Teen discovers mistake on geometry Regents

Aug 7, 2017

Suffolk County teenager discovered an error on the state's math Regents exam.  But WBFO's senior reporter Eileen Buckley says it took weeks for the New York State Education Department to admit the teen was right. 

“And I noticed one of the questions had no correct answer,” said Benjamin Catalfo, who will be a junior this coming school year at Ward Melville High School on Long Island.   

Benjamin Catalfo'S proof of math mistake.
Credit Photo from Benjamin Catalfo's proof posted on change.org

Some consider Catalfo a ‘math whiz’. When he was a 7th grader he took the geometry Regents. In fact he's already taken almost of every math course offered in his school district.

Catalfo tells us he discovered the math mistake on a question about triangles. He was reviewing the geometry test prep questions on-line because was tutoring other students who were getting ready to take the Regents this past June.

“They had an example of angle side-side theory using to show that the triangles weren’t similar, but it was an exception I knew – I knew there was a mistake. I wrote up the proof that showed the triangles had to be similar and I showed it to my dad, who concurred. Then we moved it on to Mr. Bernhard who’s the principal at the junior high school and from there he called the state department,” Catalfo explained

“I really am exceptionally proud that one of our own was able to take this little pebble and the ripple effects that it had throughout the state is incredible – is amazing,” said Alan Baum is principal, Ward Melville High school.  

Baum tells WBFO News he was very disappointed at the response his student received from the State Education Department

“I thought they were terrible, denying Ben’s expertise and knowledge-based and failing to give him the appropriate credit at the time,” Baum explained.   

But Catalfo put a petition up on change.org to gain support for his finding. He received 2,734 petition signatures.

They agreed (NYSED) to re-score the exam and question”, Catalfo said.

“Well better late than never,” responded Baum. “The state agreed to give credit to any student that got that question wrong, so we are now at the tail end of our process of redoing all of the Regents exams that our students have taken and recalculating – not only the regents score, but their final course grade for those students that were initially adversely affected.”

“I’m pretty happy that they did eventually come around and re-grade the question,” Catalfo replied.  

“He persevered and that is what is going to carry Ben and our students so far in life,” Baum declared.   

Both Catalfo and Principal Baum are pleased students who took the test will get the credit for the test error. 

The State Education Department issued a notice to teachers regarding the issue.

"This notice applies to students who took the June 16, 2017 Regents Examination in Geometry (Common Core).

As a result of a discrepancy in the wording of Question 24, this question does not have one clear and correct answer.

Students who selected answer choice 1, 3, or 4, or who did not choose an answer for this question, should be awarded credit. Students who selected answer choice 2, the answer indicated in the Scoring Key, have already received credit for this question.

We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause you, and we thank you for your hard work on behalf of the students in New York State."

Emily DeSantis, spokesperson for NYSED also issued this statement,  “We re-examined the issue and decided the fairest course of action is to provide credit to all students for the question regardless of their answer. We will continue to work with educators with classroom experience and direct content knowledge of each course to further improve our assessments."