Thursday, July 29, 2010


The news is not good on the educational testing front-at least not for those who staked their reputations on the previous scores that are now exposed as fraudulent. As the NY Times reports this morning: "New York State education officials, admitting that the state’s annual tests were not properly measuring student proficiency, released results Wednesday showing that more than half of New York City students were failing to meet state standards in reading, at a time when Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg boasted that more that more than two-thirds of city’s students were reading at grade level."

How bad was the latest round? Leave it to the NY Post to dramatize the abrupt about face: "City test scores for reading and math released today show student proficiency nose-dived after state education officials made the statewide exams harder. Only 42 percent of third-through-eighth graders passed this year’s reading exams compared to 69 percent the previous year – a 39 percent decline. In math, the decline in students passing was even greater with just 54 percent of students passing this year’s test compared to 82 percent last year, a 51 percent drop."

Ah, what a difference a year makes. Remember all of the hoo ha last year over the need, the absolute compelling need, to maintain mayoral control of the schools? Sure you do. The need devolved from the fact, the absolute and compelling fact, that there was a Bloomberg educational miracle that needed to be preserved. And it was the Post-along with the NY Daily News-that not only trumpeted this fraudulent concept ad nauseum, but actually xeroxed Bloomberg press releases that shouted out this bogus message.

Here's the Post's editorial from today-appropriately titled, "Truth in Testing." "State education bosses Merryl Tisch and David Steiner promised a jarring dose of truth-telling when they re leased this year's student-assessment scores. Yesterday, it seems, they delivered. Thanks to a harder-to-fudge test and more realistic cutoff scores, the proportion of statewide third- through eighth-graders deemed proficient this year in English dropped to 53 percent -- down from 77 percent in 2009. Math proficiency plummeted about as much, to 61 percent from 86 percent. These numbers represent a critical first step toward a credible classroom-performance-testing regime; without such benchmarks, no meaningful education reform is possible."

Can we get an enthusiastic, "Duh!" And the paper goes on to say-apparently with a straight face: "Bogus scores, after all, are a godsend for adults looking to duck responsibility for student performance, or lack thereof -- even as lying to kids about their progress does them no favors." Quite prescient of the paper, no?

Oh, there is, as the professors might say, a lacuna in the Post's astute analysis of the dangers inherent in bogus scores-that gap is the sometimes elephant, one time donkey in the room, Mayor Mike Bloomberg; a man who not only ducked responsibility, but who spent millions of re-election dollars trumpeting the phony test scores. And this is the guy who's grading restaurants? But the Post manages to avoid mentioning the mayor and the chancellor's role in the test scam-along with its own collusion.

Others are less forgetful-or kind: "Some critics said the new standards -- which include harder, less predictable tests and the raising of scores needed to earn passing grades -- reveal that the city Department of Education's longtime boasts of raising student proficiency is just an illusion and that its classrooms have become test-prep academies. "These test results seriously damage the credibility of the DOE and its policies," said José Gonzalez, a parent leader with the NYC Coalition for Educational Justice."

And the editorialists at the Post recognize the self serving nature of the push for test score inflation-particularly because of the racial diivide in the results: "And the report seems honestly to address New York's racial achievement gap, whose supposedly dramatic decline in recent years was the cause of much establishment self-congratulation. Turns out, it's easy to narrow a gap when everyone's converging at 100 percent proficient. In reality, white students still lead black students by 30 points in proficiency in both math and reading -- exactly what the gap was four years ago. Then again, political pressure to "close" that gap is one of the forces that certainly will conspire to re-inflate scores. And New York City teachers will be pushing hard to pump up the numbers irrespective of actual performance, because they qualify for bonuses if their schools make enough "progress" on state tests."

So, the fact that teachers and administrators will get bonuses if test scores rise, is a reason for being scrupulous about the exam content; but the even more compelling fact that a man who based his entire mayoral success on educational improvement would benefit from the fraud, is left unmentioned by the Post? And what about the students and parents that were defrauded?

The WSJ reports on this: "Erasing years of academic progress, state education officials on Wednesday acknowledged that hundreds of thousands of children had been misled into believing they were proficient in English and math, when in fact they were not." All of which calls for, not a simple turning of the page,as Chancellor Tisch suggests, but a full bore investigation of the fraud-who did it, who knew about it, and who, when they did know about it, stood around with a thumb up their sphincter.

We'll give Diane Ravitch the last word: "Diane Ravitch, an assistant U.S. education secretary during the first Bush administration and now a frequent critic of reform efforts in New York and across the country, went a step further. She praised the state's education commissioner for his "courageous, very brave and bold move," but added that "accountability means you find out who did it and have an investigation."