Thursday, August 13, 2009

Need for Re-Testing

Diane Ravitch in, of all places, the Op-ed page of the NY Post, highlights the fraudulent nature of the New York State school tests: "David Steiner, our new state commissioner of education, has a golden opportunity to restore New York's reputation as a national leader in education. One of his first targets should be the state's shoddy testing regime."

Now we need to give the Post a limited shout out here because we have been excoriating the paper's (along with the NY Daily News') crusade on behalf of mayoral control. The linchpin of their awe struck support has been the evidence of rising test scores.

Well, thanks to Ravitich-and others like Andy Wolf who has been on his own crusade on this issue-we now know what the yeast is in all of this rising: "Thus, the phenomenal test-score gains that New York has reported in recent years resulted not from students suddenly becoming smarter -- but from the state lowering standards. In 2006, students in all grades had to earn around 60 percent of the points to reach Level 3 (proficiency) on the math test. But by 2009, they had to get only about half the points on the math test to meet state standards. In 2006, a seventh-grade student needed to get 59.6 percent of the points on the state math test to become proficient (Level 3); by 2009, it was just 44 percent. Remember the old days when 44 percent was a failing mark? Not any more. In baseball, if you bring the outfield fences closer to home plate, you'll produce more home runs. In education, if you drop the number of points that students need to earn on the tests, you'll get more students passing."

Which means that the school tests have as much validity as an Arthur Anderson Enron audit. Lowering the bar is bad enough. But claiming that the bar hopping is deserving of an Olympic medal is scandalous; especially since the phenomenal "success' is being replicated across the state: "The lowering of the bar may explain why the state has seen such phenomenal results on its math tests. In Buffalo, the proportion of students who met state standards leapt from an abysmal 29 percent in 2006 to an incredible 63 percent in 2009, in Syracuse from 30 percent to 58 percent and in New York City from 57 percent to 82 percent."

So, in our view, the new state senate oversight committee has a lot on its plate. This Bloomberg miracle ain't no visit to Lourdes even for the faithful: "In the city, a student who qualifies for Level 2 will be promoted to the next grade. In grades three through eight, the number of New York City students who scored at Level 1 in math fell by an astonishing 80 percent in only three years. Ending social promotion, as the city rightly wants to do, is thus meaningless, because students can reach Level 2 by just guessing. Some of the city's lowest-performing schools have few or no Level 1 students because the state lowered the bar."

The oversight here should be directed at the cost benefit equation. Are we getting our money's worth with a close to $20,000/pupil expenditure? Does the DOE need a fully independent auditor-much like that of the Congressional Budget Office? We certainly think so.

So now maybe the local papers-the NY Times included-can now get on to the task of properly vetting the DOE's claims of success. We're quite sure that, if they do, they will find that these claims are as inflated as the grades our school kids are getting on the state's lowered standards tests.