New Tests

Common Core rollout reaches Regents exams, but older tests remain

PHOTO: Patrick Wall
Revamping algebra instruction will take teacher training, curriculum changes, and setting up students early on to grasp more advanced concepts.

Students are sitting for the first-ever Regents exams tied to the new Common Core state standards on Tuesday, continuing a turbulent rollout of the Common Core standards that sparked new resistance last year after younger students faced tougher tests.

The new Common Core-aligned Algebra I Regents exam has provoked less dread than the grades 3-8 tests did, since only some students are required to sit for the test and students can retake it. Also, while the new test is being phased in this year, the state is allowing students to take the old algebra Regents exam as well and keep whichever score is highest.

Still, preparing students to take two different Regents tests in the same subject has challenged some algebra teachers, who say they are unsure about what to expect on the new exams.

“We’re feeling a bit anxious,” said Marisa Laks, an algebra and geometry teacher at the Global Learning Collaborative on the Upper West Side. “We really don’t know what this assessment is going to be like.”

Only students who first enrolled in Algebra I this year are required to take Tuesday’s test, which is designed to be more demanding, with more multi-step problems based on real-world scenarios. Students typically take Algebra I in ninth grade, though some take the course and the test in middle school. During this transitional year, those students can also take the old test and keep the higher score.

Common Core-aligned Algebra I course leaves out some topics that are included in courses tied to the old standards, such as probability and trigonometry. Some algebra teachers said they plan to deal with the discrepancy by covering those missing topics between the Common Core test on Tuesday and the old Algebra I exam, which will be given on June 20.

Ken Wagner, the state education department associate commissioner who oversees testing, acknowledged that the situation is not ideal.

“It puts teachers in an awkward situation, as well as students,” he said, though he added that the state only made the old test available this year to act as a safety net for students.

Some teachers have also complained that, despite the availability of some sample questions on the state website, they are unsure what to expect from Tuesday’s tests. Wagner argued that the state had been “very transparent” about the new exams, posting webinars and test guides in addition to the sample problems.

“People should have a pretty good sense of what’s going to be on [the test],” he said.

The state is also rolling out a new Common Core-aligned English Regents exam on Tuesday, which will eventually replace the current test.

This year’s freshmen will be the first that must take the new test, but since the English exam is designed to be taken at the end of 11th grade, no students are required to take the new test until 2016. However, older students that have taken English classes tied to the new standards have the option of taking the new test this year.

As in the past, this year’s freshmen will have to pass two social studies and one science Regents exam in order to graduate. But this group is the first that will also have to pass a Common Core-connected Regents exam in English and one in either Algebra I, Geometry, or Algebra II, which will be rolled out in 2015 and 2016. (Students who take the new geometry test next year will have the option of taking the old one too.)

As before, students must score at least a 65 out of 100 on the new exams to pass. The state has not yet set the number of points that students must earn on the test to obtain a 65. But state officials have said they expect a similar percentage of students to pass the new tests as the old ones.

By 2022, the state will raise the score that students have to earn on the Common Core Regents in order to graduate. The state has not yet set that score. It is considering whether to gradually raise the pass score in the years leading up to 2022, an option that it will seek public feedback on later this year.

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”

moving forward

After Confederate flag dispute at Colorado football game, schools pledge to bring students together

PHOTO: Marc Piscotty
Manual High students.

Acknowledging “we may never have a conclusive picture of what happened,” two Colorado school districts sought to move past a controversy over whether a Confederate flag was displayed at a football game and open a conversation between the two school communities.

The principal of Manual High, Nick Dawkins, wrote in a community letter over the weekend that the visiting Weld Central High School team “displayed a Confederate flag during the first quarter of the (Friday night) game, offending many members of the Manual community.”

Officials from Denver Public Schools and Weld County School District Re-3J released a joint letter Tuesday saying that based “on what we have learned to date, however, the Weld Central team did not display the Confederate flag.” At the same time, it said, multiple Manual eyewitnesses “reported seeing spectators who attempted to bring a Confederate flag into the game and clothing with flag images.”

Going forward, students from the two schools — one rural and one urban — will participate in a student leadership exchange that has student leaders visit each other’s schools and communities to “share ideas and perspectives,” the letter says.

“At a time in our country when so many are divided, we want our students instead to come together, share ideas and learn together,” says the letter, which is signed by the principals of both schools and the superintendents of both school districts.

The alleged incident took place at a time when issues of race, social injustice, politics and sports are colliding in the United States, making for tough conversations, including in classrooms.

Weld Central’s mascot is a Rebel. Manual, whose mascot is the Thunderbolts, is located in one of Denver’s historically African-American neighborhoods.

Dawkins in his initial community letter also said “the tension created by the flag led to conflict on and off the playing field,” and that three Manual players were injured, including one who went to the hospital with a leg injury. He also said some Manual players reported that Weld Central players “taunted them with racial slurs.”

Weld Central officials vehemently denied that their team displayed the flag. In addition, they said in their own community letter they had “no evidence at this point that any of our student athletes displayed racially motivated inappropriate behavior.”

They said district officials “do not condone any form of racism,” including the Confederate flag.

Weld Central fans told the Greeley Tribune that they didn’t see any Confederate flag.

Read the full text below.