After a decade-plus hiatus, New York City public schools will be allowed to grade their own students’ Regents Exams. School officials had previously been banned from grading their own students’ tests over concerns about widespread cheating.
Regents Exams are important to New York’s students: A student must pass a Regents Exam in math, reading, science, and social studies, plus one other subject from a list including the humanities, STEM, the arts, and others, in order to graduate high school. But the tests are important to educators, too. Teachers and schools are evaluated in part by how their students fare on these tests.
Self-grading was banned beginning in the 2012-2013 school year after a 2011 Wall Street Journal investigation displayed evidence of rampant cheating. A suspicious number of students received just barely the scores they needed to pass, while a disproportionately small number failed the tests by the same number of points.
As a result, “On the state level, officials banned teachers from grading their own students’ exams and ended a policy that required re-scoring exams that were just below the passing threshold,” according to Chalkbeat. Chalkbeat also notes, “After those policy changes, evidence that educators were manipulating scores vanished, researchers found.”
Though future grading will happen at the schools themselves, rather than at a central location, teachers are still barred from grading their own students’ exams. Still, it is likely that teachers may know the students whose exams they are grading, and are quite likely to also know those students’ teachers.
Imagine allowing every student in a classroom to fill out another student’s report card. Students would surely want to help their friends, even if doing so required fudging the numbers.
A similar policy of grading students’ tests in-house had devastating results in Atlanta, where 178 educators were caught fraudulently changing students’ standardized test answers. Educators held “eraser parties” where they met to fraudulently change students’ answers. The cheating rampage went on for years before state investigators discovered what was going on. A similar, though less widespread, cheating scandal rocked Washington, D.C. public schools more than a decade ago.
Now, New York City is opening itself up to the same ethical failings, and educational malpractice, it abandoned ten years ago. Families, taxpayers, and students should be able to trust teachers to act with high ethical standards. But, not only can we not trust public schools to educate students, we cannot trust them to fairly and honestly assess their own performance.