Thursday, December 04, 2008

School Performance Enhancement

The NY Times is reporting this morning-in what school officials are describing as, "an isolated incident"-that an assistant principle in the Bronx has been fired for cheating on a Regents exam: "The Department of Education said on Wednesday that it would move to fire an assistant principal who cheated on Regents exams this spring by changing her students’ answers."

The money quote in the story: "The city has increased pressure on principals in recent years, by branding schools with letter grades of A through F based primarily on test scores, for example. Some critics have wondered whether cheating would become more commonplace as a result."

As would be expected, the DOE demurs about any allegation that cheating is widespread: "David Cantor, a spokesman for the Department of Education, said Contemporary Arts, which received an A on its report card, had performed so well by other measures that it would retain its grade even after an adjustment based on Mr. Condon’s findings. He said he had “no reason to believe that there has been any other impropriety” at the school, and that there had been no indication that cheating allegations elsewhere had spiked. “There are always allegations,” he said, “and many of them are not substantiated.”

But, as Andy Wolf has written to us, this incident may not be so isolated: "The tip of a huge iceberg. Still no resolution of the investigation of the unexplained 50 point gain three years ago at PS 33 in the Bronx, only to be followed by an immediate drop when the principal retired -- after she won a huge bonus which was used to calculate her pension for the rest of her life -- about $12,000 per year!"

And the pressure on the administrators is immense. As Wolf wrote earlier this year: "A number of incentives for “performance” have been put on the table. Merit pay, which could reach as much as $50,000 a year for principals and $3,000 for teachers, is one. The possibility of the removal of the principal, the “closing” of the school, or unsatisfactory ratings for teachers, are among the possible consequences. All this will be expressed in the new school report card grades, 85% of which will be based on these test scores and improvements posted by students on these tests from year to year. So that is why teachers and administrators across the city are telling me that they feel the pressure. How the principals and teachers will lift the scores of individual students is an interesting question, since it has been my experience that, despite constant rhetoric to the contrary, most city educators are dedicated to doing the best for their charges."

All of which hints to us that the DOE's success may be very much like a Potemkin Village-and that independent evaluation will yield more evidence that test performances aren't as Kosher as they should be-never mind the gap between the city-state-and national exams. And that independent review may be just around the corner in Albany.