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August 5, 2009
Howard Wolfson on city test scores: "The numbers don't lie"
Mayor Bloomberg's chief spokesman for his reelection campaign, Howard Wolfson, brushed aside claims that the city's test scores and graduation rates are inflated in an appearance on NY1's "Road to City Hall" last night. "If we can't talk about the data, then why are we even having a conversation?" he said. Wolfson came to talk about the mayor's new transit initiative, but he ended up spending much of the interview discussing the mayor's education record, which is shaping up to be a centerpiece of his campaign. Wolfson only become animated when host Dominic Carter noted that some critics believe that the city and state have found ways to artificially inflate the numbers. "I mean, yes, they can say crime rate really isn't low, you're cooking the books. Test scores are not dramatically higher, you're cooking the books. Yes, you can say that about anything. I can say that about the stratospheric ratings that you enjoy every night, oh, you're cooking the books. The fact is, the numbers are what they are," Wolfson said. Carter prodded Wolfson with an example of numbers that do lie, citing times when medical examiners have been encouraged to withhold death reports until the following year, lowering the city's murder rate in key election cycles.
August 4, 2009
Calls for investigation into test credibility go unanswered
State Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch is calling for state exams to be more "defensible," but a study investigating test score credibility requested a year ago by the state's testing oversight board has still not received a go-ahead. The committee first formally asked the state education department to join an academic study on the state tests in the fall of 2008, said chair Howard Everson. The education department declined but did not rule out future participation. Since then, Everson has received no requests to revisit the idea, he said in an interview yesterday. "It's hard to trust the data right now," said Everson, a psychometrician who is also a senior fellow at the City University of New York. Everson's committee, the state Technical Advisory Group, is charged with monitoring the state testing process.
August 3, 2009
DOE: Budget cuts fuel social studies, science score shortfalls
City schools are scoring higher on state math and reading tests, but they remain near the bottom of all districts statewide on science and social studies tests, a situation that schools officials attribute to budget cuts. Although social studies and science scores rose last year, they remain very low compared to scores in the rest of the state. Only five of the city's 32 school districts performed scored at better than the 10th percentile in science, meaning that 90 percent of districts statewide scored better than 27 city districts. In contrast, 18 districts scored at the 10th percentile or higher in math. Even in high-performing districts, fourth and eighth graders perform poorly on science and social studies tests compared to other students in the state. For example, Manhattan's District 2 outperformed 86 percent of districts in the state in math. In reading, District 2 students beat out students in 78 percent of districts. But in science, the district scored in just the 27th percentile, meaning that 73 percent of districts had higher average science scores. The discrepancy, highlighted in the test score comparison tool launched by the New York Times today, gives ammunition to critics who say the city schools have focused so much on math and reading that they have given short shrift to other subjects. The early years of Mayor Bloomberg's Children First reforms did focus most heavily on math and reading, a department spokesman said today. Now, the city is trying to boost science and social studies performance by introducing some of the same strategies that worked for math and reading, such as offering a standardized curriculum in each subject, said the spokesman, Will Havemann.
August 3, 2009
Commission on test scores and tenure may never materialize
As the lure of federal stimulus money puts new pressure on states to use test scores in tenure decisions, a New York commission that was supposed to study that very issue is making its absence felt. Last spring, in return for passing legislation that put a two-year hold on allowing principals to use students' test scores in teacher evaluations, state, city, and teachers union officials agreed to establish a commission to study the matter. Though the state Senate passed a bill to create the commission, no Assembly member ever introduced the bill, allowing it to die just as the 2008 session came to a close. In the wake of the bill's demise, state and union officials have pointed to each other when asked whom to blame for the Assembly's inaction. With the law distancing student data from tenure evaluations set to expire on July 1, 2010, some believe the legislature will let the law sunset without creating the commission. Timothy Kremer, executive director of the New York State School Boards Association, said he has been lobbying lawmakers to study how to integrate student test scores into tenure decisions. "The teachers unions are very close with the Assembly, and they did not want this [the commission] to happen," Kremer said, adding that he did not believe the legislature would create the commission before the law expires. "We just have not been able to get any traction on this," he said.
