Dumbing Down Test Scores
July 20th, 2010
Last year Mayor Michael Bloomberg equated school test scores with patient survival rates in hospitals. Well if one is to use that analogy, a report released by the state Department of Education yesterday made it clear that patients — students — may not be dying but they are none too healthy either.
Testing experts conducting a study for the state confirmed what many skeptics have long argued: The rising test scores recorded in the state as a whole and in the city came at least partly from simpler, more narrowly focused tests and a scale that made it easier for even struggling students to pass the standardized math and English tests.
Regardless of what one thinks of high stakes testing, if the goal of a test is to indicate a student’s preparedness for future academic work and even life, New York’s donít measure up. Many students considered proficient on the basis of middle school tests lack the skills to finish, let along thrive, in high school. If they manage to get to college, they need remedial work there. (The former head of the City Council higher education committee, Charles Barron said on numerous occasion that CUNY officials had complained to him about this.)
Reaction after the jump.
As the Post put it, “Eighth graders who score a 3 out of 4 on state math and reading tests have just a 52 percent chance of graduating high school, even though they’ve been told they’re on track. ”
Or to view it another way, as Joanne Jacobs did: “‘Proficient’ on New York’s test was equivalent to the 45th percentile on national tests in 2006 …. , the study finds. By 2009, students at the 20th percentile on national tests were being labeled proficient in New York.”
“We havenít been testing the right things in the right ways,” state Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch said in a statement. She said the state would raise “cut scores” for the different levels of proficiency, make exams longer and less predictable and test more areas. But, she continued, “More rigorous exams are only one piece of … a vision that includes a more challenging curriculum, better training for teachers and principals, and a world-class data system. ”
The higher cutoff scores will go into effect on tests students took this spring, likely leading to greater failure rates than in recent years. Whether this will mean that some students who expected to be promoted will now have to repeat a grade remains to be seen.
The report will not come as news to some teachers,
said Robert Pondiscio in the Core Knowledge blog. He wrote, “For years, I saw fifth graders come into my Bronx classroom who were ostensibly on grade level yet demonstrated little command of basic arithmetic. That was plenty persuasive that all that glitters isnít gold.”
Some experts, such as education historian Diane Ravitch, questioned the Bloomberg schools’ success story. But by and large much of the mainstream media, many city politicians and the foundations and educators in other cities praised the Bloomberg Klein successes. The mayor rode to re-election partly on the basis of the higher test scores.
In an editorial the Daily News professed itself shocked, shocked, by the latest findings. “Students, parents, teachers and principals “are about to learn that education in New York is not what it was cracked up to be,” it said on Sunday, adding, “Over the last four years, the number of children deemed “proficient” on standardized English and math exams has steadily climbed, particularly in the city. … There is fresh and stunning evidence that New York’s definition of ‘proficient’ has been a fraud.”
Writing in Public School Parents, Leonie Haimson of Class Size Matters, a frequent Bloomberg critic, said, “What are the chances that now that Bloomberg has successfully won his battle to retain nearly unlimited control over our schools, and is in the midst of his third term, the editors of the News and the Times will apologize to their readers, and admit that the smell theyíve told us was roses was really an artificial chemical?”
While education officials in some cities expressed concern about the move toward tougher testing, Klein said he supported it. The education department also said the city results hold up because students in the five boroughs also recorded gains on national tests. (Actually that was a bit of a mixed bag.) “We’re proud that New York City students have far outpaced the rest of the state in recent years, demonstrating undeniable progress,” said city Education Department spokesman Matthew Mittenthal.
But one of the testing experts, Daniel Koretz, remained skeptical. “When one district shows bigger gains than another, it is not a reliable measure of anything,” he said.By Gail Robinson on July 20, 2010, 6:54 pm
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