Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Testing, Testing...

Jenny Medina follows up on her front page expose of the fallacious state school tests with a story that examines the validity of tests, qua tests: "These days, most topics in education seem to provoke an intense argument, with nuance often lost in the din of rhetoric. And perhaps nowhere is this more true and useless than in the debate around standardized tests. Such tests have been around for generations — in the form of SATs, Regents and a whole myriad of local tests around the country. But only in recent years have they gained such importance, as politicians and education leaders eagerly looked for an objective way to judge students, teachers and schools."

Now there are those who simply reject standardized tests in any manner, shape or form-but that to us elides the central theme in Monday's long evaluative piece-the state tests were useless in accurately measuring achievement, and Commissioner Mills knew that they were, but continued to ignore the blatant uselessness. If this were a car wreck, Mills would be charged with criminal negligence.

But Medina, in examining how the state could have been so blind, seems to back away from her stronger earlier conclusions: "After New York state officials came to the conclusion late this summer that tests here had indeed become too easy to pass, we set out to answer a seemingly simple question: How could this happen? The answers, which we laid out in a front-page article on Monday, were complicated. There was no one smoking gun, one key decision or mistake that led to everything else. Instead, there were policy decisions made over the course of a decade that eventually created a testing system that could easily be gamed."

Now hold on a minute! How about the fact that folks like Ravitch, Stern and Wolf were repeatedly blowing the whistle on the farce-and using the federal NAEP tests as a proper benchmark? Stern lays some of this out in the City Journal: "The best evidence of test-score inflation is the growing gap between the number of students that states deem proficient on their own tests—those they administer under the terms of NCLB—and the number deemed proficient by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), often referred to as the “nation’s report card.” One reason the federal NAEP tests are the gold standard in student assessment is that they can’t be gamed by teachers or administrators. Every two years, NAEP math and reading tests are given to a statistically valid sample of all fourth- and eighth-grade students in each state; teachers aren’t able to teach to the test, and school districts can’t offer students practice tests because no one knows ahead of time which students will be tested. And in nearly every state in the union, the NAEP exams deem far fewer students proficient than the state’s own exams do."

So, what's confusing about this? Mills simply knew and didn''t give a rat's ass-and someone should venture to determine why that was so. This was lying to parents and children in a fraudulent attempt to put lipstick on the NY school pig. Medina goes on to quote Deputy Commissioner King who seems to be someone you'd like to find so you can sell him a bridge:

"One of the most striking ideas I heard in the course of reporting the article came from John King, the state’s deputy education commissioner, who has created several charter schools and embraced accountability systems that rely on tests.

“If people had known what an effective lever the tests would be of driving behavior, I think they would have designed the tests differently,” he told me. Mr. King was not involved in creating the tests, and in fact, he looked at them frequently in his previous job as a charter school administrator. “I don’t think that anyone understood that the tests would then drive the whole system toward a focus on whatever was the content of the test.”

Ah, c'mon. We've had nine years with the master of the universe in charge of the city schools. Surely he knew. The NY Post was right about holding folks to account for the fraud-although it permitted the mayor his own droit de seigneur; allowing Bloomberg and Klein to perform their embarrassing pas de deux in full view of the entire city; as well as before an ingenuous press corps.

Reducing what has happened in the state and city over the past decade to a disagreement over the value of testing per se, is to obfuscate that egregious nature of the behavior of educational bureaucrats and the mayor of the City of NY-someone who took the fraudulent scores all the way to the political bank.