Evaluating the New Global History and Geography Regents

     In June 2019, New York State high schools had the option of having students take the new Global History and Geography Regents or one based on the earlier format. Both exams cover world history and geography since 1750. The three-part new exam included 28 multiple choice question, each based on document analysis of a quote or image (Part I); two sets of constructed response questions, each based on a pair of documents (Part II); and an “enduring issues essay” requiring students to identify “a challenge of problem that has been debated or discussed across time” and “that many societies have attempted to address with varying degrees of success” (Part III). For the “enduring issues essay” students were provided with five documents and expected to identify and define an enduring issue presented in the documents, argue why the issue they selected is significant, and how it has endured across time. There essay was required to include a “historically accurate interpretation of at least three documents” and “relevant outside information from your knowledge of social studies.” The initial “enduring issues essay” had documents on the industrialization of Great Britain in the 19th century and its impact on world trade, the continuing problem of child labor, the export of electronic waste across international boundaries, a contemporary commentary of globalization, and an advertisement for South Asian tea in a British newspaper. The easiest enduring issues to discuss would be “Impact of Trade” or “Impact of Globalization,” however students could also make a case for “Impact of Technology,” “Impact of Industry,” “Impact of Imperialism,” and “Tensions between Traditional Cultures and Modernization.” The EngageNY website has an online enduring issues chart (https://www.engageny.org/sites/default/files/2enduring-issues-chart.pdf . A video describing the new exam is online at https://www.engageny.org/resource/regents-examglobal-history-and-geography-ii. Both Global Regents formats will be issued through June 2020. The United States History Regents will have a similar transition from June 2020 through June 2021.

Below is a sample document pairing with two multiple choice questions from the exam:

. . “I started from Cork, by the mail, [coach] (says our informant), for Skibbereen and saw little until we came to Clonakilty, where the coach stopped for breakfast; and here, for the first time, the horrors of the poverty became visible, in the vast number of famished poor, who flocked around the coach to beg alms: amongst them was a woman carrying in her arms the corpse of a fine child, and making the most distressing appeal to the passengers for aid to enable her to purchase a coffin and bury her dear little baby. This horrible spectacle induced me to make some inquiry about her, when I learned from the people of the hotel that each day brings dozens of such applicants into the town. . . .”

Source: James Mahony, “Sketches in the West of Ireland,” Illustrated London News, February 13, 1847 (adapted)

What is the most likely purpose of this document?

  1. to highlight the benefits of free markets
  2. to record the negative impact of child labor
  3. to minimize the impacts of agricultural innovations
  4. to inspire social and political reform  

The conditions described in this passage directly resulted in

  1. Ireland invading Britain
  2. millions of Irish emigrating to the United States
  3. most landlords forgiving the rent the Irish owed
  4. Britain agreeing to withdraw from Ireland

Teaching Social Studies asked New York State social studies teachers to comment on the new exam.

