Thursday, September 03, 2009

Re-Markable Scores, Klein Testy

If any one can really make heads or tails out of the latest school grades released by the DOE-well, good luck. It has a bit of the old, "The operation was a success, but the patient died," quality to it. As the NY Times reports, 97% of all of the city schools received either an A or a B on the latest round of evaluations: "The news could have been cause for a huge celebration: a whopping 97 percent of New York’s elementary and middle schools earning an A or B on the city’s annual report card. Yet Chancellor Joel I. Klein was tempered in his praise, careful to say that the high marks did not necessarily mean that the city was filled with excellent schools."

What the grades do mean, then, escapes us: "We want to make clear that that means that they met their progress targets,” Mr. Klein said, a tad defensively, at a news conference at Public School 189 in Washington Heights on Wednesday. “Not by any stretch of the imagination that those schools don’t have a lot of improvement ahead of them.” At the same time, when asked if there was something wrong with a grading system in which nearly every school earned top marks — 889 of the 1,058 graded schools got A’s, and just two received F’s — he clearly took pride in the results. “If you’re asking whether I would rather see less A’s,” he said, “the answer is no.”

Boy, this is really so confusing. If the grades are not precise indicators, and, "a lot of improvement," is still needed, why the fanfare over these grades? And the rising grades simply encourages skepticism about the entire grading scheme-kinda like the questionable standardized test scores that gets Klein all chest puffy. As the Times points out: "Suddenly, New York City looks like Lake Wobegon, where all the children are above average — or like the Ivy League, noted for grade inflation that makes, say, a B-minus seem like the new F."

And, as the the NY Daily News also indicates: "All of last year's F schools got A's or B's this year, including PS 8 in Brooklyn Heights, which scored an A. Last year's failing grade for the popular school caused critics to question whether report cards were a fair reflection of school achievement. The DOE faces criticism over report cards because they rely heavily on standardized test scores, which account for 85% of the letter grade. The high number of A's this year was also criticized because experts have said the state tests are getting easier to pass. State Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch has promised reform - with improvement expected on next year's exams. Klein pledged to support the move."

To us, this is a case of a rising tide lifting all mopes; and the Times also weighs in on the grade inflation: "Daniel Koretz, a professor who focuses on testing and accountability issues at the Harvard School of Education, said it was hard to come to any clear conclusions about schools or the system by looking at the grades. It is even harder, he added, because so many questions have been raised about whether the state’s math and reading tests had become easier in recent years. “The agnostics are right: We just don’t know what’s going on right now,” he said. “The problem is we are stuck with this. We really have no second measure.”

And we are stuck, it seems, with the Bloomberg/Klein educational regime-and the release of the NAEP scores this fall should underscore this false positive test system. These more reliable scores are the second measure that the DOE boosters want us to ignore. But the mayor's proposed allocation of an additional $50 million to the city's community colleges gives us the distinct impression that, for all the extra money that is being pumped into the school system operation, the patients are still dying.