The Chemistry Regents is Dumb

I have come to the conclusion that the New York State Chemistry Regents Exam is a terrible, terrible, exam.  There are a lot of reasons why I have come to this conclusion:

  1. It is bizarrely capricious in the concepts that appear on it from one year to the next.  There are no particular rules why the thing asks the questions that it does.
  2. The rating guide is not particularly clear, nor is the structure of how the exam is graded conducive to any sort of standardization across the state, as each district grades it according to the peculiarities of their own brand of chemistry-pedantics (I do not absolve my own district from this issue).  Rather hilariously, the state guidelines dictate that no fewer than 2 teachers can grade the constructed response portion of the exam, 35 questions, with each teacher grading no more than half (look that one over again if it hasn’t clicked yet).
  3. Most obnoxiously, the scaling of the exam is peculiar in that students at the top end of the percentage rankings are actually penalized several points in the scaling, while students at the low-end are given generous up-scaling even though they still wind up failing.  Typically, a student who scores correctly on 93% of the thing will wind up with a scaled score of 89, while a student who scores correctly on 20% will wind up with a 35.  Whatever the thinking from the state here, the take-home message to high achieving students is “don’t try so hard”.

None of this would really bother me outside of my normal snarkiness if the state were not moving to an evaluation system where this stupid test is going to contribute to one-fifth of my annual evaluation.  That being the case, I would welcome the opportunity to let the Commissioner know just how bad an exam this one is.  In the old days, the chemistry regents that I took was all multiple choice.  The second part of the exam allowed students to choose the sections that they wanted to address.  While this wasn’t a perfect system, it seems to me to be preferable to the current incarnation.  At the very least, I would feel like my students were getting as fair a shake as all of the other ones in the state.