Thursday, September 10, 2009

Test-icular Cancer

The more we examine the city's school grading fraud, the worse it looks. And who better to nail this scam than the professor emeritus of educational reform, the inimitable Diane Ravitich. Here's Ravitch's smackdown of the DOE in yesterday's NY Daily News: "The latest school grades released by the city's Education Department are bogus. An astonishing 84% of 1,058 elementary and middle schools received an A (compared with 38% last year and 23% in 2007). Another 13% got a B. Only seven schools rated a D or an F."

How bad was this grading scheme? Well, since it was based on a unreliable state test benchmark-it really couldn't be any worse; and for Bloomberg to crow in his commercials about the success of mayoral control is as good an example of consumer fraud as we've ever seen: "The problems with the report cards were apparent from the start. When the system was launched in 2007, testing experts warned that it relied too heavily on single-year changes in standardized test scores, which are subject to random error and therefore unreliable. But the Education Department did not listen."

The state tests themselves have been described as, "watered down." To us, however, water's the only thing that's left in the glass. As Ravitch underscores: "This debacle is caused mainly by the state tests, which have been dumbed down in recent years. Daily News reporters Meredith Kolodner and Rachel Monahan were the first to break the story about the collapse of state standards between 2006 and 2009. Last June, they revealed that the test questions have gotten easier and more predictable. They found that the state asks nearly identical questions year after year, and the excessive focus on test preparation has corrupted the test results."

The tests are so easy, chimps randomly guessing, could probably get a passing grade. But wait, that's what almost happened: "A few weeks ago, Kolodner reported that city students were able to pass the state tests by guessing. After the article appeared, a city schoolteacher, Diana Senechal, tried an experiment, which she described at She took two state tests without reading the questions. She answered the questions at random (checking A, B, C, D) and received enough points to reach Level 2, sufficient for promotion in the city."

Is the city's Bunko Squad still in operation? But the watered down tests are only one part of the deception. We also have an educational regime that rewards doing better on these tests so, predictably, a great deal of time is spent teaching to the test: "With teachers administering daily practice tests containing questions very nearly the same as those that would appear on the state tests, it became easier for students to become "proficient."

And, of course, this testing emphasis is done at the expense of real learning. As the Daily News reported yesterday, even the Regents exams have gotten easier, but the graduates remain ill-prepared: "We could be doing a lot better," said Saul Cohen, a former Queens College president, who heads the state Regents committee charged with looking at state standards. "The complaints we get from higher ed people over and over [are that] most youngsters are not well-prepared for college - unless, of course, they've taken APs or international baccalaureates."

This is the mayoral control system that was passed without real independent review; and cheered on by a credulous media chorus-with the UFT playing the power broker behind the scenes. Will there now be buyer's remorse in the press box? Will the press remain silent even when the UFT contract reveals what was gained-and lost-by the union's power burst?

The Bloomberg/Klein flim flamming needs to be exposed-and we hope that the state senate, unfairly reviled by an incredibly unreflective press corps, leads the way. The current ballyhoo about educational achievements masks the sad truths that lie behind the public relations facade. Ravitch's observations deserve the final say:

"The school report cards should be revised or scrapped. First, they are based on dumbed-down state tests. Second, the city will hand over $33 million to teachers and principals as a bonus for these phony scores (and more later to high school teachers and principals). Third, the report cards focus only on reading and mathematics, thus neglecting science, history, the arts, literature, civics and geography. We are reaching a perilous stage where the test scores go up while real education - the kind that is available in the best schools - disappears."