16-year-old claims error on NY state Regents exam, starts petition for correction

PHOTO: Benjamin Catalfo, a soon-to-be junior at Ward Melville High School in East Setauket, New York, said he found a mistake on question 24 of the New York State Geometry Regents after the test was released on the website, jmap.org.
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WATCH 16-year-old claims error on NY state Regents exam, starts petition for correction

A New York teen who said he found an error on this year's geometry Regents examination is hoping the state education department will rescore the test for his fellow students.

Benjamin Catalfo, 16, a soon-to-be junior at Ward Melville High School in East Setauket, New York, said he found the mistake two weeks ago, after reviewing the June 16, 2017, New York state geometry Regents exam questions on the website JMAP.org — a resource that includes Regents exams in various formats.

Catalfo took the geometry Regents as a 7th-grader and said he was reading through the 2017 test in preparation to become a geometry tutor. After coming across question 24, he said, he realized that there was no correct answer.

The New York State Education Department (NYSED), he added, is refusing to rescore the test.

The Regents are statewide standardized tests in core high school subjects. New York state public high school students must pass the exams to graduate and earn a Regents diploma.

"I'm hoping that the educational department rereads the Regents and gives all students credit for this question," Catalfo told ABC News. "Some of my friends took this geometry Regents ... so maybe if this goes through, then [whoever] didn't do so well can get a passing grade. That's really important."

Catalfo showed the exam flaw to his father, Anthony Catalfo.

Anthony Catalfo told ABC News that he took his son's findings to Bill Bernhard, who is the principal at P.J. Gelinas Junior High School, which Benjamin Catalfo attended. Bernhard is also an adjunct math lecturer at the State University of New York at Stony Brook.

Bernhard told ABC News that Benjamin Catalfo was "100 percent correct" in finding that there is "no solution" to question 24 on the Regents exam.

PHOTO: Seen here. question number 24 on the June 2017 New York State Regents exam. The Regents are statewide standardized tests in core high school subjects. It is required for a student to pass the exams to earn a Regents Diploma to graduate.The New York State Education Department
Seen here. question number 24 on the June 2017 New York State Regents exam. The Regents are statewide standardized tests in core high school subjects. It is required for a student to pass the exams to earn a Regents Diploma to graduate.

The question, Bernhard said, is worth two test points.

Immediately, he contacted the NYSED, he said.

"Their response was that they were aware of the problem, but the committee of math teachers said that they are not reversing the score, and No. 2 is still considered the best possible answer," Bernhard recalled. "I had written back to them and said, 'What lesson are we teaching students? To choose the best wrong answer?"

The Regents examination in geometry did rescore question 14 and question 22 "as a result of discrepancies in the wording," according to a document released to ABC News by the NYSED.

But the NYSED maintains that all other exam questions are "fair and each appropriately measures a geometry standard," a spokeswoman wrote in an email.

The spokeswoman also said that the department doesn't yet know how many students took the 2017 geometry Regents but that in 2015–16, 138,138 students took the geometry exam.

PHOTO: Benjamin Catalfo, 16, started a petition on change.org titled: Mark Q.24 on the June 2017 Geometry Regents as correct in hopes to get enough signatures to convince the New York State Education Department to re-score the exam. The New York State Education Department/Change.org
Benjamin Catalfo, 16, started a petition on change.org titled: "Mark Q.24 on the June 2017 Geometry Regents as correct" in hopes to get enough signatures to convince the New York State Education Department to re-score the exam.

After discovering the alleged test error in question 24, Benjamin Catalfo worked out the problem on paper, showing proof that there is no correct answer. He then scanned it and shared it online.

According to the scoring key and rating guide to the June 2017 geometry Regents, choice No. 2 is the correct answer to question 24.

After a diagram, question 24 reads, "Which statement is not sufficient to prove [triangle] ABC is similar to [triangle] EDC?"

Students are given four possible answers to choose from, but Catalfo and Bernhard said that all the answers are "sufficient" as indicated in the question.

"At the top of the question, it gives you a diagram, and each choice gives you more information on the triangle," Catalfo explained. "It [asks], 'Which [answer] doesn't show information that the triangles are similar?' But all [answer choices] give you enough information to show that the triangles are similar."

Catalfo started a petition on Change.org called "Mark Q.24 on the June 2017 geometry Regents as correct" in hopes to get enough signatures to persuade the NYSED to rescore the exam.

PHOTO: Benjamin Catalfo, a soon-to-be junior at Ward Melville High School in East Setauket, New York, said he found a mistake on question 24 of the New York State Geometry Regents after the test was released on the website, jmap.org.Anthony Catalfo
Benjamin Catalfo, a soon-to-be junior at Ward Melville High School in East Setauket, New York, said he found a mistake on question 24 of the New York State Geometry Regents after the test was released on the website, jmap.org.

The petition has received over 1,900 signatures thus far.

"We are incredibly proud of this young man and we admire and commend his steadfast determination and advocacy for all students,” said Cheryl Pedisich, superintendent of Three Village Central School District.

Emily DeSantis, a spokeswoman for the NYSED, released the following statement to ABC News, along with an image of question 24 in an email.

"Mr. Catalfo is clearly an exemplary student of math with skills far above most students his age. He used mathematical concepts that are typically taught in more advanced high school or college courses. As you can see in the problem below, students weren't asked to prove the theorem; rather they were asked which of the choices below did not provide enough information to solve the theorem based on the concepts included in geometry, specifically cluster G.SRT.B, which they learn over the course of the year in that class."

She continued, "In addition, for all of the questions on this exam, the department administered a process that included NYS geometry teachers writing and reviewing the questions. In addition, all questions are field tested with a representative group of NYS geometry students in schools across the state."