New York City’s Bogus School Results

Diane Ravitch, Professor of Education at New York University and former US Assistant Secretary of Education, says that the latest school results in New York City are bogus.

Writing in the New York Daily News, Ravitch says the City’s school reporting system, so admired by Federal Education Minister Julia Gillard, makes a mockery of accountability. When nearly every school gets an A or B there is no accountability.

Ravitch attributes the massive increase in schools being graded A or B to a collapse in standards in the New York State tests in recent years.

Earlier this year, the Daily News [7 June] revealed that test questions have been getting easier. It reported an investigation by Columbia University’s Jennifer Jennings which found that the state asks nearly identical questions year after year. For example, at least 14 of the 30 multiple choice questions on the seventh-grade exam in 2009 had appeared in similar form in previous years. Only 55% of the specific math skills the state requires seventh-graders to learn were ever tested in the four years the exam has been given.

This predictability in test questions allows for intensive preparation of students which has corrupted the results. Test experts said that students are essentially tipped off as to which specific items are going to be on the test and this undermines the validity of the test.

With teachers administering daily practice tests containing questions very nearly the same as those that would appear on the state tests, it became easier for students to become “proficient.”

As a result, test scores are increasing massively. The number of students at the lowest level – those who are at risk of being held back in their grade – has dropped dramatically. In sixth-grade reading, 10.1% (7,019) were at Level 1 in 2006, but only 0.2% (146) were by 2009. In fifth-grade reading, the proportion of Level 1 students fell from 8.9% in 2006 (6,120) to 1.0% (654) in 2009. In seventh-grade math, the proportion of Level 1 students plummeted from 18.8% (14,231 students) in 2006 to 2.1% (1,457) in 2009.

In almost every grade, the state has lowered the bar, making it easier for students to get a higher score. In 2006, students had to earn around 60% of the points on the state math tests to reach Level 3, which the state defines as proficiency, but by 2009, they needed to earn only 50%.

Ravitch says that New York City’s school report cards should be revised or scrapped. “We are reaching a perilous stage where the test scores go up while real education – the kind that is available in the best schools – disappears.”

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