history test?

Instead of eliminating global studies exam, state could revamp it

State Education Commissioner John King presented education proposals before the Board of Regents today.

ALBANY — Months after considering a plan to stop requiring students to pass a global history final exam in order to graduate from high school, state education officials are instead contemplating overhauling the test.

Under a proposal that the officials presented before the Board of Regents today, the state’s two-year high school global studies course would be divided in two. The first year would cover “foundational skills” economics, world history, geography, and civics and culminate in an end-of-course exam.

The second year would focus on themes and trends across world cultures and be aligned to more rigorous standards that the state is developing for social studies instruction. Only the material from the second year would appear on a Regents exam required for graduation.

Adjusting the current exam to conclude the second course would cost between $500,000 and $1 million, officials said. Creating a new test for the first course would cost more.

The proposal is the second one floated about the global studies exam in less than six months. Back in April, state education officials asked the Regents to allow them to make the exam optional in order to let students take other courses instead, particularly math and science classes that are seen as increasingly important in preparing students for college.

That proposal has been tabled for now, after social studies educators and some Regents balked at the idea. The exam, which covers about 2.5 million years worth of world history over the span of freshman and sophomore years, has the lowest pass rate of any of the five Regents tests currently required for graduation, and some critics said the state wanted to make it easier for students to graduate at the expense of a core subject.

In fact, state education officials said today, they were just trying to figure out how to free up space in students’ schedules for more math, science, and technology coursework.

“The only way to do that was to look at the overall graduation requirements,” said Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch.

The new proposal is part of the same conversation about college readiness, state education officials said. By consolidating the portions of the course that develop critical thinking and research skills, “what we’re trying to do is improve the global history subject,” Tisch said.

Plus, the change could lay the groundwork for reducing the global history requirement to a single year in the future, a move that education officials did not say was in the plans but which would open students’ schedules for an additional course in another subject.

Most Regents offered positive feedback after hearing about the proposal. “I think it’s a reasonable step and a positive step to take now,” said Jim Tallon, who represents Binghamton on the board. “This would be an important step forward.”

The global Regents test is the only one that is based on two years worth of material, a distinction that officials said contributes heavily to the higher failure rates.

“The reason they’re being held up by the the exam is because youngsters are being tested at the end of a two-year course of study,” said Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch. “Anyone who knows anything about youngsters at that age knows that it’s really difficult for them to study a subject for two years and then take a summative exam.”

Stephen Lazar, a city high social studies teacher, said the principles behind the proposal represented a small step forward because the course and exam as they are currently designed require teachers to put “drill and kill” before pushing students to develop a conceptual understanding of history.

Lazar said he thought the current tests are flawed but not necessarily harder to pass. In his experience, he said, a few weeks of cramming and practice exams can prepare students to pass a test that is supposed to complete two years of study. “It doesn’t assess any understanding of history,” he said.

But Lazar said he would remain skeptical until he sees the exams to know that they really would test the more sophisticated skills. The proposal, Lazar said, “sounds better, but show me the test.”

What's Your Education Story?

As the 2018 school year begins, join us for storytelling from Indianapolis educators

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy/Chalkbeat
Sarah TeKolste, right, and Lori Jenkins at a Teacher Story Slam, in April.

In partnership with Teachers Lounge Indy, Chalkbeat is hosting another teacher story slam this fall featuring educators from across the city.

Over the past couple of years, Chalkbeat has brought readers personal stories from teachers and students through the events. Some of our favorites touched on how a teacher won the trust of her most skeptical student, why another teacher decided to come out to his students, and one educator’s call to ramp up the number of students pursuing a college education.

The event, 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 13, is free and open to the public — please RSVP here.

Event details:

5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018
Tube Factory artspace
1125 Cruft St., Indianapolis, IN 46203
Get tickets here and find more on Facebook

More in What's Your Education Story?

School safety

Hiring more security officers in Memphis after school shootings could have unintended consequences

PHOTO: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Tennessee’s largest district, Shelby County Schools, is slated to add more school resource officers under the proposed budget for next school year.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson earmarked $2 million to hire 30 school resource officers in addition to the 98 already in some of its 150-plus schools. The school board is scheduled to vote on the budget Tuesday.

But an increase in law enforcement officers could have unintended consequences.

A new state law that bans local governments from refusing to cooperate with federal immigration officials could put school resource officers in an awkward position.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen recently reminded school personnel they are not obligated to release student information regarding immigration status. School resource officers employed by police or sheriff’s departments, however, do not answer to school districts. Shelby County Schools is still reviewing the law, but school board members have previously gone on the record emphasizing their commitment to protecting undocumented students.

“Right now we are just trying to get a better understanding of the law and the impact that it may have,” said Natalia Powers, a district spokeswoman.

Also, incidents of excessive force and racial bias toward black students have cropped up in recent years. Two white Memphis officers were fired in 2013 after hitting a black student and wrestling her to the ground because she was “yelling and cussing” on school grounds. And mothers of four elementary school students recently filed a lawsuit against a Murfreesboro officer who arrested them at school in 2016 for failing to break up a fight that occurred off-campus.

Just how common those incidents are in Memphis is unclear. In response to Chalkbeat’s query for the number and type of complaints in the last two school years, Shelby County Schools said it “does not have any documents responsive to this request.”

Currently, 38 school resource officers are sheriff’s deputies, and the rest are security officers hired by Shelby County Schools. The officers respond and work to prevent criminal activity in all high schools and middle schools, Hopson said. The 30 additional officers would augment staffing at some schools and for the first time, branch out to some elementary schools. Hopson said those decisions will be based on crime rates in surrounding neighborhoods and school incidents.

Hopson’s initial recommendation for more school resource officers was in response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people and sparked a wave of student activism on school safety, including in Memphis.

Gov. Bill Haslam’s recent $30 million budget boost would allow school districts across Tennessee to hire more law enforcement officers or improve building security. Measures to arm some teachers with guns or outlaw certain types of guns have fallen flat.


For more on the role and history of school resource officers in Tennessee, read our five things to know.


Sheriff’s deputies and district security officers meet weekly, said Capt. Dallas Lavergne of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. When the Memphis Police Department pulled their officers out of school buildings following the merger of city and county school systems, the county Sheriff’s Office replaced them with deputies.

All deputy recruits go through school resource officer training, and those who are assigned to schools get additional annual training. In a 2013 review of police academies across the nation, Tennessee was cited as the only state that had specific training for officers deployed to schools.