A Wall Street Journal analysis of high-school Regents test scores shows that a disproportionate percentage of New York City students barely got the passing score they needed to receive a diploma in the past two years, while very few received scores just below passing.
For the 2009 English Regents exams, for instance, students were more than five times as likely to get a 65—the minimum passing grade—than they were to score one point below. In the U.S. History and Government Regents, students were 14 times more likely to get a 65 than one point lower.
"There's no question that there's something fishy going on," said Jonah Rockoff, a professor at Columbia University's business school who frequently analyzes schools-related data sets.School officials defend the results, explaining that they follow the state's policy of regrading tests where the student barely fails.
In New York state, high-school teachers score their own students' tests—which differs from tests in most other states, as well as New York's own third- through eighth-grade tests. Mr. Rockoff, who reviewed the Regents data, said, "It looks like teachers are pushing kids over the edge. They are very reluctant to fail a kid who needs just one or two points to pass."
Teachers refer to the practice of lifting test scores as "scrubbing." After teachers grade tests—many times their own students or those of their colleagues—they set aside tests in which the students just missed passing. Teachers say that is generally from 60 to 64, but can go as low as 57. The teachers then ask the original scorer to take another look at the test to see if an argument could be made for giving the student an extra point or more.This skewed score distribution pattern has been observed statewide in tests going back to 2000. The state is moving towards an online system of testing and scoring, with grading assigned randomly to teachers across the state.
I have been skeptical of state test results since I first became familiar with them back when my own children started taking them.