Who Dumbed Down?
February 22nd, 2011

For those of you who missed it over the holiday weekend, Sunday’s Post featured an illuminating look at how New York State dumbed down its standardized tests. Among other things she zeroes in on the time frame — 2007 to 2009 — details the extent of the changes that turned New York Sate into an academic Lake Woebegone and traces the changes back to then state education commissioner Richard Mills.

For example, Edelman finds that in 2006 sixth grader had to correctly answer 16 of 39 question to get a level two (out of a possible four) — the lowest level need to get promoted in New York City. By 2009, the students only had to get 7 questions right.

Edelman makes it clear that the test results provided a major boon to Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who used the scores to good advantage in his narrow 2009 re-election victory,

When Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch cast doubt on the validity of the huge jump in the 2009 scores — released shortly before the election — city officials got “very angry,” an identified insider told Edelman.

A closer look at city scores reveals a significant correlation between the easier tests and the rising scores. They cast doubt not only on the results of the so-called Bloomberg reforms in New York City but on the conventional wisdom that the reforms of Bloomberg and like-minded officials have created huge successes.

In light of Edelman’s article, it is worth noting that the really steep rise in city test scores did not begin until 2006. By the time Joel Klein took over the school system in 2002, scores in English and math had been inching up. From 2002 to 2003 — before the Bloomberg/Klein changes kicked in, math scores rose so sharply that some wondered whether they could derail major changes planned by then-schools Chancellor Joel Klein.

“The suggestion that city schools are on the upswing put Chancellor Joel I. Klein, who is overhauling them, in a tricky position,” the Times wrote, as “the chancellor’s critics pounced upon the higher scores as evidence that the school system did not need such an overhaul.”

The scores continued to move upward for a few years. Then math scores dipped from 2005 to 2006 and from 2006 to 20707 English scores remained flat. Klein blamed a harder test for the 2006 drop.

He would not have to worry about that much longer. Perhaps encouraged by the federal No Child Left Behind law, which demands student meet proficiency requirement but lets each state set those requirements itself, Mills and CTB/McGraw Hill, hired to administer the test, became relaxing standards, Edelman writes.

Between 2006 and 2008, the percent of city public school students performing at or above grade level in math leaped by more than17 percentage points. The rise in reading over that period, while less staggering was still significant.

Patting himself on the back Mayor Michael Bloomberg called the 2008 scores a cal for celebration, and continued, “It’s also a clarion call to show what you can do, and to get us to be more determined and to get everybody behind us to keep going ahead and not to try to find out what’s wrong, but to take what’s obviously right and build on it.

But as Mills and Bloomberg hailed the results, skepticism grew. The increases, University of Iowa testing expert Andrew Ho told the Times “are on the order of what you might see in a 25-year trend on the national assessment. Even the most pro-testing regime would have to admit there is a small component of inflation at the very least here.”

With the mayor running in 2009, scores rose again. During his campaign, he trumpeted scores showing 82 percent of New York City student performing at or grade level in math and 69 percent in English, up 25 percentage point and 18.3 percentage points respectively in three years. This compares with far smaller increase of 15 percent and 12.7 percent over the previous four-year-period.

No matter how you look at them, Klein said, the picture is one that shows that the city is making dramatic progress.

As skepticism mounted, Edelman reports, Mills stood by his scores. Then, she writes, in 2009 he was “encouraged” to leave.

The state decided to recalibrate the scores — changing the score a student had to achieve to be considered proficient. (Changes in the test itself are said to be on the way as well.)

City achievement plummeted — 54 percent — not 69 — met the standards in English, and in math only 61 percent were considered to be, down sharply from the 2009 level of 82 percent.

The new scores did uphold one achievement of the Bloomberg years: narrowing the gap between students in the city and those in the rest of the state. That could offer scant comfort given that, in the state as a whole, only 61 percent of students meet standards for math and just slightly more than half — 53 percent for English.

The change in score, though, virtually wiped out the purported gain in erasing the achievement gap among races. By our calculation, the gap between Asians and whites on one side of the chasm and blacks and Latinos on the other remained at about 32 percentage points — almost exactly where it had been when Bloomberg began rearranging the schools in 2002.

With the sobering fall in scores last summer, Bloomberg endorsed the state’s effort to smarten up its testing. “The best way to improve student achievement is to demand higher results because we should never doubt our students ability,” the mayor said.

But reading Edelman’s report, it seems that may not have always been the case.

Betty Rosa, a former Bronx superintendent on the state Board of Regents, said she tried to sound the alarm. “Why are we celebrating these scores as a miracle when there is no miracle,” Rosa said she asked in 2009.

Rosa apparently never got an answer.

By the time the answers did come, Bloomberg was ensconced in office for a third term and New York was hailed as an example for school systems throughout the country.

By on February 22, 2011, 5:38 pm
In category: City Hall,Civil Rights,Education,Electoral Politics | Comments Off on Who Dumbed Down?

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