Media Release – “Creative Confusion” By Mr Klein

Save Our Schools today challenged the claims of visiting New York City Schools Chancellor, Joel Klein, about large increases in school performance shown in newly published report cards for the City’s schools.

SOS convenor, Trevor Cobbold, said that the results strain credibility and there are suspicions that school grades have been manipulated to boost results.

“Mr. Klein has said that his approach to managing the New York City public education system was to cause ‘some creative confusion’. His new school report cards have certainly succeeded in creating confusion about the real state of schools in the City. The New York Times said that many New Yorkers are ‘somewhat befuddled’ by inconsistencies with other test results for the City’s schools.

“The huge increase in the number of schools being graded as A is hard to believe. The new progress report show that the number of schools graded as A increased by 80% over the previous year and 70 per cent of schools that failed (F) last year received an A or B. A Columbia University academic has described these changes as ‘magical transformations’.

“Major inconsistencies between City, NY State and Federal assessments of the same schools have been revealed by the New York Times (16 September 2008). For example:

  • Two elementary schools that received an A in Klein’s report cards were added to the New York State’s list of failing schools this year.
  • In over 60 of the 394 elementary schools rated A by Klein’s report cards, more than half the students failed to reach proficiency on the New York State’s reading test.
  • 30% of the elementary schools deemed failures under the Federal No Child Left Behind Act received an A in the report cards, while 16 of the 18 schools given an F are rated satisfactory under Federal guidelines.

“The only independent check on student achievement in New York City shows a completely different picture from that claimed by Klein,” said Mr Cobbold.

“The results of the National Assessment of Education Progress administered by the US Department of Education show that student achievement in New York City has stagnated since 2003. The achievement gaps between Blacks and Whites, between Hispanics and Whites and between low and high income students are as large as they were when Klein began to overhaul the system.”

Mr Cobbold said there was added confusion because the cut-off scores for each letter grade were reduced for the 2007-08 tests (see attached table).

“The reductions in cut-off scores have raised suspicions that the data was manipulated to artificially boost the results.

“This year, 79% of elementary schools received an A or B compared to 71% last year and 83% of high schools received an A or B compared to 65% last year. Virtually all of the increase in elementary schools and about two-thirds of the increase for high schools appears due to the reduction in grade cut-off scores. If last year’s cut-off points had been used, only 72% of elementary schools would be rated as A or B, almost no change from last year, and only 71% of high schools.

“The reduction in cut-off scores is not even mentioned in the list of changes to the school progress reports appended to the new technical guides to the reports published by the Department of Education. The guides for last year’s reports stated the cut-off scores ‘will be used for the next several years’. They lasted only one year before being revised down.

“Clearly, Mr. Klein has some explaining to do before his claims can be taken seriously.”

Mr Cobbold warned against adopting the New York City’s school reports in Australia.

“The New York City system of school reports lacks credibility and reliability. US education experts have criticised it variously as ‘inherently unreliable’, ‘dubious’, ‘baroque’ and producing ‘bizarre results’. Its methodology is so arcane and arbitrary that it is open to manipulation in a variety of ways to artificially boost results.

“Adopting such a model in Australia would lead to inaccurate and misleading comparisons of school performance. Experience with publishing school results elsewhere in the United States and England shows that they increase social segregation and inequity in education and stigmatise low income and ethnic students as failures.

“Publication of school results is heavily criticised in England for these reasons. Wales and Northern Ireland have stopped publishing school performance tables in recent years because they are unreliable and inaccurate measures of school quality and create perverse incentives.

“Governments all around Australia know where the problems are in our schools. We don’t need a reporting system which has already failed to prove its worth to find this out. What is needed is a real commitment of resources to disadvantaged students and schools.”

24 November 2008

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