Originally published: June 28, 2011 9:16 PM Updated: June 28, 2011 9:48 PM By JOHN HILDEBRAND firstname.lastname@example.org William Bernhard, math chairman at Ward Melville High
Photo credit: Steve Pfost | William Bernhard, math chairman at Ward Melville High School, points out poorly constructed questions on the state's latest Regents trigonometry exam. (June 28, 2011)
Long Island school officials are fuming over results from the state's latest Regents trigonometry exam, saying students faced questions that just don't compute.
Math experts in districts where high numbers of students normally score well contend that poorly constructed questions on the June 21 test confused students, resulting in lower passing rates.
State Education Department staffers dispute that. But Stony Brook University math experts consulted by local educators agree that one trigonometry question -- which the state continues to defend -- was seriously flawed. The state conceded there were problems with two other questions on the exam and allowed students to be given credit.
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The issue reverberates statewide: The Regents algebra 2/trigonometry exam was given to more than 100,000 students, including more than 20,000 on the Island.
Rockville Centre school administrators said 71 percent of 273 students who took the exam last week passed with scores of 65 or better, compared with 80 percent last year. Those failing may have to wait a year before they can try again because an August makeup exam in trigonometry was canceled to save money.
"So it's going to close the gate for a lot of kids who would otherwise move along to higher math levels," said William Johnson, the Rockville Centre school district superintendent.
In the Three Village district, officials reported that 63 percent of 330 sophomores who took the trigonometry exam passed. In contrast, they say, 94 percent of juniors passed a Regents geometry exam that is part of the same math sequence.
Three Village's interim superintendent, Neil Lederer, voiced dismay that state Education Department officials would not adjust scores for a disputed test question. "Obviously, the quality control up there is lacking," he said.
Department spokesman Tom Dunn disagreed. "We are confident in the construction of the Algebra II/Trigonometry Regents exam," he said. "The items on the exam were aligned with the test specifications and with the relevant performance indicators."
However, Dunn acknowledged that two questions could have been answered in ways different from those the state identified as correct. As a result, Dunn said, the state decided to award credit for other correct answers.
A third question -- No. 19 -- remains in contention. That item gave students a form of equation known as a trigonometric function, along with four graphs. Students were asked to decide which of the four graphs accurately represented the equation.
Many local math teachers complained none of the provided answers was correct. William Bernhard, math chairman at Ward Melville High School in the Three Village district, noted a practice exam issued by the state in 2009 provided a different correct answer to the same question.
"It's unbelievable," said Bernhard, who also is an adjunct faculty member at Stony Brook University. Two Stony Brook mathematicians who reviewed the question for Bernhard agreed it was flawed.
"It's just not a well-formed question," said Scott Sutherland, an associate professor of mathematics. "There's no answer which is correct."
"You don't want to include a question like that on a test," said Alexander Kirillov, undergraduate program director in the university's math department.
The state Tuesday continued to defend the answer it specified as being correct.