Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Failing Grade

The NY Daily News reports on one Queens school's effort to apparently change failing grades in order to pass students so the school wouldn't have to pay for summer school out of its own budget: "A Queens school is under investigation for inflating the grades of several failing students - promoting them although they flunked math and couldn't do the work. Teachers say administrators at Public School 147 in Cambria Heights doctored failing grades into passing ones and bumped seventh-graders up to eighth grade. "I was told that no students were going to summer school this year, so everyone had to pass," math teacher Darren Johnson said."

Now obviously there's no general policy to do any such thing-but this one example of cheating points to a larger problem: "Johnson, who resigned last month, says an assistant principal told him PS 147 could not pay for summer school. The Education Department pays for summer school only for children who get the lowest possible score on state exams. Schools must dip into their budgets to pay for extra help for other kids, including those who failed a class. All schools took a 5% hit to their budgets this year."

So why then didn't these failing children score at the lowest rung of the recent state exams? Here's the essence of the problem: "Only one seventh-grader at PS 147 got the lowest score on the state math exam this year, and only one from the school attended summer school. It is not known whether they were the same person."

So this school found itself in a Catch-22 situation-a significant numbers of clearly failing students who had been able to score false positives on watered down state tests. Unable to pay for the summer school needed for these kids, cheating was used to deal with a budget shortfall: "Some of the students who flunked rarely turned in homework assignments, teachers said, and could not perform basic algebra problems. Most did not pass the state math exams. One student was late 52 days. "It didn't make sense to me to pass kids who failed almost every single test," Johnson, 29, said."

So here it looks as if we have another example of the questionable success of the Bloomberg educational miracle-built on a testing regime where the exams themselves need a saliva test. All of this on top of the billions of dollars of additional funds-and scores of more flacks down at the DOE-needed to convince New Yorkers that the city schools have been re-invented.

This expensive house of cards should be ground zero in the mayoral debate on education-and not what role Bill Thompson played in a previously dysfunctional governance system. Any effort to do otherwise is simple misdirection; and does no service to the educational future of our children