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New York Algebra Teacher Writes Parents about the “Serious Disservice” of CC Tests

June 24, 2015

The following text is from an email that New York parent Scott Strong received from his twins’ eighth-grade teacher. It concerns the Pearson-crafted, allegedly Common-Core-aligned algebra exam administered in New York in 2015.

(New York continues to be listed as a “PARCC state,” but New York has not yet administered the Pearson-PARCC exams. ADDENDUM 06-25: The exam referenced below is not for grades 3 through 8 though some middle-schoolers did take it; so, it was likely written by teachers.)

In the text, the teacher refers to the New York Board of Regents conversion of raw scores to scaled scores. That conversion can be found here: Regents 2015 Algebra Exam Scoring Chart. The test itself had a possible raw score of 86 points, which Regents “curved” to a 100-point scale. But the Regents curve has problems– and it is only one issue that makes this algebra test educational nonsense.

Read on.

Dear Algebra Parents, 

The results from this year’s Common Core Algebra exam are now available and have been posted on the high school gymnasium doors. They are listed by student ID number and have no names attached to them. The list includes all students who took the exam, whether they were middle school students or high school students.  

I’ve been teaching math for 13 years now. Every one of those years I have taught some version of Algebra, whether it was “Math A”, “Integrated Algebra”, “Common Core Algebra”, or whatever other form it has shown up in. After grading this exam, speaking to colleagues who teach math in other school districts, and reflecting upon the exam itself, I have come to the conclusion that this was the toughest Algebra exam I have ever seen.

With that in mind, please know that all 31 middle school students who took the exam received a passing score. No matter what grade your son or daughter received, every student should be congratulated on the effort they put into the class this year. 

Although everyone passed, many of you will not be happy with the grade that your son or daughter received on the exam (and neither will they). While I usually try to keep the politics of this job out of my communications, I cannot, in good conscience, ignore the two-fold tragedy that unfolded on this exam. As a parent, you deserve to know the truth.

I mentioned how challenging this exam was, but I want you to hear why I feel this way.

Let’s start with question #24, which was a multiple choice problem. 30/31 of my students missed this problem. Why? Because it was a compound inequality question, which is neither in our curriculum nor is it found anywhere in the modules. As a matter of fact, this is a topic that was previously taught in Trigonometry.

Or how about #28, the open response question that required students to subtract two trinomials, then multiply by a fractional monomial? While that may sound like Greek to some of you, what it means is that there were several steps involved, and any slight miscalculation on any step would result in a one-point deduction on a problem that was only worth two points in total. 

Additionally, the only 6-point problem on the test was a graph that used an equation so ridiculous that it didn’t even fit well on a graphing calculator. The list of examples like this goes on and on.

Additionally, students were met with the toughest curve I’ve ever seen on a Regents exam as well. Typically you think of a curve as something that will add a few points onto every student’s exam to account for the difficulty level of that exam. All Regents exams have some version of a curve or another, and while this curve did help the lower-performing students, it also HURT the highest-performing students. For example, a student that knew 94% of the exam received a grade of 93. A student that knew 86% of the exam received an 84. When you look at the class as a whole, only two students met the “85 or above” that they were striving for all year long.

As if that isn’t alarming enough, let’s look at the difference between a grade of a 70 and a grade of a 75. You may look at those two and think that they are just five points apart, right? Well the way the scale works, a student who knew just 47% of the material got a grade of a 70, while a student who knew 71% of the material got a 75. Therefore, a student who got the 75 may have actually gotten almost 25% more of the exam correct than the student who got the 70! This creates one of the worst bell curves I have ever seen. 

Now let’s put that into perspective. The old-style (Integrated) Algebra exam was also given this year to a small subgroup of students. None of the middle school students were eligible to take this exam. However, were I to apply the curve that was assigned to that exam (which was a MUCH easier exam), a student who knew 78% of the exam would be given a grade of an 85. All in all, over half of the class would have gotten an 85 or above had that scale been used instead!

Let me sum up what the last three paragraphs really say: the exam did a serious disservice to your child and will be reflected in their grade. It’s not a fair representation of what students knew, what they did all year, or what they were capable of. There is nothing that your son or daughter could have done to have been better prepared for this exam. Words cannot describe what an injustice this truly is to your child.

So instead of just sitting back and accepting it for what it is, I’d like to offer you the best that I have. I’m willing, I’m ready, and I will be running review sessions free of charge this summer prior to the August administration of the Common Core Algebra Regents. This will be open to any student who wishes to retake the exam. We will take a look at every question that students missed on their individual test and talk about why they missed them, in addition to reviewing topics from the school year. We will also take a look at some of the wording that showed up on the exam for the first time that likely threw off many students. It’s the least I can do for students that worked so hard during the year. They should not be penalized for the state’s ridiculous examination.

I know that this has been an extremely long email, but I hope you understand the importance of what I had to say and that you can be proud of your son or daughter no matter what grade they received. Although I had promised that this would be my last email to you, expect one more with information about tutoring and the date of the August administration of the Regents. Thank you for listening.


NMS Math Teacher

Somehow, all of this is supposed to guarantee that America win a contrived “global competitiveness” contest.

My heart goes out to you, New York teachers, parents, and students.



Schneider is a southern Louisiana native, career teacher, trained researcher, and author of the ed reform whistle blower, A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education.

