Friday, September 04, 2009

Posting Up the DOE

Well, the bloom certainly came off the DOE rose pretty quickly for the editorialists at the NY Post, didn't it? It seems as if the fact that over 97% of all the city schools received an "A" or a "B" grade doesn't sit all that well over at the paper; and we wonder if they're having some second thoughts about the way they shamelessly supported the purported Bloomberg Miracle: "The city Department of Education this week released letter grades scoring each of the New York's public elementary and middle schools -- and it turns out that nearly every one of them is above average. Indeed, the results simply beggar the imagination. Of the thousand-plus schools graded, nearly 900, or 85 percent, scored an A -- up from fewer than 400 last year. A mere 27 received C's, D's or F's."

It appears that these grades are like those anomalous SAT test scores that show someone jumping hundreds of points from one exam to the next-can any one say, "Re-test?" But the Post has some 'splaining to do: "We know the schools are improving, but that's a little ridiculous.
When Schools Chancellor Joel Klein unveiled the grading system two years ago, he touted it as a revolutionary new way to measure overall student progress -- and hold principals accountable for it. A worthy goal -- but not many can be shaking in their boots this year. And what does a top grade even mean, if nearly every school in the system "earns" one?"

And the Post discovers something that, if it had only looked and listened, would have seen right in front of their eyes. After all, critics were screaming (and on the Post's own Op-ed page) about the watered down state tests; but the paper wasn't listening, concerned as it was in getting the mayor's school governance package passed: "What's really going on here is unclear. The formula that determines school grades is enormously complex, but it relies heavily on students' progress on state tests. If those are getting watered down, school grades would jump unbidden. DOE officials admit they'd rather have fewer A's -- so as to better distinguish improving and worsening schools. Glad to hear that -- because as it stands now, the grades convey nearly no useful information whatsoever. Worse: A system that puts out results so contrary to plain common sense actively undermines confidence in Klein's generally worthy reforms."

But before the Post points any fingers, it needs to do a little soul searching of its own. After all, didn't the paper excoriate state senators for opposing the mayoral scheme-and do so by pointing out the rising test scores in the senators' districts? And shouldn't the Post now encourage the state senate oversight committee to insure that real transparency and accountability is now in place? It would be the right thing to do if one were somewhat concerned with previously over the top triumphalism.

And the Post should also now get after-with the same kind of zeal it has shown in the past-the state testing regime. The NY Times underscores the problem today: "The huge increase in the number of top marks on the city report cards — 97 percent of schools received an A or B, up from 79 percent in 2008 — was driven by broad gains on state standardized tests in math and English. This year, the number of students who met state standards jumped to 82 percent in math, compared with 74 percent last year. In English, 69 percent of students passed, up from 58 percent."

And the DOE, for its part, didn't adjust its grading system to the new watered down reality-giving credence to yesterday's remark of one school principal: "Do you think its any accident that its an election year?" scoffed one Brooklyn principal. "This is a game." The DOE knew what it was doing-and wanted the inflated test scores so it could style in the year that mayoral control was up for renewal-and the NY Post played along like a useful idiot.

Here's the money quote from the Times story: "The annual A through F grades measure how much students improved at a school, based on performance on the tests for the last three years. So this year, with large improvements on state tests far surpassing the jumps from previous years, many schools received far better grades. The city set the standards for the grades last year and has not changed them, despite the huge gains in state tests."

Why adjust when you can posture and get a willing claque of media cheer leaders to go along? State Chancellor Tisch gets this: "State education officials are also sensitive to criticism that their benchmarks have lost some of their meaning. Merryl H. Tisch, the chancellor of the State Board of Regents, has said that she hopes to make changes to the tests this year. Dr. Tisch said Thursday that the huge number of high grades was “one more indicator why we need to address the testing issue as quickly as possible.” All you need to do is understand that when you are telling parents that all of our schools are A’s and B’s or that all of our students are proficient, we are not providing a clear view of what is really happening in a school or with a student,” she said. “We need to raise the standards.”

Sorry for our misunderstanding, but we thought that this was already being done under the mayor's miraculous transformation-or, should we say, immaculate deception? The task ahead is to insure that there are legitimate benchmarks so that the progress in the schools can be accurately measured. Once those are in place-and the reality sets in-we wonder how magnificent the tax dollars on steroids Bloomberg/Klein tenure will end up looking?