Friday, August 29, 2008

Con-Testing the Schools

In what comes closest to emulating Diogenes as you can get in the current crop of commentators, the NY Sun's Andrew Wolf underscores in today's paper all of the hypocritical hyperbole surrounding the discussions of Bloomberg'e educational achievements. "Fools Gold" indeed-especially when it comes to a test regimen that needs a disinfectant: "It is now just 10 months before the expensive experiment that is mayoral control of Gotham's public schools is set to expire. And as parents ready their children for the start of classes Tuesday, the news has been released that the average S.A.T. scores have declined here once again. There was no press extravaganza. No Power Point presentations, no top officials, union leaders at their side, beaming as the results were outlined. No, troubling test results turn out to be an orphan."

What Wolf finds-and would we see more critical commentary from the rest of the press corps on this-is that whenever our kids take New York spawned tests they seem to do much better than when the tests are national in scope. Perhaps our state attorney general should focus some attention here rather than all on the malfeasance of Wall Street speculators. As Wolf points out: "If there is a trend to be found here it is this. Whenever someone other than the State of New York administers a test, scores here are flat, or even go down. But when those kind folks from Albany come on the scene, scores on their tests magically increase, a phenomenon that explains the increases in graduation rates as well."

If true, this is a scandal of the highest proportion. But who will have the courage to say that the Emperor has no clothes? Especially when it comes to all of the money spent (squandered?): "This is truly "high stakes" testing. As public revenues shrink, and lawmakers look for new ways to pick the taxpayers' pocket, education funding has been largely maintained this lean year, following six fat years which saw the local school budget grow an astounding 79%. It is more than fair to ask if this really has been a prudent investment."

These are inquiries that need to be made, especially when the self-interested are trying to promote another extra-legal term for our exalted chief executive. We really need to have a full scale review of the mayor's school program-something that needs to be done in Albany where there is less sycophancy among the electeds.

There is a major disconnect here; with students and parents as the victims of a zirconium-like inflation of test results. As Wolf says, and we agree fully: "Until the state tests are aligned with the results of NAEP, all of the "profit" that we are told that the extra nine billion a year we are investing in our schools is bringing us will be, alas, but fool's gold."