Mandatory state assessments, love them or hate them; it doesn’t matter. If you’re a newer teacher here’s a secret: No one will ever ask your opinion. But an important factor in your overall performance is your ability to prepare students adequately for the exam.
The New York State Global History and Geography Regents are generally administered to 10th-grade students. It’s a 3-hour test that requires your kiddos to have enough content knowledge, document analysis skills as well as reading and writing stamina to attain at a grade of at least 65. With a good understanding of this test you can help them succeed.
A Quick Rundown on the New York State Regents Exams
In order for students to achieve a high school diploma New York, like almost half of U.S. states, requires standardized exams. Some states administer one exit assessment; New York mandates passing 5 separate tests.
Students must sit for and achieve a passing score (usually 65) on an English language arts, math, science, United States history, and Global History and Geography exam.
These assessments are mandatory for students in public schools. Private schools can opt out of Regents.
The Global History and Geography Regents Examination, the focus of this article, is traditionally administered to 10th grade students after completing 2 years of global history studies.
What’s in the New Global Regents?
For decades the Global Regents was made up of 50 multiple-choice questions, document-based short answers, a document-based essay and a thematic essay. It was (and still is) a 3-hour test.
In June of 2019 New York rolled out a “new framework” changing the prior format considerably. The exam now has the following 3 parts:
- 28 Stimulus-based Multiple choice questions
- 2 sets of Constructed Response Questions (CRQs)
- An Enduring Issues essay
In addition to the format changes, another major difference is the content that’s covered in the test. The assessment now covers from the year 1750 to the present. This is a boon for students, who used to be tested on prehistoric times through the modern-day.
It was the only state exam that expected students to recall 2 years of instruction. Even college students are not expected to do that! Thankfully, someone finally came to their senses. Yay!
How are the Global Regents Scored?
As a teacher, you’ve probably created and scored many exams. If your test has 25 multiple choice questions each question is worth 4 points.
If you add an essay to the assessment logic says the multiple-choice would be worth either 2 or 3 points and the essay 50 or 25 points respectively. Very logical.
The Regents is not scored in that manner. The multiple-choice questions are weighted by their difficulty. Each year’s exam is compared to the prior year to calculate how many “difficult” questions are included.
This means a student can get 20 multiple-choice questions correct one year and pass but the next cohort may need at least 22 questions.
Each CRQ question is worth 1 point, with a perfect score being 12. Then, the correct multiple-choice score is multiplied by 2 and added to the CRQ score. That’s their “raw score”.
Students receive a grade of 0-5 on the Enduring Issues Essay.
The student’s raw score and essay score are calculated on a conversion chart (see below) to reach their final grade. A grade of 65 or higher (out of 100) is passing.
Why is the Scoring on the Regents so Convoluted?
Confused yet? I believe it’s designed to be. The Regents Board is able to manipulate scoring ostensibly for equity. But we’ll never know.
Because the conversion chart changes from year to year it’s impossible to tell your kiddos exactly what it takes to pass.
So here’s my advice: don’t sweat what you can’t control. Work with the students to prepare them for the exam.
Then perform the Please-let-my-student-do-well dance the night before and morning of the test. I believe you can learn the steps on YouTube.
Now, let’s break down each part of the exam.
Stimulus-Based Multiple-Choice Questions.
Each one of the 28 questions in this portion of the exam is based on documents. In the past, there were some documents sprinkled in, but most questions were recall-only-based queries.
There are pros and cons to this new format.
Students have almost half as many questions. On its face, that would be a good thing. But that means each question is worth more points. In the past, many students would get 20 out of the 50 questions wrong and still pass the test. That’s no longer the case.
One positive aspect of this format is that students don’t need to remember as much historical detail. They have documents to guide them toward the correct answer and refresh their recollection of the topic. That’s hugely beneficial for a bright student who did not study for the exam.
It can also jog the memory of kids who did study but struggle with recalling the myriad of historical events covered in the test.