Karla Freire, Metropolitan Expeditionary Learning High School, Queens, NY:  I am concerned that if the new framework for the Global Regents, if not improved in some areas, will ultimately harm rather than help our students. The areas of the exam I find problematic, are Parts II and III. Both of these sections contain questions that need rephrasing or concepts that need to be changed completely, in order for students to better understand what is being asked of them. For example, several constructedresponse questions need to be clarified. Providing a document and asking a student to describe the historical context or events that led to what is being described, is not enough. It is vague and confusing. Having an open-ended question like this, with an endless possibility of answers, may appear to be helpful, however, the reality is that it is too broad of a question for any student to answer in a timely manner. If a student was anything like I was in school, the first instinct for a very studious student is to overthink the question. For example, a myriad of factors led to major events and paradigm shifts in history. Events, such as, conquest and colonization cannot be explained by one sole factor or motive. Therefore, by asking a student to explain which events led to a major historical event, it can be overwhelming for the students to go through all the possible answers to this question. How will they be able to determine which events are the “correct” ones to mention in their answer? On the other hand, if a student did not prepare as much for this exam, they would not be able to determine an answer, either. He or she may be greatly discouraged to even attempt to answer such a question, given the enormity of history. It’s much too broad, and one cannot ask anyone to historically contextualize an image or text within 2-3 lines of space. Additionally, within the 2-3 lines that are provided, the chances that students are producing actual analysis is slim. It is more likely that a factual, rote answer regarding historical chronology will be constructed. We need to reframe the question and ask for specifics. For example, “explain 1-2 factors that led to the Industrial Revolution” and allow for space for a larger response. Otherwise, it should be eliminated, given that our goal as educators is to push students towards critical analysis. In Part III, the “Enduring Issues” essay is flawed in the sense that anything can be described as an enduring issue in history. Once again, history is being viewed much too broadly. Accepted enduring issues, such as “interconnections,” can be anything from cultural diffusion to trade to peace treaties. It is an unusual and unrealistic way of interpreting history. Other acceptable enduring issues, like “conflict,” is problematic given that history is filled with conflicts. Having a student write an entire essay on a general category, can lead to redundant answers that are void of analysis. Overall, as a Social Studies teacher, the new Global Regents will shape how I will plan curriculum, as I will have to schedule time to teach students how to successfully take this exam. Ultimately, it is more classroom time dedicated to teaching solely for a test, because historians do not interpret history in the same way the Regents does.

Alicia Szilagyi, Hutchinson Central Technical High School. Buffalo, NY: Overall, the exam was fair, and what I had expected. The questions for the most of the multiple choice and document selections were fair and expected. The Enduring Issues piece was excellent. There are a variety of topics that could apply to the EI. The CRQ was nicely done as well. The only questions I really was not a fan of were: 9 & 10. The Political Cartoon had too much symbolism going on, and the choices were not that great. Given that we cannot rate our examinations, until we have our conversion charts, and are unable to analyze trends – I feel I cannot answer this question yet. In the future, my primary focus will be on writing skills, cross-topical teaching, and applications. A lot of the questions were not comprehension-based, but content-based. It required our students to draw on content knowledge that is very specific.

Kim Cristal, West Irondequoit Central School District:  I am responding before we’ve started scoring… but my and my department’s feeling was that the assessment was totally fair and aligned with our expectations. We felt our efforts for preparation aligned to what the test looked like. We will continue refining the major shifts we’ve already made over the past two years. Overall, we feel relieved and confident that we did all we could to prep our students.

Fayezeah Fischer, Buffalo School of Culinary Arts and Hospitality Management:  The exam was basically a DBQ question with choices. The readings were too long. The readings were too lengthy for a special education student. If the person creating the question, had to pick a document that required them to re-read several times, that person should reconsider the document or the wording of the question. The Mao Zedong document was a terribly worded document and discussed a time period that is not discussed in length. It was difficult to prepare the students for the multiple choice. I think we all had a false sense of the length of documents to be used for multiple choice, and the amount of inferring the student would need to do. The enduring issue wasn’t too bad. I think that ended up being the most subjective item to teach. The Irish Potato famine question, and the Mao Zedong question were terrible questions. Again, these are not topics well covered (or enough time to cover Mao to that extent.) As a department we also believed that the point value on the 3rd CRQ should be two not one. If this type of exam is going to be given, then the amount of curriculum to be taught needs to be reduced. We cover so much, and the true depth and understanding can’t truly be met that is expected from this exam. I think the enduring issue did a fair assessment though. That was the student demonstrating their knowledge. I plan on getting to the 20th century sooner, and using more readings to help the students get use to longer documents. I also plan on changing the multiple choice to more document based than I did this year. I did use New Visions multiple choice, and I don’t think they used anything as rigorous as we saw on this exam. Rigorous questions will need to be created by myself to better prepare my students. We can only hope for a generous conversion chart for this first exam.

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