Research: Past & Present
all students achieve higher standards
Think Globally, Assess
Janet Price, International High
School at LaGuardia C.C.
International is a public high school in Queens
serving recent immigrants, all English language
learners. As part of the New York Performance
International had permission to use a graduation portfolio in lieu of the state
testing program. After the institution of the new Regents testing program, the
State Education Commissioner denied the Consortium's request to continue that
variance. Beginning with the class of 2005, our student body must pass five Regents
exams in order to receive a high school diploma. In my seven years as a history
teacher, I have followed the example of my peers emphasizing depth over breadth
and focusing on language development, especially reading and writing and critical
thinking skills over memorization of specific facts. For the first time this
year I was faced with preparing students for a test that could cover anything
and everything in global history from the Neanderthals through global warming.
My dilemma was how to maintain the depth of coverage appropriate to meeting important
state world history standards and yet prepare students for a test that is "a
mile wide and an inch deep."
How do students respond to similar tasks in dissimilar
contexts? How do different kinds of history writing provide
different opportunities to demonstrate mastery?
Tools and Data
I compared student scores on the document-based essay section of the January
global Regents to their work on a class assignment, a document based essay, using
the actual test scoring instructions to assign a score to each class paper. Possible
scores range from 0 to 5. Three students scored three points higher on the class
essay. Four students scored two points higher. Five students scored one point
higher. Three students scored the same. No students scored higher on the Regents
Comparing student work on the two tasks, it is clear that
students found it hard to work up enthusiasm for the rather
dry Regents topic (comparing and contrasting
the effect of geography on the political and economic development of Great Britain
and Japan) whereas most students seemed to enjoy the classroom opportunity to
compare the causes of the Iraq war to World War One or World War Two. Consider,
for instance, student A's conclusion to his Regents essay which received a score
of 1. He writes: "Japan and Great Britain are very wonderful place because
there is water all over. Fishing Industries make a lot of money and trading is
good too." The essay ends with a drawing of a guy sticking his tongue out.
In contrast, here is how student A ends his essay comparing the causes of World
War II and the war in Iraq:
"Many people sacrifice their life for their country. Some are forced and some
do it willingly. I salute all the people there are fighting to keep America safe.
I don't like war but when there are bad, cruel, ruthless leaders in the world,
war is the only way to stop them from going wild. I hope the communist government
of China learns a big lesson after the U.S. and British army defeats and Liberates
the Iraqi people from Shadam Hussein. May be one day hope I can see my country
[Tibet] get freedom like the Iraqi people got from Shadam Hussein and Afghans
from the Taliban, It would be the happiest day in my life. This lesson has taught
me a lot about the wars that happened and the wars that are happening."
I also compared another classroom assignment to the state
world history standards-- a diary that students wrote in
the voice of a figure of their choice from the
era of the French Revolution, I found that this assignment addressed several
of the state standards and the recommended ways for showing student mastery of
these standards. For example, the state standards say that students should "analyze
historic events from around the world by examining accounts written from different
perspectives" and that "this is evident, for example, when students
analyze important events and developments in world history through the eyes and
experiences of those who were there."
Unfortunately, this project did not seem to prepare students for the Regents
exam as most students who took the test in January were not able to use the information
they had gathered to respond to the thematic essay question on revolutions.
Analysis and Policy Implications
Why were my students able to show greater mastery of
state standards on classroom assignments than on the exam?
For one, the on-demand testing format simply is the wrong
vehicle to assess many important state standards. Also, language
barriers, time constraints and the stress of taking a high
stakes test that determines whether a student will earn a
high school diploma all played a role in interfering with
student performance. This is a particularly serious issue
for English-language learners especially since the literature
conclusively finds that students who arrive here as adolescents
will take six or seven years to catch up and even longer
to learn the English skills associated with science, social
studies and higher order mathematics. However, this is not
only an issue for ELL's. National testing experts unanimously
assert that no decision of serious consequence in a child's
life should be made on the basis of a single test score.
- End the practice of
making any one test a determinant of who
receives a high school diploma. If the global
Regents is required, permit schools to use
it as one piece of evidence in making high-stakes
- Grant variances to schools
that wish to use performance-assessments
aligned to state standards in lieu of the
Regents global exam.
- Adjust the passing score
for English Language Learners from 65 to
55 to partially compensate for the special
difficulties the test poses for this population.
the Full Paper (pdf file. Need Adobe Acrobat? Click