Saturday, October 20, 2007

What About Those Test Scores?

With the New York City Department of Education all set to dole out merit pay bonuses to schools and teachers based on standardized test scores, we really ought to take a closer look at the claims the state and the city are making about their test score results.

Mayor Bloomberg and Chancellor Klein like to claim they have raised test scores on both city and state tests dramatically since they started their first reforms of the public school system back in 2002.

They like to throw around phrases like "record gains" and "best performance ever" when describing how well students are doing on tests now that they have implemented their reform and accountability movements (see this press release from for a sample of this kind of hype.)

The New York State Education Department also likes to brag how students' test scores have increased in recent years in both reading and math.

But as Diane Ravitch noted in a September 28th, 2007 City-Journal article, the latest federally-sponsored National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) test results showed that the state test score increases in reading and math that the New York State Education Department was bragging about back in May and June of this year were all hype.

On the state tests, the Education Department reported that eighth graders meeting state reading standards jumped from 49.3 percent to 57 percent - a remarkable one year jump considering there had been little movement in those scores in previous years. Similarly, the Ed Department reported the proportion of eighth-graders meeting the state’s math standards increased from 53.9 percent to 58.8 percent.

Yet when the NAEP results were released in September, they showed very different results:

Only in fourth-grade mathematics did New York students post a solid gain, from a scale score of 238 in 2005 to 243 in 2007. In eighth-grade mathematics, where the state claimed big increases on its own tests, the NAEP scale score was 280 in 2005 and 280 in 2007.

In fourth-grade reading, New York’s scale score went from 223 in 2005 to 224 in 2007, not a significant change. In eighth-grade reading, New York’s scale score went from 265 in 2005 to 264 in 2007, again not a significant change.

Ravitch says the NAEP is "known in the education world as the gold standard of testing" and "has been collecting test samples of students in the states since 1992." After No Child Left Behind was passed into law in 2002, the NAEP has become an "external monitor" of the states' own claims for progress on test scores.

New York State has failed its external monitoring test on its claims for test score progress.

Unfortunately few people know about the discrepancies between the state's test score results and the federal test score results because the NAEP test score article was buried on page A20 of the NY Times.

Funny how that works - the "good" testing news gets trumpeted on the front page of the papers while the "bad" testing news gets hidden deep in the National or Metro sections.

Ravitch also notes how the NY Daily News has reported that the 2005 state math tests were much easier than those given in 2002 (and lo and behold, the 2005 test scores went up!) while the NY Sun has reported that the latest state reading tests are also easier than in previous years (and of course those scores have increased as well.)

Ironically, it was a United Federation of Teachers-sponsored analysis of the state's reading tests that found the state is dumbing them down. Randi Weingarten actually told the Sun that:

"It's part of why I keep saying, be careful about data. Standardized test scores can't be used for these high-stakes measures for kids or for teachers," she said.

Of course that comment was issued last month before Weingarten agreed to allow these same suspect standardized test scores to be used to dole out merit pay bonuses to some schools and teachers in the system.

Not surprisingly, Weingarten said nothing about the suspect test scores at the press conference she held with Mayor Bloomberg and Chancellor Klein to announce the merit pay program based on test score results.

Bloomberg, Klein, Weingarten, most of the press and nearly all of the so-called "education-reformers" continue to ignore the elephant in the room - the scores on these state and city tests are suspect at best and fraudulent at worst.

If we could get an independent panel of testing experts to look at the city and state tests, I have little doubt that they would find institutionalized cheating at the both city and state level where they are creating the tests and the grading rubrics.

I have little doubt a panel of independent experts would also recommend changing in-house grading for these high-stakes tests. Having teachers and administrators grade the tests their schools are evaluated on and their compensation will be partly based on is like having a baseball team umpire itself.

The state and the city will never agree to a truly independent panel of experts to look at their testing methodologies, of course.

For years, Chancellor Klein refused to create an independent panel of researchers and auditors to look at his education reforms and test scores.

This year he finally did agree to create such a panel, but he stacked it with cronies and hacks:

Critics note that Klein and teachers union President Randi Weingarten will serve on the board.

Other board members will include Robert Hughes of New Visions for Public Schools, a school reform nonprofit organization with many ties to the city schools; Kathryn Wylde of the Partnership for New York City, a business group, and Chung-Wha Hong of the New York Immigration Coalition.


Sol Stern of the Manhattan Institute, a conservative think tank, said, "The whole thing is a fraud.

"Every one of these people has a stake and an interest in what the research will show," he said.

The whole thing certainly is a fraud - from the merit pay program based on suspect test score results to the school system that privileges tests and test prep over everything else.

And things are only going to get worse before they get better.

This year, Klein and Bloomberg have added 8 additional standardized tests to the curriculum - 4 in math and 4 in English.

The full battery of tests won't be given until 2008-2009 because the NYCDOE moved forward with the additional testing before the actual tests were created by McGraw-Hill, the company that received the lucrative testing contract.

Nonetheless you can be sure these tests will be as suspect as the current battery of city and state tests.

The mayor and the chancellor will nonetheless trumpet the results as proof positive that their constant reorganizations of the school system are working and many in the press will be happy to uncritically publish the stories on page A1. The so-called "education reformers" will agree and call for more standardized testing and more Bloombergian reform to public education.

And then a few years down the road, when all the current political hucksters, con artists and education reform swindlers touting standardized testing, merit pay based on test scores, public school privatization and the like move into retirement, honest people are going to look at the supposed test score increases and so-called improvement in student achievement and reveal them for what they are - dishonest and fraudulent.

And of course the real victims in all this are the students who are now subjected to 188+ days of test prep a year.

I just hope whatever jobs they take in the future require lots of bubbling and pencil sharpening.
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