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Common Core Algebra II Exam – First Thoughts – by Kirk

I don’t know about anyone else, but it was a long, long day for me. We had 475 students taking the Common Core Algebra II Regents exam for the first time at Arlington High School. The exam started at 8:00 a.m., but I was there at 6:30 along with Dawn Orlik, the head proctor of the exam, to begin setting up for it.

All 475 students were in one giant gymnasium for us. The exam actually went off without a hitch, which was fortunate given the time pressure we were under. Ten amazing Arlington Math teachers proctored the exam to all of these worried students, many of whom stayed the entire three hours.

And then, we went into overdrive mode!!! Our entire department, 23 math teachers, sat and graded from 11:30 until 3:00 in the afternoon. Organizing a large grading process like this is an undertaking all by itself, but I won’t bore you with the details. I myself spent the first half of the grading on problem #37, the 6 pointer!!! Then, I transitioned to the first four 2 point problems, #25, 26, 27, and 28. I also spent some time on the disastrous #33. So, those are the questions I am most comfortable discussing, although I did work through the entire Part II, III, and IV section and analyzed the multiple choice.

And then I didn’t bring a single exam home with me. So, now I have to give you my analysis by complete memory, which will be faulty at best. So, I’m going to give some bullet points until I can carve up an exam and have actual images of problems. Here we go:

I thought the test was fair and I overall liked the questions and the content.

I thought the multiple choice was a bit harder than I expected and the free response was a bit easier than I expected.

The multiple choice had too many problems in it where they tried to be “tricky” and ended up testing aptitude more than content. These included the one where they gave them the inverse and asked them for the original and the awful one with completing the square with silly leading coefficients of 4.

I loved the six point problem. I graded that one and students did really well on it. I liked the fact that students had to deal with a given model, then use a graph of that model to answer realistic questions.

I generally liked the free response. It made me sad that the hardest one seemed to be the systems problem with the circle. So straightforward. So mechanical. So botched!

VERY LITTLE TRIG. In fact, only four total trig problems and three of them were sinusoidal modeling. I was VERY annoyed by the two point trig graphing problem. Many students went 0 for 2 even though they had the correct midline and amplitude BUT had graphed more than one cycle plus had not labeled their period correctly. But, that’s the issue with trying to package a 3 or 4 point problem into 2 points. No tangent, cotangent, secant, etc…

I generally liked the statistics questions. A straightforward normal distribution in multiple choice and then two simulation questions, both on proportions, which I thought was a bit strange. I liked the controlled experiment question, but could it have killed them to tell us what mystery ingredient X was supposed to do (fight cavities, brighten teeth, better taste)? Come on, invest a little in your question writing.

I liked the rational algebra and polynomial work. It wasn’t too bad and stressed mostly important things. I graded the “is (x-5) a factor…” question and almost all kids got it correct. I do wonder about the use of limit notation in that multiple choice problem on polynomials, but we could easily incorporate that into lessons. It would be a nice tool to use. Even that weird proof question was on the easier side and lent itself to many different approaches.

Nothing on mortgages or Newton’s Law of Cooling. Yay! I also liked the Geometric Series question. It was fair and a good application of the formula. All in all, the sequence/series questions were challenging, as they always are, but not particularly tricky.

All in all, I think we felt pretty good about the test. I hope it helps put to bed the idea that this course still has a lot of trig in it. This is definitely NOT Common Core Algebra II and Trig. I think that a lot of precalculus courses will not need to incorporate a lot more traditional trigonometry.

I applaud NYSED for creating a test that was fair, stuck pretty much to what we knew it would, and didn’t go off the standards in any serious way. I’m hopeful they will get us the curve before their end date of June 23rd. My bet is June 22nd, if they hold true to form. I hope the exam went well for all of you out there, whether you were a student or teacher taking the test.