New York’s Declining Standards Exposed

New York’s testing and reporting system is reeling from yet another scandal about declining standards. It was revealed in the New York Post this week that students received credits in the last round of state tests for blatantly incorrect answers after failing to correctly add, subtract, multiply and divide. Some got credit for no answers at all.

The scoring guides for markers of the state tests reveal that students receive half-credit or more for showing fragments of work related to the problem even if they get the wrong answer or leave the answer blank.

Examples in the fourth-grade scoring guide include the following:

A student who answered that a 2-foot-long skateboard is 48 inches long got half-credit for adding 24 and 24 instead of the correct 12 plus 12.

A miscalculation that 28 divided by 14 equals 4 instead of 2 is “partially correct” if the student used the right method to verify the wrong answer.

Setting up a division problem to find one-fifth of $400, but not solving the problem—and leaving the answer blank—got half-credit.

A student who estimated the number of books in 35 boxes of 10 got half-credit despite incorrect multiplication that yielded the wrong answer, 150 instead of 350.

The questions on the test asked students to show their work. The scoring guidelines, called “holistic rubrics,” require that points be given if a student’s attempt at an answer reflects a “partial understanding” of the math concept, “addresses some element of the task correctly,” or uses the “appropriate process” to arrive at a wrong solution. Despite getting an incorrect answer, students can get 1 point on a 2-point problem and 1 or 2 points on a 3-pointer.

Teachers who had been trained to mark the tests said they were stunned about some instructions in the scoring guide. One teacher had scored the state tests for several years, said that “this time it was more outrageous”. “You feel like you’re being forced to cheat”, she said.

A former of data analysis for New York City schools, said that students deserve a little credit for partial knowledge but agreed the scoring system “raises some questions about whether it’s too generous”.

Julia Gillard’s mentor, New York City Schools Chancellor, Joel Klein has been trumpeting the success of his reforms in boosting student achievement. But, this year it was revealed that standards for passing tests have declined as the number of points needed to pass proficiency levels has, in most cases, steadily dropped. For example, 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%.

The new revelations demonstrate yet another way New York has been able to boost its results – giving over-generous credits for incorrect answers and no answers. It is no wonder that 85% of New York City elementary and middle schools received an ‘A’ grade last year compared to only 38% in 2008.

Standards have declined under the pressure to improve school results. The tests used to grade New York’s schools have gotten easier, so students and schools get higher grades.

It is no wonder that Professor of Education at New York University and former US Assistant Secretary of Education, Diane Ravitch, says that New York’s school reporting model is a system of “institutionalised lying” which produces “rigged and fraudulent” results.

Yet, this is the model from which Julia Gillard has drawn inspiration for reporting school results in Australia. It is a mockery of accountability and transparency.

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