She also has a second book, Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?, newly published on June 12, 2015.

both books




  1. stjerome4me permalink

    I appreciate NMS Math Teacher’s thoughtful and clear description of the disastrous test results his students received. I am confident that he knows his subject and that he taught it well to his students. I was especially intrigued by his explanation of the curve used to calculate the scores. Amazing!

    I do, however, question his generous offer of tutoring to further prepare students for another shot at this grueling test. No doubt his students will be able to better their scores, but does that really show that they understand the mathematical concepts better? Or does it show that they have learned how to play they high-stakes testing game by deciphering the convoluted language and ridiculously difficult problems that are not connected to their curriculum or to the standards?

    They will still be taking a test that wasn’t designed to demonstrate their ability, but rather to create an illusion that teachers and schools are failing and should be replaced.

    • StJerome, I think the teacher is trying to do what is not really possible for her/him to do: Take responsibility to make the situation right for her/his students. The high-stakes testing nonsense is a game, and both teacher and students are being played.

  2. Nimbus permalink

    Mercedes, I appreciate your reporting on this problem. While the exam itself currently is password-protected, I proctored this exam and am quite sure that it was not written by Pearson. Only the grades 3-8 tests are written by Pearson (passive voice used intentionally to convey the mysterious nature of these tests). Regents exams have been and still are written by teachers (in this present atmosphere, the more reformy the better). In contrast, the June CCCS English Regents exam is available for all to peruse. Typing those words into a search engine is the fastest way to find it. That conversion chart is its own spectacle.

    • Nimbus, thank you, I added a sentence to my post based upon this info you have provided.

  3. Dr. Rich Swier permalink

    Great. Posted:


  4. Reblogged this on stopcommoncorenys.

  5. Joanne Yurchak permalink

    These tests are ridiculous, particularly in the manner in which they are formulated. At least here it seems like the teacher was able to see the questions that his/her students had to answer on the test. In Pennsylvania, tp satisfy the NCLB mandates, we have PSSA’s for grades 3-8, and Keystones for the upper grades. Our teachers, administrators and parents can never see the questions that are on these tests; they can only see sample problems that are posted on the PA Department of Education’s web site (which help teachers teach to the test!). The only exception is that parents who opt wish to opt their children out of the tests have to view the test beforehand to determine whether it conflicts with their religious viewpoints (which the only reason allowed by PA to opt out of the test). This entire system MUST be reviewed. If enough states would get together and JUST SAY NO to the Feds and tell them that we WILL NOT COMPLY with these FEDERAL mandates, we might be able to break this system. Would they have the nerve, particularly nearing a presidential election year, to yank money from the states for not complying? Perhaps not! Let’s have some guts and JUST DO IT!

  6. I looked at some of the questions from that exam. It appeared to me more aligned with algebra II. It sounds like this teacher’s class did quite well. It is truly sad that a teacher like this feels the need to teach to this test obviously designed to make him look incompetent.

  7. Pearson will probably pressure their puppet Cuomo to punt this teacher into unemployment—that is if Pearson was the flawed test faker.

  8. Used to love NY permalink

    All my Alg 1 students did pass but all got between 67 and 75. To further emphasize the ridiculous point spread, there was a 28 point range between a 70 and 79. A 9 point spread between 65-69.
    So between a 65-79 there was a range of 35 points in the raw scores. Between 80-89 was a 9 point range and between 90-99 was a 7 point range. Very difficult to not get a score in the 70’s.

    Why is a question on residuals a graduation requirement? I had the top group and expected all to pass but a high grade of 75 is terrible. The special Ed and 2 year algebra students were struggling….one walked out and had to be coaxed back. Several were in tears at the difficulty.
    Fortunately we had the option of the higher of 2 scores this June and the Integrated Algebra exam was easier than the CC Alg for our lower group. Next year that option will disappear.

    With that being said, the Alg 1 was easy compared to the depth of difficulty of the Alg2 Regents. I had a 35% pass rate….so now I have to attend a mtg on Tuesday to make a “corrective action plan”.
    It doesn’t matter that my Geometry class had great scores …an easy Regents for a change .
    Next year when it becomes CC Geometry, I will probably not be so lucky.
    It does not matter that you teach a good course or cover all the topics, it’s all about the test scores.
    Since we have no control over how difficult the test has become or how motivated even a good student will be , it’ s tough to get the good scores . What will NY state do when graduation rates plummet? The Regents used to be a good test covering a solid curriculum, but NY has ruined them.
    if the plan is to make teachers ineffective and public schools fail, they are right on track.

  9. webmaster4o permalink

    I took this test, and got back a 93, as did my sister. I thought the test was perfectly resonable and fair. A few people in my class received 94s, but the majority received 80s. One thing I found very helpful was knowing my way around my TI-84 graphing calculator very well. I was able to verify all my answers with it.

  10. I am somewhat amazed that the teacher got so much time to analyze the exam. I don’t believe I would get such access to the tests given here.

  11. RakRuach permalink

    What a thoughtful and considerate gesture! Why can’t we have more dedicated teachers out here? Can you tutor mine as well? SC-BKNY

  12. RakRuach permalink

    Continue to be passionate about what you do…

  13. Absolutely ridiculous tests. However, you can log on to to gain access to vastly experienced Algebra-tutors in New York City who are readily available to take you through realtime Algebra lessons, all athe a reasonable price.

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Algebra Teacher Apolgizes for Terrible Commin Core Test | Diane Ravitch's blog
  2. Algebra 1 Common Core Regents test – teacher says “Toughest Algebra exam I have ever seen!” | Jolyn's Education Corner

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