever Regents exams tied to the new Common Core state standards on Tuesday, continuing a turbulent rollout of the Common Core standards that sparked new resistance last year after younger students faced tougher tests.

The new Common Core-aligned Algebra I Regents exam has provoked less dread than the grades 3-8 tests did, since only some students are required to sit for the test and students can retake it. Also, while the new test is being phased in this year, the state is allowing students to take the old algebra Regents exam as well and keep whichever score is highest.

Still, preparing students to take two different Regents tests in the same subject has challenged some algebra teachers, who say they are unsure about what to expect on the new exams.

“We’re feeling a bit anxious,” said Marisa Laks, an algebra and geometry teacher at the Global Learning Collaborative on the Upper West Side. “We really don’t know what this assessment is going to be like.”

Only students who first enrolled in Algebra I this year are required to take Tuesday’s test, which is designed to be more demanding, with more multi-step problems based on real-world scenarios. Students typically take Algebra I in ninth grade, though some take the course and the test in middle school. During this transitional year, those students can also take the old test and keep the higher score.

Common Core-aligned Algebra I course leaves out some topics that are included in courses tied to the old standards, such as probability and trigonometry. Some algebra teachers said they plan to deal with the discrepancy by covering those missing topics between the Common Core test on Tuesday and the old Algebra I exam, which will be given on June 20.

Ken Wagner, the state education department associate commissioner who oversees testing, acknowledged that the situation is not ideal.

“It puts teachers in an awkward situation, as well as students,” he said, though he added that the state only made the old test available this year to act as a safety net for students.

Some teachers have also complained that, despite the availability of some sample questions on the state website, they are unsure what to expect from Tuesday’s tests. Wagner argued that the state had been “very transparent” about the new exams, posting webinars and test guides in addition to the sample problems.

“People should have a pretty good sense of what’s going to be on [the test],” he said.

The state is also rolling out a new Common Core-aligned English Regents exam on Tuesday, which will eventually replace the current test.

This year’s freshmen will be the first that must take the new test, but since the English exam is designed to be taken at the end of 11th grade, no students are required to take the new test until 2016. However, older students that have taken English classes tied to the new standards have the option of taking the new test this year.

As in the past, this year’s freshmen will have to pass two social studies and one science Regents exam in order to graduate. But this group is the first that will also have to pass a Common Core-connected Regents exam in English and one in either Algebra I, Geometry, or Algebra II, which will be rolled out in 2015 and 2016. (Students who take the new geometry test next year will have the option of taking the old one too.)

As before, students must score at least a 65 out of 100 on the new exams to pass. The state has not yet set the number of points that students must earn on the test to obtain a 65. But state officials have said they expect a similar percentage of students to pass the new tests as the old ones.

By 2022, the state will raise the score that students have to earn on the Common Core Regents in order to graduate. The state has not yet set that score. It is considering whether to gradually raise the pass score in the years leading up to 2022, an option that it will seek public feedback on later this year.

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