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Discussion on the Regents' Examinations.
REMARKS OF PRINCIPAL D. C. FARR. MR. CHANCELLOR, LADIES AND GENTLEMEN OF THE CONVOCATION. — The Committee on the Regents' Examinations, after conferring with several of the academic principals, in committee meeting this morning, agreed to present some points for a general discussion by the academic principals this afternoon, not with the idea that the discussion would be confined to these points, but simply as suggesting some subjects of special interest. The first point was this: That the integrity of the higher examination requires that examinations in the different subjects be held simultaneously throughout the State; second, that more difference should be made in the matter of gradation between elementary and advanced physics; third, that the American history paper be made more elementary or restricted to fewer topics. That for Sallust a substitute of an equivalant amount of Cicero be made.
It is evident to the minds of all principals that it is absolutely necessary that the time be fixed uniformly, when all the subjects of the higher examination shall be held throughout the State. If this system of examinations is to be maintained, every possible safeguard must be thrown around it.
Objection has been made in regard to the questions on the two branches of physics, the elementary and the higher, that there is not sufficient difference in their gradation. In fact, some principals inform us that students that were unable at the last examination to pass the elementary, did actually pass the advanced paper.
Another point is, that the American history paper be made more elementary or restricted to fewer topics. Complaint has been made very generally in regard to this paper. Perhaps it is not any harder than it ought to be, but it has slaughtered the students tremendously in all quarters. We all know the value of a knowledge of American history to be great, and it is a subject that all students should be more or less familiar with, and it is a study I apprehend that is prosecuted in most schools by the younger grade of students. So that if all the students are to have the benefits of this study it ought to be placed early in the course. Consequently the examination should be confined to fewer topics or made more elementary. It is not the intention of any one to lower the standard of these examinations. We rejoice to have the standard kept high in general.
But it seems to me American history is one where reducing will be a real advantage. And in regard to the last point, the substitution of some Cicero for Sallust, we think no one can object to that, inasmuch as no college requires Sallust. Those who have experience in teaching Sallust find an almost insurmountable difficulty in conducting a class satisfactorily when, as in most cases, it happens to be composed of both sexes.
I want, as one of the principals of this State, to express to the officers of the Convocation, the thanks that I feel for the privilege of having this question discussed upon the floor of this Convocation. It is a subject of vital interest to everyone and we can but appreciate the kindness and courtesy that has always been extended to us by the officers of the Board of Regents in appointing committees which have met them from time to time, before whom they have placed proposed changes, and have shown very distinctly that they want to follow the advice of the teachers on these questions, and are always ready and willing to receive in the kindest spirit any suggestions.
I will not take any more time.
REMARKS OF PRINCIPAL EMERSON. MR. CHANCELLOR, LADIES AND GENTLEMEN. As no one else seems ready to spring to his feet, I will take occasion to say a few words about the physics paper. That is a subject I have never taught and in which I do not claim to be an expert myself, but I know that during the past seven years in which these examinations have been established in our school, it has given more trouble, been the source of more friction, than all the rest of the subjects put together, and the fact that I have never been free in my criticism of these papers and have, as a rule, been satisfied with them, thinking they were about right, makes me the more free at this time to say what I wish about the questions in physics. In the first place, you will remember that there has been no revision of the syllabus since the physic questions were divided. So the teachers are at a loss to know what is really required in elementary, and what in advanced, physics. I must rely largely on my teacher. He insists that these questions are harder than those in other branches taught in the school, which other teachers are responsible for. On that account it makes the subject an unpopular one in the school, and drives scholars out of the study. There is no reason why the advanced physics questions should be any more difficult than those of the other sciences, and especially no reason why the elementary should be more difficult. It is a very delicate matter for me to accuse my teacher of being inefficient in this respect. I wish to hear what the other principals think. That is the point I want to find out, whether the questions are too difficult or not. The teacher of physics in the Buffalo High School has written out a few points, the substance of which I will give.
The first question contains six points, the greatest number of any question and the most perplexing at the outset, which tends to discourage the student. It is not a good plan to have the first question the scholars try to answer one which they feel they can not answer correctly. Two of the points, about the atom, hardly belong to physics at all, as they can only be understood in chemistry. Chemistry comes naturally after physics. I notice in the Regents' enumeration of subjects, chemistry comes first - physics is fourteen, chemistry is thirteen.
The ninth is susceptible of two answers. The vibration of both pendulum and cord in the tenth makes the question somewhat indefinite. The sixteenth is something of a catch and answered by one word which to electricians is now about obsolete. In the second eighteenth either
way of connecting cells may give the minimum current, and here are three points on a question not generally even mentioned in the text-books.
