The New York Fraud

The school reporting system so admired by Julia Gillard has been exposed as a massive fraud against the public, families and students in New York City.

Last weekend, the New York Times ran an article that pointed out that a student could pass the 7th grade maths test by getting only 44 percent of the questions right. The passing mark had dropped so far that students could actually pass by random guessing.

Three years ago, the threshold for passing was 60 percent. In fact, students in every grade this year could pass with fewer correct answers on the math test than in 2006. Standards have also declined for most grades on the English tests.

These lower passing rates on state tests have contributed to the massive increase in the number of New York City elementary and middle schools that received a grade of A or B this year.

The falling standards have also seen a massive increase in the proportion of students achieving the “proficiency” standard in the past three years. According to Diane Ravitch, Professor of Education at New York University, the proportion of students who are allegedly “proficient” leapt from 29 percent to 63 percent in Buffalo, from 30 percent to 58 percent in Syracuse, and from 57 percent to 82 percent in New York City.

In 2006, a student had to earn 60 percent of the points on the state tests in math to be proficient; by 2009, the student needed to earn only 50 percent. Ravitch says that the public does not know that the bar has been quietly lowered.

And, this is happening not only in New York, but also in Chicago, whose education system was run by the current US Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan. Last June, a report was published showing that test score gains in the city were mostly a result of the state’s decision to lower the cut scores on the state tests.

The New York Times raised the pertinent question:

At a time when the tests are assuming an unprecedented role in classrooms across the state — used for everything from analyzing student deficiencies to determining which educators deserve cash bonuses — the debate underscores a central question: How accurate are the exams in measuring student learning and progress, and what skills should a passing grade reflect?

New York State education officials say that they have not made it easier to pass the tests. They said that the scoring thresholds have dropped because the test questions themselves have actually become harder. As a result, they have reduced the number of correct answers required to pass some exams to make the tests comparable over the years.

The officials failed to explain why passing rates had soared if indeed the test was harder and comparable to previous years. “Apparently the officials think that the rest of us are fools,” said Ravitch.

Publishing school results inevitably leads to pressures to rort the results and lower standards to ensure that results continually improve. This is seen time and again in systems that adopt this approach. Not only are education standards corrupted by such actions, but education systems and public accountability are also corrupted. As Diane Ravitch observes:

When states play games with cut scores and conversions from raw scores to scale scores, testing becomes a mighty scam….When district officials know that the scores are manipulated, yet report their “gains” with a straight face, they become complicit in these lies. When public officials boast about score gains knowing that the scores are the result of game-playing, they too are complicit.

And this is the system Julia Gillard is taking inspiration from. Heaven help us all.

Trevor Cobbold

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