Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Massive Testing Fraud

Jenny Medina has a real blockbuster expose of the fraudulent nature-and use-of NY State school test scores: "When New York State made its standardized English and math tests tougher to pass this year, causing proficiency rates to plummet, it said it was relying on a new analysis showing that the tests had become too easy and that score inflation was rampant. But evidence had been mounting for some time that the state’s tests, which have formed the basis of almost every school reform effort of the past decade, had serious flaws."

Why was this mounting evidence ignored? Political expediency comes to mind as a useful explanatory tool: "The fast rise and even faster fall of New York’s passing rates resulted from the effect of policies, decisions and missed red flags that stretched back more than 10 years and were laid out in correspondence and in interviews with city and state education officials, administrators and testing experts. The process involved direct warnings from experts that went unheeded by the state, and a city administration that trumpeted gains in student performance despite its own reservations about how reliably the test gauged future student success." (Wonder why? Emphasis added)

But we have been all over this for some time-here, here, here and here-relying on the expertise of Diane Ravitch, Sol Stern and Andy Wolf. But Medina does a nice job bringing all of the disparate pieces together; and what she reveals is a conspiracy of the highest order coming right out of Mike Bloomberg's camp: "New York has been a national model for how to carry out education reform, so its sudden decline in passing rates may be seen as a cautionary tale. The turnaround has also been a blow to Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and his chancellor, Joel I. Klein, who despite warnings that a laserlike focus on raising scores could make them less and less reliable, lashed almost every aspect of its school system to them. Schools were graded on how much their scores rose and threatened with being closed if they did not. The scores dictated which students were promoted or left back, and which teachers and principals would receive bonuses."

How fast can you say, house of cards? But Kleinberg continues to double down-and double talk at the same time: "Even now, the city believes that the way it uses the tests is valid. The mayor and the chancellor have forcefully defended their students’ performance, noting that even after the changes this year, student scores are still better than they were in 2002. They have argued that their students’ progress is more important than the change in the passing rate, and that years of gains cannot be washed away because of a decision in Albany to require more correct answers from every student this year."

This is, charitably, a debatable point-and even if some incremental progress has been made, at what cost? After all the ed budget has ballooned in the past nine years, and one can be justified in asking if the alleged small advances have been cost effective. The famed educator Howard Wolfson explains things for us, however: "This mayor uses data and metrics to determine whether policies are failing or succeeding,” said Howard Wolfson, the deputy mayor for government affairs and communications. He also helped run Mr. Bloomberg’s re-election campaign in 2009, using the city’s historic rise in test scores to make the case for a third term. “We believe that testing is a key factor for determining the success of schools and teachers.”

So, after the test scores that were used to pump up the mayor's mayoral control grasp-not to mention his usurped third term-have been exposed as fraudulent, his key advisor actually has the hubris to champion Bloomberg's use of, "metrics?" ( a word that conveys a faux technical sophistication, but is little more than lipstick on the test score pig) Being the city's second richest man means that you never have to say you're sorry, it seems.

The point here is a simple one; in utilizing bloated test scores that they had reason to believe were fraudulent, the Bloombergistas were playing a dishonest con game on NYC voters: "The city’s Department of Education constantly mines test score data for patterns to show where improvement is happening and where it is needed. In 2008, it noticed an incongruity: Eighth graders who scored at least a 3 on the state math exam had only a 50 percent chance of graduating from high school four years later with a Regents diploma, which requires a student to pass a certain number of tests in various subjects and is considered the minimum qualification for college readiness. The city realized that the test results were not as reliable as the state was leading people to believe."

Did this realization lead the mayor to any sudden outbreak of honesty? You're kidding, right? Damn  the nuances, full speed ahead:

"The 2009 numbers came out as the mayor was trying to accomplish two goals: to persuade the Legislature to give the mayor control of the schools for another seven years; and to convince city voters that he deserved a third term. Mr. Bloomberg’s opponent, Comptroller William C. Thompson, had once been president of the Education Board. “Mike Bloomberg changed that system,” said one of the mayor’s campaign advertisements. “Now, record graduation rates. Test scores up, violence down. So when you compare apples to apples, Thompson offers politics as usual. Mike Bloomberg offers progress.” In his debates, Mr. Bloomberg hammered home the theme. “If anybody thinks that the schools were better when Bill ran them, they should vote for him,” he said in one face-off. “And if anybody thinks they’re better now, I’d be honored to have their vote.” Indeed, according to exit polls, 57 percent of those who said education was their primary concern voted for Mr. Bloomberg, who won the election by a five-point margin."

Talk about being sold a bill of good-some metrics; but the following Wolfson observation informs us just why he gets the big bucks: "Mr. Wolfson, the deputy mayor and 2009 campaign strategist, said the mayor had no regrets about focusing on the exams as a matter of policy, and during the election. “What’s the converse?” he said. “The converse is that we don’t test and we have no way of judging success or failure. Either you believe in standards or tests, or you don’t — and life is not like that. There are tests all the time.”

Sheer double talk-and the use of tests qua tests is simply a straw man. It isn't about the utilization of tests, it's about the use of phony tests-and Wolfson should be embarrassed by the fraud, but instead vehemently defends the indefensible like the little kid in the school yard who has a tough big brother.

So, in the end-after an additional $10 billion or so more in educational spending (not to mention the forever pension obligations that much of this spending will entail)-what do we really have to show for the Bloomberg educational miracle? And while we're asking this question, why not ask the follow up one: where is the responsibility for the way in which the press bought the fallacious Bloomberg educational Great Leap Forward? Isn't it time for a massive mea culpa from the editorialists at both the NY Daily News and the NY Post?

We are left after all of the lying and misdirection with a testing regime that is being fully remodeled-a sad indicator of the failure of educational bureaucrats-and their political enablers-to provide an honest assessment of the educational achivements of NY's school children. We'll give Medina and Merryl Tisch the last word on this sordid tale:

"Although the Regents did not immediately opt to create an entirely new test, Ms. Tisch and David Steiner, the new education commissioner, asked Professor Koretz, who had been rebuffed in previous requests, to analyze the ones that were in use. His conclusion — and that of another researcher, Jennifer L. Jennings — was that the tests had become too easy, and hence the scores were inflated. That led the State Education Department to raise the number of correct answers required to pass each test. The state intends to rewrite future tests to encompass a broader range of material, and will stop publicly releasing them.

“We came in here saying we have to stop lying to our kids,” Ms. Tisch said in a recent interview. “We have to be able to know what they do and do not know.”