A downside for teachers is that much of what you teach won’t be covered. There is no way to assess students on all units of global history with only 28 questions.
Caveats of the Multiple-Choice Questions
Some of the questions may hit smaller topics that are sometimes skipped when trying to teach the curriculum. For example, check out these questions from the June 2019 exam:
Two of the 28 questions were about the Irish potato famine. I’ve been teaching for 20 years and usually spend 1 day on the topic! This is NOT a whole unit in the global history curriculum. I wish they would stick to the main events (industrial revolutions, imperialism, wars, political revolutions, etc) but they don’t.
A student could struggle through these questions if they read the document. For instance, this source mentioned “Ireland”. Also, question 5 was not about specifically addressing the Irish Potato Famine, so it could be answered without the content knowledge.
Another problem with this area of the Global Regents is that it requires a lot more reading stamina. For many students, this is a real struggle.
I’m in the middle of reading the book, Unfocused. It is an extensive insight into the reasons that ALL people in the industrialized world can’t focus anymore. In America half of the population does not read even one whole book a year!
But we expect 15-year-olds to focus for 3 hours, reading and writing extensively.
I’m not saying that these skills aren’t important and useful; of course they are. But the fact is that – for many reasons – the number of kids able to accomplish this is diminishing.
New York State exams are getting more difficult as the acumen of the students decreases (due to many factors – again, another article). And it’s up to the teachers to bridge this gap.
Or else we’re held responsible.
How to Help Students Succeed with the Stimulus-Based Multiple-Choice Questions
Don’t panic. Most of your students can suffer through and pass this state exam. We need to build their stamina muscles and practice techniques to ensure success.
This can be accomplished through modeling good habits and repeated practice.
I think most teachers cover the proper steps to approaching a multiple-choice question:
1. Read the questions and annotate key terms (when, cause, impact, etc.)
2. Eliminate 2 of the possible answers
3. Reread the question and choose the best of the 2 remaining answers
4. Go through and answer all the questions you are confident of first, then go back to the more difficult
5. Don’t overthink and change an answer you were confident in
Now for the Document Portion of the Question
Throughout the school year, students should be studying all kinds of documents: maps, quotes, long passages, and political cartoons.
For pictures and maps they should look at 3 things:
1. What’s the title?
2. What’s the caption (or key on maps)?
3. What’s shown on the document itself?
Next, create a claim based on the document.
Practice this as a whole class and individually. Do it as a do now or exit ticket. Conduct a gallery walk to practice several as a lesson activity. Assign a couple for homework.
Malcolm Gladwell says we have to spend 10,000 hours to become genius at a skill. We don’t have 10,000 hours. Luckily, our kiddos don’t have to be geniuses, just good enough. Whew!
How to Teach Constructed Response Questions
I think the CRQs are the easiest for students to master. It’s the shortest part of the exam. And, unless they write a completely wrong answer, they get credit.
Early in the school year introduce your students to the concept of Constructed Response Questions.
Every CRQ has the same parameters. There are 2 documents and 3 questions.
The first document will ALWAYS ask for EITHER the historical context OR geographic context.
The second document will ALWAYS ask a sourcing question: point of view, audience, purpose or bias.
The third question will ALWAYS ask students to identify a turning point, cause and effect or compare/contrast.
It’s kind of obnoxious that ALL 3 parts of the Regents involve document analysis. If you have students who struggle with mental blocks with docs they’ve got a huge impediment to their success.
CQR Controversy at My School
The social studies teachers at my school do not approach the CRQs in the same way. Some of them train students to answer the questions thoroughly and in full sentences. Others instruct them to answer concisely and move on
I stand firmly in the concise camp. Prep them to do what it takes to get the point. This is a timed test and some students run out of time. Also, the kids have to write an entire essay. Save their stamina for where it counts.
Students will receive credit for a CRQ question as long as they answer correctly; even if they answer with 3 words.
