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June 2002 Chemistry Exam

Chemistry Joins Physics as a Problem Regents Test
By Meryl Hyman Harris
Published in The Journal News, June 26, 2002

Frustration with Regents exams intensified yesterday as state officials acknowledged a problem with the chemistry test grading system, and some educators decided not to count the physics test toward students' grade-point averages.

Many schools use the tests as final exams that count as much as 20 percent of the year-end grade.

In the wake of a high failure rate and of teacher complaints about the scoring scale on the new physics exam, the state sent a memo to school superintendents suggesting they not include the test score in the final average.

"Districts are free to change their policy in this instance if they deem it appropriate," Deputy Education Commissioner James A. Kadamus wrote Friday.

Officials in Carmel, Chappaqua and other districts said they had jettisoned the physics exam in setting final grades.

Briarcliff Manor, on the other hand, notified students that for purposes of grade-point averaging the exam would be scored again, this time on an easier curve, said Superintendent Frances Wills.

Officials in other districts, such as Bedford and South Orangetown, were waiting for more information from the state Education Department.

"We would hope that the state would decide to rescale the way the tests were scored," said Jane Sandbank, South Orangetown's assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction. "The teachers were very upset by the exams and the way they were told to scale the scores."

Regardless of the individual district's decision, the test score will still affect the mostly juniors and seniors who took Regents physics. State law requires that Regents test results be included on report cards and transcripts used for college applications.

Saul Cohen of New Rochelle, a member of the state Board of Regents, said yesterday that state officials were investigating just how low the scores actually were.

"If they do revise the scores, then clearly, they will be revised on some kind of curve based on the results of the exam," he said, even though the idea has been to hold all schools to the same standard.

Chemistry test graders yesterday plied the state with concerns about the questions, seeking instruction on how to score answers that could be partly correct.

The problem is one of "double jeopardy," in which one wrong calculation forces wrong answers on other questions, even though the student clearly understands the material, said Chappaqua science chairman Richard Goodman.

"It's not as bad as the physics test," he said. "But they leave such wide variation for interpreting what's right and wrong and what's double jeopardy."

He said he was concerned that while some teachers would be told individually how to score certain answers, the state might not issue "errata" reports for all graders.

"What will happen is the assistant superintendent will get a fax from the state Education Department, who will disseminate it to the department chairman, who will disseminate it to teachers so we can go back and rescore," he said, but with school out this week, "we aren't going to be available."

A spokesman for the State Department of Education confirmed last night that teachers grading the exam had found instances in which students should be given partial credit.

The correct scoring procedure would be disseminated electronically last night to science teachers and supervisors, said Tom Dunn. It is a matter of two points on the exam, he said.

"We'll make every effort to make sure the critical people have the information necessary to complete transcripts and report cards," he said.

A study, conducted by researchers at Arizona State University, found that while students show consistent improvement on state high-stakes graduation tests, the tests have failed to improve their performance on other, independent measures of academic achievement, such as the SAT and AP exams.