Independent Panels Blast Regents

K-12 Testing

Since the fall of 2001, five panels of writers, journalists, academics, and college admissions officers have met under the auspices of the Rockefeller and Soros Foundations to analyze the mandatory Regents graduation exams in New York State. The panelists took and then discussed the tests.


This represents one of the few times that independent, qualified panels have studied a set of state exams. The panels sharply criticized the quality of the tests and pointed out that teaching to them will inhibit high-quality learning. The following bullet points are comments from the first four reports. Comments attributed to an individual are representative of the views of the full panel.


English Language Arts:
• The short-answer, multiple-choice questions, which carried more point value than the required essays, were insulting to the literature, the author, and the student.
• It seems that the framers of this exam have somehow managed to be ignorant of every piece of research that has been published in the last twenty-five years about rhetoric and the writing process. While taking this exam, we had to forget about everything we know or have learned about writing.
These panelists, all published authors, advised test-takers not to think, but to learn test coaching tricks.


Global History and Geography:
• One panelist had worked for the Princeton Review. She said that the multiple-choice questions on the Global Regents test could all be approached using Princeton Review test-taking techniques, that a student did not need to know the correct answer to get the question right. Students could be well prepared for the test not by studying content but by learning “test tricks.”
• One of the journalists observed that this exam… required students to be uncritical.
• The essay question did not allow a student to demonstrate an ability to evaluate contradictory sources, since all the sources suggested a single possible answer to the question.


English Language Arts (ELA) and Global History:
• Our panel concluded, “If you want to know whether this test helps prepare kids for college, the answer is no.” College requires critical thinking and the weighing of evidence; this test does not. As one of our participants noted, these tests “simply test how well people can take tests.”
• Tasks students are asked to complete on the ELA do not correspond to the types of tasks they would be asked to complete in their college courses.
• In contrast to the active learning valued in college classrooms, the ELA is structured to impede students’ critical skills by preventing them from using their own expertise and preparedness. … certain passages clearly favor specific populations.
• We discovered that one of the skills that would be extremely valuable in college — speaking — was indeed a standard and yet does not appear at all on the ELA exam.
• One dean of admissions commented: “Having seen what these exams are all about, it makes you wonder what the scores really reflect.”
• As one of the panelists concluded, there is “very little predictive validity between doing well on this test and doing well in college.”


Living Environment (Science):
• A number of panelists who work with high-school students daily emphasized that the exam’s focus on memorizing detailed content will not engage students… (who) will perceive the content… as “abstract, useless, and boring.”
• We were largely in agreement that a good test-taker could nevertheless have an astonishingly poor understanding of science.
• As one panel member stated, nothing in the test gave students insights into “basic underlying scientific habits of mind.”


For an expanded version of this article and several of the full reports see