The Enduring Issues Essay
The old “Thematic Essay” has been replaced with an “Enduring Issues Essay”
New York State’s definition of an enduring issue is
“a challenge or problem that a society has faced and debated or discussed across time. An enduring issue is one that many societies have attempted to address with varying degrees of success. “
Students are provided with 5 documents. There are no corresponding questions for the documents. The testee (is that what you call someone taking a test) must analyze each and identify a common issue among at least 3 of the 5.
An enduring issue can be a big topic, such as conflict or human rights violations. But a student can also identify a “nested” enduring issue. This is a subtopic of a larger one. For example, instead of using conflict, a kid can choose “conflict over boundaries” or “disputes over socio-economic status”.
You can find a comprehensive list of enduring issues and nested issues here.
There are literally hundreds of potential enduring issues. That’s overwhelming. The good news is that a test taker can make up any issue as long as they justify it using evidence from the documents.
You can introduce a handful of large topics and be pretty confident 1 of them will be appropriate on the exam. I give my students a list of 10 enduring issues and post them in front of the classroom all year long.
Insert enduring issue handout page 7
Skills Needed for the Enduring Issue Essay
Students need core essay writing skills for writing essays specifically for history. They have to know structure (intro, body paragraphs and a conclusion).
In social studies essay should not be written in the first person. I use shock value to drive this home.
“You may not use the word “I” in your essay. Nobody cares about you.”
I know, it’s harsh, but they remember!
An important component of the enduring issue essay is that the student must define and explain the issue. The Regents rubric states as the very first component
“Clearly identifies and accurately defines one enduring issue raised”
They must also explain how the enduring issue has affected people AND how it has endured or changed over time.
Students must include evidence from at least 3 documents in their essay.
How to Teach the Enduring Issues Essay
In order to build the necessary skills for this portion of the exam lots of practice is the key.
Here’s the problem: Assigning essays is worse than going to the dentist. This is true for you and the students.
It eats up lots of classroom time. If you assign it for homework the kids that need it most won’t do it. Most students HATE to write essays. And it takes FOREVER to grade them.
Don’t stress, it’s all good. You can assign 1-2 whole essays per semester and be fine. The key is to constantly practice the different elements.
I introduce 9th graders to the concept of an enduring issue in September. We start small with 2 documents.
Then students work in groups with several documents. This allows the weaker kids to watch and learn from the ones who grasp the concept. They’ll work with 3-4 documents and brainstorm all possible enduring issues, citing evidence from the documents for each.
The next step is a gallery walk of 5 documents. Students fill out a graphic organizer to guide them. After they sit down and choose an enduring issue they pair/share and assess each other.
You can use 2 documents as a do now or exit. If your school starts in 9th grade they have 2 whole years to synthesize this skill.
Using the RATES strategy
If you come into my classroom and say the word RATES you’ll get a collective groan. That’s because my kiddos have had to use this at least 3 times a week since the beginning of the year.
And they find it annoying.
My response: Life’s tough, get a helmet. The RATES strategy allows a weak writer to formulate a well-organized body paragraph. It also gives students with test anxiety something to lean on.
You may be familiar with the acronym, but just in case here it is:
Restate the question/issue, Answer the question, use Textual evidence, Explain the textual evidence, and identify something it’s Similar to. This ensures at least 4 sentences and incorporates the necessary evidence. The “similar to” is outside information, one of the most challenging part for some kids.
Teaching a high-stakes class – one which culminates in a state assessment – can be stressful or exciting. I personally love the challenge.
The reality is most of your students can pass if your have prepped them reasonably well. It’s the student population of English language learners, special ed, and students with high anxiety that your have to worry about. Depending upon your population that’s 10-90% of the kids.
The secret to helping these children is understanding the exam well enough to prep them for minimum viable competency. Distill it down to understanding how to read documents. Give them a framework for writing (RATES). Finally, review the crucial vocabulary for each unit.
You got this. And so do your students. 💪