In a call for tougher tests in the New York Post last week, Diane Ravitch revealed that the points needed to earn a “Level 2″ — the lowest “passing” score on the state’s tests–have dropped dramatically. On the 6th grade English language-arts test, for example, the cutoff to earn a Level 2 in sixth grade dropped from 41 percent of the points in 2006 to just 17.9 percent in 2009. “Ending social promotion, as the [New York City] rightly wants to do, is thus meaningless, because students can reach Level 2 by just guessing,” Ravitch concluded. Struck by Ravitch’s observation, Senechal tried an experiment to see if it’s possible to pass the test by simply guessing. She posts the results over at Gotham Schools.The New York State Education Department Website has information about public education in New York and about state testing. There is also a Website that has archived Regents tests in all subjects.
I first tried my experiment with the sixth grade ELA test. [Or go to the “Social Promotion” post for a link to a pdf of the test. –MG] I “guessed” all the answers on the multiple-choice portion and left the written portions blank. Or, rather, I didn’t “guess,” but filled in the answers as follows: A, B, C, D, A, B, C, D, and so on, all the way through the 26 questions. I didn’t read one of them.Naturally, Senechal got a zero on the written portion of the test. But her multiple choice guesswork earned 12 out of 39 “raw points” and a scale score of 622–a rock-solid “2″ on the state’s four-point system. A “2″ is described as “approaching grade level” and good enough to earn promotion to the next grade. “I got a 2 without looking at a single test question or writing a single word,” she writes. Repeating the experiment with the 7th grade math test, Senechal also scored a 2 “without solving a single math problem, or even looking at one.”
While this approach does not result in a 2 for all the tests, it comes a bit too close for comfort, and another guessing system might work. A fifth grader told me that his father had told him, “Just mark ‘C’ for all of the answers, and you will pass.” On the fifth grade ELA test, this would indeed have resulted in a 2. Yes, it is possible to guess your way to promotion. You may not even have to look at the questions or write a word on the written sections.
In “Social Promotion? Easy as A, B, C!” (The Core Knowledge Blog, August 18, 2009), Robert Pondiscio writes: