New York Test Standards are Revealed as Too Low

It’s official! New York’s amazing test results have been exposed as fraudulent in a study by researchers from Harvard and New York universities. Julia Gillard, take note.

According to the study done for the Board of Regents, which supervises all education services in New York state, the state tests have become easier to pass and achieve the proficiency standard in recent years. For example, students who received the minimum score to pass the state mathematics tests in 2007 were in the 36th percentile of all students nationally, but in 2009 they had dropped to the 19th percentile.

“That is a huge, massive difference,” Dr. David Steiner, the Education Commissioner of the Board of Regents, told the New York Times [19 July 2010].

The study shows that while test scores have increased significantly across the state and in New York City at every grade level, there were no similar gains on other measurements, including national tests. “The only possible conclusion is that something strange has happened to our test,” the Commissioner said.

Dr. Steiner said that the exams had tested a narrow part of the curriculum, particularly in mathematics, and that questions were often repeated year to year, with a few details changed. As a result, students who practice the tests are likely to do well. Intensive test practice is standard preparation for the state tests in New York schools.

The study also shows that even though a greater percentage of elementary and middle school students are passing the state tests than several years ago, many of these students are not well prepared for high school or college.

Many middle school students who meet the state’s proficiency standards move on to high school with little chance of passing the Regents exams required for graduation. For example, students who received a pass grade on the 8th grade mathematics test had a one-in-three chance of scoring highly enough on the Regents mathematics exam in high school to be considered prepared for college mathematics.

Moreover, those who do pass the Regents exams, even by a wide margin, are graduating without the skill level to get into college or, if they get in, to pass their courses. According to the analysis, students who score below an 80 on their maths Regents exams, which is well over the 65 required to pass, stand a good chance of being placed in remedial math courses in college. Many of these will not even get to college because their chances of scoring well on the college entry tests are low.

The study was sponsored by the Board of Regents in response to growing public criticism and scepticism of state test scores. In recent years, teachers, parents and much of the New York media have viewed climbing test scores with incredulity. Professor of Education at New York University, Diane Ravitch, has described New York’s school testing and reporting as a system of “institutionalized lying” which produces “rigged and fraudulent” results.

In 2006, students had to earn around 60% on the state math tests to reach Level 3, which the state defines as proficiency, but by 2009, they needed to earn only 50%. Last year, 86% of students achieved the proficiency standard compared to 66% in 2006; 77% were deemed proficient in English compared to 62% three years earlier. In the same year, 85% of New York City elementary and middle schools received an ‘A’ grade, compared to only 38% in 2008, and 97% achieved an A or a B grade.

New York City mayor, Michael Bloomberg, and Schools Chancellor, Joel Klein, used the test results as evidence of the success of their leadership and changes to public education including grading schools on their results. Julia Gillard, as Federal Education Minister, slavishly accepted their claims and used the New York school reporting model as inspiration for My School.

State education officials argued the critics were wrong and the tests had not been made easier to pass. They said that the scoring thresholds were dropped because the test questions had become harder.

Now the critics have been proved correct. Even state officials have been forced to accept the verdict. Commissioner Steiner told the New York Times that the tests would be made more difficult in the future. They will cover more material and have higher proficiency levels.

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