Monday, June 30, 2008

Checking it Twice

According to the NY Sun, a Bronx middle school acclaimed for its high test scores, may have achieved them the old fashioned way-cheating: "A South Bronx elementary school that adopted the motto "The Best School in the Universe" on the strength of soaring tests scores is being investigated for allegations that teachers helped students cheat on state tests."

With the DOE patting itself heavily on the back, it's incumbent on the city to examine whether all of the euphoria is, well, manufactured. As one teacher points out in the Bronx: "Several staff members at M.S. 201 said they have long suspected cheating went on at P.S. 48. The school feeds its graduates into M.S. 201, and they said students from that school often come unprepared — despite having high test scores..."These kids didn't know how to write, they didn't know how to add," a math teacher at M.S. 201 who is leaving the school, Elizabeth Cano, said. "How could they be getting level 4?"

With testing becoming the bottom line-for funding as well as for evaluation-the incentive to cheat also becomes irresistible for some educators all over the country: "Across the country, as standardized tests have become more important to schools — determining everything from whether schools close to teachers' pay — cases of cheating have become increasingly apparent. In Texas, a newspaper analysis by the Dallas Morning News last year found that more than 50,000 student test scores showed evidence of cheating."

Which says to us that the NY Post may need to temper its attack on the UFT this morning. Oh not because we think that the union's being unfiarly attacked-it may, or may not be. Rather, in looking to beat up the union the Post is using test results that nay have an ephemeral sweet smell: "Fully 74 percent of city elementary- and middle-schoolers met state benchmarks in math this year - up 9 percent from just a year ago. The pass rate in English is up nearly 7 percent. Some questions remain as to the difficulty of this year's exam, but gains in the city outpaced those statewide nearly across the board. This is, at the very least, promising news for a city that's for too long suffered under the weight of atrociously unaccountable public schools."

So what we have in NYC is potentially an embarrassing situation-watered down tests producing inflated results or, even worse, inflated results derived from teacher-aided cheating. Either way, there's a need for an independent evaluation of the DOE's testing so that we're not simply getting a false positive on tests that determine just how well our kids are doing in school.