August 3, 2009
State standardized tests scores are up, but what does that mean?
Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Chancellor Joel Klein's emphasis on standardized test scores appears to be working: an analysis of state test scores before and after mayoral control reveals "a broad and steady march upward," the Times' Elissa Gootman and Robert Gebeloff report. The rates of New York City students passing standardized English and math tests have risen at a faster pace than statewide passing rates overall, and Queens and Staten Island have gone from among the lowest-scoring counties in the state to among the best, according to the Times' report. The story mentions in passing that the results of the 2007 federal National Association of Educational Progress showed no significant progress among New York City's eighth-grade students during Mayor Bloomberg's tenure. Some experts claim that NAEP scores may be a better measure of overall student performance because it's more difficult to engage in direct test preparation and thus less vulnerable to score inflation. But Klein dismissed those concerns, telling the Times that the state tests are a valid measure of learning:
July 17, 2009
Arne Duncan's push to change teacher laws posts Hoosier victory
Will Obama officials succeed in their mission to use the Race to the Top fund to re-write state education laws? The state of Indiana, where a recent down-to-the-wire budget session featured a teacher-evaluation mini drama, offers some clues. The drama began with pressure from the Obama administration to repeal a law banning the use of student test scores in teacher evaluations. Alarmed, state education officials lobbied the state legislature, and lawmakers acted, inserting a repeal of the law into the state's budget. But mere hours before the new budget passed, lawmakers at the state House removed the repeal at the request of the teachers' union. The final budget includes a roundabout compromise allowing districts to use student data to assess teachers — but only in cases where federal grant money requires it. "We had a clear message from the secretary [Arne Duncan] that we were putting our ability to compete for the Race to the Top Funds at risk," a spokesman for the Indiana Department of Education, Cam Savage, said. State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett has communicated frequently with the federal education department about Indiana's strengths in the competition for grant funds, Savage said. Bans on using student test scores to assess teachers seem to be the next group of laws on the Department of Education's watch list. States and districts already took note after Obama administration officials used the threat of denying Race to the Top funds to push against state laws limiting the spread of charter schools. Lawmakers in at least eight states have passed or introduced legislation since the end of May to lift their charter caps.
June 5, 2009
Robert Jackson takes a last, passionate stand on mayoral control
City Council Member Robert Jackson at an Assembly hearing on mayoral control earlier this year. (Via GothamSchools Flickr) A City Council hearing today on mayoral control became a chance for a chief critic of the power structure to lay out his concerns — a kind of last stand as top lawmakers and advocates move to a more moderate compromise. The state's top two lawmakers have embraced keeping a majority of power with the mayor, and their statements led union president Randi Weingarten to back away from a push to yank that majority. But Council member Robert Jackson, who chairs the education committee and served on his district's community school board for 15 years, did not appear to be affected by the changing tide at today's hearing. For more than six hours, he fielded testimony from people explaining how they have been hurt under mayoral control: schools phased out without consultation from the Department of Education, charter schools operating with better supplies than traditional public schools, and the powerless feeling of serving on the new generation of school boards, Community Education Councils. Few expressed support for the current system. During cross examinations, Jackson offered his own criticism of mayoral control. At times, he could barely restrain his frustration. “Talk is cheap,” he told Schools Chancellor Joel Klein, saying he had requested information from the DOE several months ago and had yet to obtain it. “I wish you’d pick up the phone and call me,” Klein responded. “I should not have to pick up the phone! It’s a continuous problem,” Jackson shot back.
June 2, 2009
In Times' test score coverage, two ledes and two stories
The New York Times appears to have gone with two different versions of the math scores story. The beginning of the story that made it online yesterday takes a more critical look at the scores, emphasizing Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch's cautious stance. However, the first several paragraphs in the version that ran in print today (which, yes, had to be pointed out to us by someone over 40) highlight the city's math score gains and quote Mayor Bloomberg celebrating the news as evidence of his administration's success. Further down, today's story includes the voices of experts who questioned the significance of the results, which yesterday's story did not have. Both were bylined by education reporter Javier Hernandez -- his response is below. Monday's online version: New York City's public school students showed large gains on state math tests this year, particularly in the middle school grades, the State Education Department announced on Monday. But officials cautioned that the results could be overstated and said that the state was considering making it harder to pass the tests. In New York City, 82 percent of students in grades three through eight passed the test, compared with 74 percent last year. Statewide, 86 percent of students passed the test this year, compared with 81 percent last year.