In the nineteenth I think is the last point spoken of, that is about the bell. Perhaps you remember it. The scholars were familiar with the bell rung by electricity as figured in the book, and naturally their thoughts fastened on that instead of the electric bells used in buildings, and answered correctly as to that, and he thinks if it had not meant that bell it would have been only fair to word the question more carefully.
Of the nineteen questions, the first contains six points, the third, eighth, twelfth, fifteenth, eighteenth and nineteenth contain three points each. Any three of the above six-point questions, or the first and either one of them would be equivalent to a failure, as there is not probably. one in a thousand of the pupils who could satisfactorily explain how to obtain from batteries “maximum current.” While about half of the points and as many questions are unexceptionable, the others contain, at least some of them, severer tests than the elementary physics should demand of pupils who have only one term's work in the science. This last set of questions is very severe. That is, the points are so arranged that the chance of the pupil's failure is most imminent. If it be continued, the tendency will be to drive pupils out of these sciences into the less exacting subjects. He would suggest for a wider scope, more fundamental instead of so many abstract specific points, giving the pupil a better chance to show elementary knowledge in physics.
Then there are other points. Of course, I would like to hear what the principals think about this matter, I know we have more difficulty with it than with anything else. It seems to me the elementary physics ought to cover what a scholar of ordinary ability will do in five months, and the advanced physics cover what a good scholar will do in one year.
REMARKS OF PRINCIPAL BUNTEN. MR. CHANCELLOR, LADIES AND GENTLEMEN. I simply wish to express my agreement with the remarks which have just been made with regard to the questions on physics. In my school, I find it is more difficult to prepare scholars for the examinations in physics than it is to prepare them in two ordinary subjects. I think, for instance, that the same scholars have been prepared for the examination in political economy and civil government, with less trouble than it took to prepare them for the examination in elementary physics. While agreeing with the gentleman that the examination papers are generally fair and not more difficult than they ought to be, and while I should be very sorry to see the standard of scholarship lowered in any of these subjects, still I think there are usually some questions in the paper on elementary physics which a class that has been prepared for the examination could hardly be expected to answer, and I agree with the point that has been made that there should be more difference between the elementary and the advanced papers on physics. I am very glad this point has been brought up and I hope to hear further upon this subject.
REMARKS OF PRINCIPAL ALLEN. MR. CHANCELLOR, LADIES AND GENTLEMEN.- We had some thirty or more pupils who tried elementary physics and I believe a few passed. The teacher supposed, before the examination, that he could teach physics. There was but little difference between the elementary and the advanced. It is his opinion that elementary physics should be adapted to pupils in the high schools and the advanced physics should be adapted to the students in the colleges.
REMARKS OF PRINCIPAL C. T. R. SMITH. MR. CHANCELLOR, LADIES AND GENTLEMEN. It occurs to me, that perhaps the difficulty with the elementary physics is in the text-books
Is it not possible that the use of antiquated text-books in physics has made many of the questions appear more difficult than they would have been if pupils had been using recent text-books? We all know very well that a remark which is in a text-book is more indelible in the mind of a child than any thing his teacher tells him. It seems to me that there should be a great difference between advanced and elementary physics, but that this difference should be affected by advancing our advanced physics. I think the Regents' questions in elementary physics are nearly right. The requirements in advanced physics ought to be raised somewhat.
REMARKS OF PRINCIPAL A. M. WRIGHT, OF WATERVILLE.
CHANCELLOR, LADIES AND GENTLEMEN.— In regard to this subject of physics. I do teach the subject and my experience is not like that of the gentleman from Rochester. I have never failed with more than one or two in a class. In a class of ten, nine passed. That was in the February examination in elementary physics. I encouraged the pupils (this was after the twenty-eight weeks) to try the advanced. One out of ten got through. I think it was a very fair set of papers. It seemed so to me. I think the failure in elementary physics is due to the pupils paying too much attention to the laws. They know the laws, but when they come to be thrown on their own judgment, even in practical applications seen daily, they fail to pass. I consider that the elements of physics should aim to teach the pupils to notice every-day things and acquaint them with the laws which pertain thereto. I think if the pupils fail it is because they study the laws given in the text-books, but fail to see outside of the laws, and it seems to me the elements of physics are not truly appreciated as to what they are. I think it is useful that we observe from time to time from what these laws have grown.
I am well satisfied myself thus far with the questions in physics.
REMARKS OF PRINCIPAL J. C. NORRIS. My opinion has been that the questions are not too hard, and that when
my scholars have failed to pass, it is because they have not done work enough before. I have had a good many failures. I remember the last time. It was not a very large class, but only two out of seven or eight passed. They had not done work enough to entitle them to pass. There is not enough difference between the two papers in physics. I know of one case where some of the boys after one term's work tried both papers. They made as many failures in one as the other. The papers seem to be equally hard, but I should dislike to see the standard lowered in these examinations.