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Math A Regents – out with a whimper

June 19, 2007 pm30 4:23 pm

And so ends the far-too-long, quite unhappy life of the Math A Regents. Sure, there will be a test in August, and another in January. And maybe half the state will still be using it next June, but that’s it. And last week was the last massive administration.

I don’t know if performance standards (rather than content standards) could ever be appropriate in high school mathematics. Probably not. But I know that NY State’s Performance Standards were miserable. Perhaps the idea works in English and Social Studies; teachers who were paying attention knew that they were a disaster in mathematics, well before they were implemented.

Mathematics, as we teach it, is a set of skills. A student who acquires these skills should be able to apply them, with some guidance, to a variety of situations. We test the skills. The skills are central to what we do. We tell the students what skills we are going to test.

The State (Cssr Mills?) decided to test the application. Problems in context. Unusual combinations. Vocabulary. Content-based standards (solve a quadratic using the quadratic formula) became secondary to process-standards (translate real-world situations to mathematical symbols). Performance is much harder to test, and much harder to perform well on. Not enough people paid attention.

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Teachers were left without a guide for what to teach. NY State insisted that Math A was an assessment, not a course. The same content could present itself 2, 3 times on one test, while major topics could be missing. And there was a general feeling that about a year-and-a-half’s worth of material was on the thing. They left us guessing. I hope we don’t do that to students.

Some districts that were paying attention switched to constructivist curricula, which in theory do a better job of preparing students for perfomance assessment. Publishers made some real dough. But teachers soon became aware that these texts and methods seemed to short-change the math. We got probably the worst in the Bronx: an abomination called Math Connections produced by a fly-by-night outfit called, of all things, “It’s About Time.” My first good union work was getting this thing out of about a dozen schools.

So the first Math A exam came in 1999, and there wasn’t much noise since only those districts that had prepared for it were going to use it, and only with selected groups of kids. 2001 Math B was quietly introduced. And so it went, with the old NY State Math Regents (Course I, Course II, and Course III, corresponding roughly to algebra, geometry, and trig/alg II) being given side-by-side with A and B.

In 2002 Course I was phased out; Math A was becoming a graduation requirement; and most of the districts in the state were finally forced to confront this ugly exam. One year later the inevitable happened: a perfect Math A, unbalanced in skill areas and content, but balanced in performance indicators, that perfect Math A caused some kids to fail. Not in NYC, where kids fail anyway and no one in Albany seems to care, beyond using it as an excuse to squeeze NYC schools harder. No, this time kids in the suburbs failed – outside Albany, Upstate, on Long Island – everywhere.

So the state formed a panel (slowly) got recommendations (slowly) wrote new standards (slowly) (on their face, combined performance and content. I suspect that content will once again be primary), designed new exams (slowly), and now, a decade after teachers knew that this made no sense, 4 years after the everyone across the state knew that A & B were a disaster, now, just now, Math A is being phased out.

1999 Math A first offered
2000 Math A
2001 Math A, Math B first offered, Last Course I
2002 Math A, Math B, Last Course II
2003 Math A, Math B, Last Course III. Bad A exam. Formation of Panel
2004 Math A, Math B, Decision to scrap A and B
2005 Math A, Math B. Bad B exam. Arbitrary rescaling. Slow timetable decision.
2006 Math A, Math B
2007 Math A, Math B
2008 Math A, Math B, First Algebra
2009 Last Math A, Math B, First Geometry
2010 Last Math B, First Alg II/Trig

It is important to understand how frustrating this process has been for teachers.

In 2003 Math A had been around for 5 years, Math B for only 3. And Sequential was just finishing its phase-out. No one had needed to take B, and only 2 classes had needed to take A. In 2003 we went from our gut “don’t like it” to clear evidence that the exam, good or bad, was unreliable. Math A had been mandatory for 2 years. It will have been mandatory for a total of 7. Math B had been mandatory for 0 years. It will have been mandatory for the advanced diploma for a total of 6 years when it is finally retired.

I’ll be writing more about Math A and Math B and NY State Department of Education’s poor decisions and lack of forethought in the coming weeks and months.

7 Comments leave one →
  1. Peter Kelly permalink
    June 26, 2007 pm30 7:12 pm 7:12 pm

    Your post indicates that the regents was a disaster…do you have actual results/statistics to indicate that that indeed was the case throughout NYS? I would like to see the results, statewide and by school district….

  2. June 26, 2007 pm30 7:53 pm 7:53 pm

    NY State empaneled a committee to study what went wrong. Here is part of their report: Math A Panel Interim Report. You could search the NYSED website to find more data.

  3. Bridget Diano permalink
    November 6, 2007 am30 3:58 am 3:58 am


    I was amazed at how much I realted to this blog entry. I am a Special Education teacher on Long Island currently teaching the new “Algebra”, and I’ve taught the Math A in the past. Especially as a special educator, I found the simple idea that a test given on material ranging from half of 8th grade through 9th was rediculous. The retention is simply not there. Not to mention the maturity level of the 8th grade and the seriousness of the test is virtually non-existant. Then to compind the problem, not only were skills tested, but application of these skills was also expected.
    Truthfully though, what bothers me the most was the curve. I think you only needed to get anout 45% of the material correct to pass. So why were we making the test so involved? Why couldn’t we just make the test more realisitic and achieve some true passing scores. I had students that could barely multiply get in the 80’s and think that they really understood math. It’s a false sence of knowledge for these students.

  4. ALTIN permalink
    January 24, 2008 pm31 6:17 pm 6:17 pm


  5. January 24, 2008 pm31 6:24 pm 6:24 pm

    Sho mir.

  6. Nipsy Russell permalink
    August 20, 2008 am31 8:22 am 8:22 am

    This regents was so poor. What a shameful time in this country.


  1. Math A Regents - today « JD2718

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