More Testing, Please

The New York State Board of Regents will decide next week what to do with the Global History Regents Exam. Judging from the data, this is the toughest of all Regents. Only 69% of the students in the state passed the test last year.

I have taught Global History every year since the start of my teaching career. The Global exam is difficult for a few reasons. First, it tests two years of content. Usually, students take Global History I and II in freshmen year and then take the Regents in sophomore year after taking Global III and IV. Second, students are required to know a little bit about every civilization. It is a very scattered curriculum no matter how a school presents it (chronologically or regionally). Third, the grading scale for the exam is usually unforgiving. Students usually have to write two decent essays because they cannot skate by on the multiple choice part. Last year, the state required us to score the exams in such a way that reduces the chance of scrubbing. All of these things explain why 2011’s pass rates were so low.

My students know my views on the Global Regents. I think the exams are stupid and should not be used to judge their knowledge of history or their high school diploma. If it was up to me, they would not have to take the Global Regents at all.

So, why am I not happy about the fact that New York State is considering reforming the exam?

There seem to be two possibilities on the table. The first involves making the exam voluntary. The second involves splitting it up into two exams: one for Global I and II and another for Global III and IV.

So, why does a person like me, who opposes standardized exams, want the Board of Regents to go with the latter option? Why do I want them to mandate more testing for my students?

Because I know what the implications are of making the exam voluntary. State Education Commissioner John King has already hinted at it:

“There’s certainly going to be a lot of jobs in the future in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, and this new pathway will encourage districts and schools to create additional opportunities for their students to pursue those areas.”

Essentially, doing away with the Global Regents means doing away with Global History. See, the future economy is going to revolve around STEM careers, so that is where we need to focus our education resources. History is not STEM, therefore we do not need it.

The handwriting is on the wall. History in New York State is on the road to extinction.

It seems unlikely that the Board of Regents will chop the Global exam in two. That would require investing more resources in history. John King has already given the signal that this is not where the future lies.

First, the exam will become voluntary. Schools will still provide Global History for a few years. Then the standardized testing regime will kick in. The Board of Regents will decide that 4 semesters dedicated to a course that ends with a voluntary Regents exam is a waste of resources. It will collapse into a one-year course. Everything from the dawn of man until the end of the Cold War will have to be studied in two semesters. The second year of Global will be given over to perhaps another year of science, or maybe an engineering class.

After a few more years, people will look at this strange Global History course and ask themselves “what’s the point?” It is not a STEM subject and its Regents is voluntary. Just axe it. Fill the void with some more math or maybe extend the engineering course into a two-year curriculum. In the not too distant future, Global History will be a memory. History teachers will be laid off by the thousands.

It will not be too long after this that American History will also be gone. We can look back on the day that art and music were done away with in NYC as the beginning of the end of all humanities-related subjects in our schools.

English and Foreign Language will also probably go the same way. School systems across the country will be nothing more than training grounds for the low-wage workers and low-end consumers of tomorrow’s economy. Thanks to the elimination of the humanities, the next generation will have no idea how we got this economy of the future (which will then be the present) and no way to imagine a better alternative.

6 responses to “More Testing, Please

  1. Your post is insightful and gives much to think about. Remember that splitting the test fits right into measuring teacher effectiveness on the exam. It may be the best option and agree if eliminated, no more global. Many have weakened the teaching of history by forming Humanities curriculum which blends English and Social Studies and more often then not has an English teacher.

  2. I disagree with testing determining the effectiveness of a teacher, especially if you are being tested on material that was covered over two years with two different teachers. From my own personal experience, I learned more from my freshman year global teacher than I did in my sophomore year history class. I had similar grades in both classes but the material that stuck to me more was what my freshman global teacher taught me. During my sophomore year, I went back to my freshman year global teacher to teach me the material that was supposed to be covered over the year and the reason why I did so well in the Global History regents was because of my freshman year history teacher, not my sophomore year history teacher. What the test did not reflect was that the time I spent teaching myself and going back to my previous year’s history teacher for help in material I did not understand so I can get almost a perfect score on the regents exam. If I were to credit anyone on my almost perfect score in the history regents, I would have given most of the credit to my freshman year history teacher and not on my sophomore year history teacher. Exams cannot reflect the disparity in how much I was taught between these two teachers; all that this exam reflected was that I knew the material, not how much effort was put into having this material learned, which varies greatly from student to student.

  3. Michael Fiorillo

    As usual, they are wrong about everything.

    Eliminating the Global History exam is symptomatic of the elimination of the humanities in general (since if you don’t test it, it doesn’t “count”), which is proceeding quickly in K-12 and higher education. Humanities departments are being closed in colleges all over the country, and the Gates/Pearson Standards minimize literature in favor non-fiction. That will predictably lead to narrowing the content that young people are exposed to, and more importantly forecloses on opportunities to discuss motive, character and ethics with students.

    Hmm, interesting how English teachers will have fewer opportunities to discuss motive, character and ethics at a time when the Emperor has no clothes, yet acts with impunity, nonetheless.

    Needless to say, the private schools where the 1% and most of their ed reform viziers send their children are not eliminating history and literature.

    They are also wrong, because no matter how often they repeat the lie, the jobs of the future are not in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics; they’re in poverty-wage Retail, Food Service and Preparation, and Home Health Care, where they currently are (according to BLS statistics and projections).

    To steal and adapt from author Mary McCarthy, everything they say is a lie, including the words “and” and “the.”

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