Here is another installment in my series reviewing the NY State Regents exams in mathematics.

June, 2014 saw the administration of the first official Common Core Regents exam in New York state, *Algebra I (Common Core)*. Roughly speaking, this exam replaces the Integrated Algebra Regents exam, which is the first of the three high school level math Regents exams in New York.

The Algebra I (Common Core) exam was structured differently than the Integrated Algebra exam. Algebra I (Common Core) contained 24 multiple choice questions, while Integrated Algebra contained 30 multiple choice questions. This change, in and of itself, likely translates to lower average scores on the Algebra I (Common Core) exam: merely guessing on those 6 extra multiple choice questions would yield an extra 3 points on average, and multiple choice questions are generally easier to score points on than free response.

The free response sections are structured slightly differently, as well, but not substantially so. In fact, apart from some significant content differences, not much distinguishes the new Common Core exam from the old Integrated Algebra exam.

Many of the questions on the Algebra I (Common Core) exam are similar in style and content to questions on other math Regents exams. For example, here is number 1 from the Common Core exam compared with number 5 from the Integrated Algebra exam.

And here is number 3 from the Common Core exam compared with number 14 from the Integrated Algebra exam.

A few of the questions on the Algebra I (Common Core) exam do show improvement over similar items on other exams. Consider number 8 from the Common Core exam, compared with number 8 from the Integrated Algebra exam.

The two questions address the same issue, but the top is more mathematically precise. (I really dislike the “Which step could be used?”-type problems).

Overall, in terms of the way questions and posed and structured, there is not much of a difference between the new and old exams. The Algebra I (Common Core) exam is pretty much standard test fare. When the current testing culture is criticized, a common response is that we just need to make better tests. This is easy enough to say, but surprisingly hard to do. And it doesn’t look like this first Common Core Regents exam is substantially different, or better, than its predecessor.

I meet many different types of people, especially non-academic professionals, from my type of work. A frequent topic of conversation is the replacing of perfectly useful and productive software, systems of production, paperwork (especially!), etc…. with “newer and improved” varieties. The lessor issue is that the “newer and improved” varieties sometimes aren’t “improved” AND sometimes are worse, than before. The greater issue is that even if the “new and improved” are better, the end result is worse, because the worker is already overloaded with employee cut-backs, extra work, mandated new requirements, etc. Learning a new system so overloads the worker that they can’t get done the essential and productive aspects of their workload…. unless they put in a lot more hours. The greatest detrimental aspect of the “new and improved” is that as soon as the worker learns it well, mandates from on high replace it with a still “newer and more improved.” The whole vicious cycle is not only ruining our economy, but also ruining the happiness of American Workers. So I have suspicions that the “new and improved” Common Core Curriculum could be just another version of this “new and improved.” Any replies on that??

Any teacher who has been around for a while has definitely been through more than one sea change in education, whether it’s local or federal. And yes, the fact that these policies are enacted hastily, often with little or no real professional support, definitely creates a culture of skepticism and distrust.

I know many teachers who aren’t bothering to take Common Core that seriously, because they just expect it to go away eventually, and sooner rather than later. Time will tell if they’re crazy or prescient.