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The state is tinkering with Regents exam scores, but advocates say that means prior test-takers lose out

Some teachers and advocates are concerned about changes to the scoring system for the algebra Regents exam that could result in higher scores, by one measure, for this year’s test-takers. They say the adjustments, announced by the state in June, put students who took the test in 2014 or 2015 at a disadvantage.

“If I were a student [who took the test last year] I’d want to retake the Regents this year,” said Megan Roberts, the executive director of Math for America.

When the state switched to tougher Common Core exams, officials vowed that they would make the tests harder, but preserve roughly the same passing percentages. But last year, the first in which all students had to take the exam, the percentage of students who passed fell by nine percent, causing anxiety for high school teachers and students.

In June, officials said they were performing “scale maintenance” in order to keep passing percentages roughly equal to what they were before Common Core. Students had to answer about two fewer questions correctly in order to pass the exam this June, though that could partly indicate a harder test.

Regardless, the “scale” scoring, which plots student scores on a scale of 0 to 100, appears to have gotten easier. The number of raw score points it took to earn an 80, for example, dropped 18 points this year.

State officials said the focus on scaled test scores is misplaced since those scores are not how they mark progress. Instead, they’re encouraging students to concentrate on their 1-5 scores. Using those, there is a less dramatic drop of 5 points in what it takes to get a level 4, the official marker of college readiness.

But some advocates worry that message will get lost in translation. It’s hard to tell students to ignore scale scores, they say, if they’re still being seen by students, teachers and colleges.

“Do students, parents and teachers really understand that they shouldn’t ever be looking at those numbers?” asked Kim Nauer, education research director at the New School’s Center for New York City Affairs.

The tinkering and backlash are an early indication of how challenging it will be to both increase the rigor of a diploma and simultaneously keep graduation rates stable.

The students are “getting caught in an experiment,” said education consultant David Rubel, “These are real kids, and now they’re being tossed around by various policy directives of NYSED.”