New York Post editorial 6/30/2000

What is to be made of claims by teachers at Brooklyn Technical HS that the state Board of Regents has significantly dumbed down at least one of the tests those very same Regents insist kids must pass in order to earn a diploma?
Quite a bit.
As Post education reporter Carl Campanile detailed yesterday, the Brooklyn Tech teachers argue the Regents-approved history test administered this year is little better than a sick joke.
For years, the Regents have been promising to raise educational standards in New York - and we believed them.
Silly us.
"The only things raised by this exam," say the Brooklyn teachers, "are your [performance] statistics."
At the very least, they say, the new Regents test in global history and geography is too easy - far easier, in fact, than the test it replaced.
The teachers are on the money.
Certainly the global history exam for 2000 - compared with the one offered last year - falls decidedly short in degree of difficulty.
Yes, both tests include a series of multiple-choice questions.
But in the 1999 test, students were required to write three rather demanding essays.
This year, they were asked to write only two essays: one is similar in format to the earlier test - but the other is shockingly simple-minded.
For that question, students are asked to look at quotations from eight historical documents - including "The Wealth of Nations" and "The Communist Manifesto" - as well as a political cartoon. The students then are meant to write brief explanations of the documents.
Each of the passages is short and utterly uncomplicated; the cartoon, even more so. Thus, this portion of the exam serves as nothing more than an exercise in grade-school-level reading comprehension - for high-school students.
Then the students are asked to write a second essay using four of the documents as evidence to support a thesis that is, in fact, actually provided for them.
So not only are they spoon-fed the evidence, but they get the conclusions as well. Lucky them.
All of this is part of the Regents' 1996 plan to raise standards by requiring that students pass five different tests to graduate with a basic diploma.
Previously, only students seeking a Regents-approved diploma would take the tests - which have been well-respected for decades. Certainly the fact that fewer than a fifth of New York City high-school grads earned Regents-certified diplomas prior to 1998 speaks to the toughness of the tests.
In announcing the new policy, state Education Commission Richard Mills was supremely optimistic: "The Regents exams are well-known to the public and highly regarded. They represent the 'gold standard.' Let those be the standards for all children."
As might be expected, the Mills plan was attacked as "elitist" and potentially "discriminatory."
From Day One, both opponents and supporters predicted widespread failure if, in fact, the "gold standard" was maintained.
So, what of that standard?
The history-geography test is only one of several administered by the Regents. In reading it, however, it is impossible to believe that all the others haven't been diddled with as well.
By making the test easier, the state has obviously increased the likelihood that students can pass it.
At the very least, lowering the bar insulates Albany from claims that the new tests are "discriminatory." At most, dumbing things down makes educators look good - even if the kids haven't learned much of anything.
For its part, the state Education Department - the Regents' operational arm - says there is nothing to the argument that the new tests are too easy.
"The new tests were calibrated to be as difficult as the previous tests," said spokesman Alan Ray. "It used to be that no one was required to pass the Regents Global Studies test. The raising of standards is in requiring that students pass this test."
Oh, now we get it.
It's not that the tests are as difficult as the previous tests. It is that they are calibrated to be as difficult as the previous tests.
But that's not the same thing.
Just as requiring kids to pass a previously tough test that has been "calibrated" - that is, dumbed down - to reflect their actual academic abilities isn't imposing a "gold standard."
Far from it.
New Yorkers owe those honest - and, given the educrats' penchant for punishing whistle-blowers, courageous - teachers at Brooklyn Tech a big thank-you for this heads-up.
Mills and the Regents, on the other hand, have a lot of explaining to do.