S tudents at Whitehall High school demonstrated across-the-board improvement on this June’s Regents exams.
The percentage of students who passed their exams increased in every subject except one and educators believe efforts to help the poorest-performing students is a big reason why.
Principal Kelly McHugh said students who fail an exam are automatically enrolled into the academic intervention services program, which requires those students to meet with teachers every other day and receive additional instruction.
Teachers have also increased availability after school, particularly in the months of May and June, leading up the exams.
“I think being a small school is an advantage because we can spend more time with students,” said McHugh. The small size of the school also increases the likelihood that all students in a particular subject area are receiving similar instruction.
“The teachers are more familiar with the students and there is more consistency in the lessons they receive.”
Faculty is spending more time examining test results on both a macro and micro level to determine how to best allocate resources.
On a micro level, educators are examining test data to find trends that may reveal potential deficiencies.
“If all the students are missing the same questions, it may indicate an area the teacher needs to spend more time on,” McHugh said.
Teachers also look at the overall scores students are achieving on exams and their grades in that class. For instance, educators look closely at how each student performs in math during their eighth-grade year. Students who aren’t performing well and may be in danger of falling behind their peers are often placed in a decelerated math program their freshman year that requires two years to complete instead of one.
Teaching to the test
Another factor that has contributed to improved performance is the fact that teachers are becoming more familiar with exams.
“When the teachers know the exam, they are better able to fit their lesson plan around the curriculum that is needed to pass the exam,” McHugh said. She said that is one reason why scores were as low as they were on the algebra II/trigonometry exam is because the exam is relatively new.
“It takes time to look at the exam and learn what is expected of the students.”
Algebra II/trigonometry had the highest failure rate among students of any exam. Of the 36 students who took the exam, 19 failed, a rate of 53 percent. But the exam also exhibited the most improvement from 2011, when 80 percent of students failed the exam.
Students also demonstrated marked improvement on the chemistry exam with 67 percent of test-takers passing, an increase of 17 percent. Scores on other science exams also improved: 85 percent of students passed the living environment exam (an increase of 4 percent) and 78 percent of students passed earth science (an increase of 5 percent).
The percentage of students who passed the U.S. history exam also improved significantly, increasing from 71 to 82.
Passing rates in geometry increased from 68 percent to 73 percent and the percentage of students who passed the integrated algebra exam increased from 52 percent to 59 percent.
The only area students didn’t display improvement was in global history, where passing rates dropped a single percent, from 68 to 67.
McHugh said the exam can be one of the most difficult to take because it encompasses two years of instruction.
Only 61 percent of students passed the English exam, but McHugh said that doesn’t accurately reflect the performance of students because most chose to take the exam in January.
The Regents exams are administered in January, June and August each year, although most students elect to take the exams, with the exception of English, in June.
Effective last year, all students (with the exception of those with special needs) have to pass Regents in math, science, English, global history and U.S. history in order to graduate. Prior to the 2011-12 school year, students could elect to receive a local diploma, which enabled students to graduate without having to take Regents exams.
McHugh said she would like to see graduation rates, and by extension the percentage of kids passing their Regents exams, reach 90 percent. The graduation rate is currently in the low 80s.