Ben Catalfo, a rising junior at Ward Melville High School in East Setauket, discovered a mistake on the 2017 NYS Geometry, Common Core Regents exam. (Photo by Grace Anne McKenna)

By Kyria Moore
Walter G. O’Connell Copiague High School
and Ashley Collado
Walter G. O’Connell Copiague High School

It is common for students to make mistakes during test taking, but for a student to find an error on the New York State Regents exam is out of the ordinary.

While Ben Catalfo, 16, a junior at Ward Melville High School, was looking over the June 2017 New York State Common Core Geometry Regents Exam results of students he tutors, he found a glitch.

“I found the solutions key online,” Ben explained. “It was a pretty simple concept. They were trying to test that angle-side-side doesn’t work.” The mistake, found in Question 24, asked students to omit an answer choice that differed from the rest based off a diagram, when in fact all the answer choices were correct.

Ben took geometry in 7th grade when Common Core was still a process in the making. His father is a math tutor so Ben always had a love for math and grew up exposed to numbers. “As a little kid, there was a number line going across my bedroom,” Ben said.

After finding a mistake on the regents, his father presented a copy of the problem to William Bernhard, a principal at Gelinas Junior High School in East Setauket. Ben described him as having a very strong math background, saying, “Although he is the principal of Gelinas, he has taught at Stony Brook [University].”

Agreeing with the corrections that Ben made, Bernhard contacted the New York State Education Department.

Although the department acknowledged his corrections, they denied Ben’s effort to pursue any regrading of the exam because he used concepts outside of the curriculum to prove his solutions, he said.

“Regardless of whether students are supposed to know it, you can’t penalize people for knowing more,” Ben commented. “It was around the time of that statement when I sent out the petition.”

Understanding that geometry students all over could be affected, Ben began an online petition to convince the state to give every Geometry Regents test-taker credit for the question.

Change.orgPG, a petition website, celebrated his success. “Benjamin Catalfo started this petition with a single signature, and won with 2,734 supporters,” the site said.

Ben’s petition was also recognized by the state.

Question 24 was not the only question on which the state made an error. Geometry teachers also had received a notice from the Education Department that proclaimed: “As a result of discrepancies in the wording, Questions 14 and 22 do not have only one clear and correct answer.”

It explains that for Question 14, “when scoring this examination, either choice 3, the correct answer indicated in the Scoring Key, or choice 1 should be accepted and awarded credit.” It also states that for Question 22, “when scoring this examination, all students should be awarded credit regardless of the answer, if any, they record on the answer sheet for this question.” Consequently, these questions will be rescored.

The agency said that everyone would receive credit for Question 24, regardless of what answer they selected.

The impact of Ben’s accomplishment is evident.

He received a message from Longwood student Holly Fazio who found the test challenging, despite her preparation. She explained, “I passed, but many of my friends didn’t. If it wasn’t for those extra two points that Ben fought for, a lot of my friends and peers would have failed and would’ve had to retake the test in August.”

Ben Catalfo demaonstrates how he detected the inaccuracy of question 24. (Photo by Grace Anne McKenna)

Holly isn’t pleased with the education department’s actions.

“I think this situation clearly shows that New York State testing isn’t fair,” she explained. “Students try so hard to do well and New York State can’t even give us valid answer choices to choose from; I think it’s sad that a student has to correct the test makers.”

She later added, “[He] has spared so many kids across New York from failing. Many geometry students consider him a hero.”

Ben views the State Education department in a positive light now that they have made the decision to regrade the test. He says this mistake has been beneficial to students.

“It makes the community more aware of what’s going on in math education,” he said. “I’m really happy they did [change the scores]. . . I’m just really happy for mathematics right now.”

Setauket teen shapes Geometry Regents results

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