June 1, 2009
New state math scores reflect "measured gains," officials say
A slide from the state's test score PowerPoint presentation The results of the 2009 state math test are in, and state officials are welcoming them as a sign of overall, if modest, improvement. More students across the state in grades 3-8 met the proficiency standards than in the previous four years, with 86.4 percent of them scoring proficient, compared to 80.7 percent last year and just 65 percent in 2006, when the state instituted a new math curriculum. In New York City, the percentage of students that met the state's proficiency standard jumped to 81.8 percent this year from 74.3 percent in 2008. Unlike with this year's reading test scores, the math test scores showed similar increases in the percentage of students testing as proficient or better and the scale scores that students posted. Statewide, scale scores, which are considered the most statistically useful way to evaluate test score gains, rose by six points in 2009. New York City slightly edged out the rest of the state, with an 8-point scale score gain.
June 1, 2009
Math test scores to be released today, with a Webcast at 11 a.m.
Scores from the state math tests that students in grades 3-8 took earlier this spring will be released later this morning. You can watch the…
May 13, 2009
After waiting anxiously for scores, a teacher finds them useless
Much ado is made every year about how students do on state tests. But are individual students’ test scores useful for them and their teachers?…
May 7, 2009
State officials herald "moderate" progress on English test
A screenshot (including a caption) from today's online press conference about state test scores, featuring State Education Commissioner Richard Mills and Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch. More students across New York State scored proficient on the state reading and writing test this year than ever before, and gains by black and Hispanic students drove the improvements. The difference between white and black students' average scores is now at 18 points, down from 28 in 2006. More students in New York City scored proficient, too; proficiency rose 18 percentage points to 69 percent from 51 percent in 2006. According to the city Department of Education, the difference between the percentage of black and Hispanic children who scored proficient on the test and the percentage of white students who did now stands at 22 percentage points, down from more than 29 three years ago. State school leaders described the gains across New York as "moderate" because much of the increases were driven by a greater proportion of children just squeaking past the proficiency cutoff, State Education Commissioner Richard Mills explained during a press conference this morning. The difference comes from looking at the actual scale scores students received, rather than the percentage of students deemed proficient. Scale scores are considered the most statistically useful way to evaluate test score gains. (Aaron Pallas has written about this on GothamSchools.) Mills explained the distinction by providing three ways to look at this year's sixth-grade scores. The first is by looking purely at what proportion of students in the grade tested at basic proficiency. According to that metric, 81 percent of this year's sixth-graders met proficiency, compared to 60.4 percent of sixth-graders in 2006, the first year of a new statewide curriculum and testing program. Looking at proficiency over time, 69 percent of children in 3rd grade in 2006 met standards; those are the same children who posted an 81 percent proficiency rating as sixth-graders this year. But the scale scores of that same cohort of children actually dropped slightly over the same period, from 669 to 667.
May 7, 2009
Reading scores will be announced, and Web-cast, this morning
State school officials will announce the results of this year’s state English tests this morning, at 11 a.m. To watch the news conference live, either…
April 30, 2009
After a DOE official tries to rebut her, Diane Ravitch responds
The Department of Education and Diane Ravitch, a former supporter who has emerged as one of the department's most vocal critics, have for years sparred over how to interpret DOE data. In their latest skirmish, the department and the historian have each issued memos refuting the other's claims about how well the city schools are performing. The DOE's memo went out by e-mail to all principals; Ravitch's appears for the first time in this post. The newest dustup stems from an op/ed Ravitch wrote for the New York Times earlier this month, in which she argued that data show the DOE is incorrect to say schools have improved significantly since Mayor Bloomberg took control of them. Schools Chancellor Joel Klein immediately fired back against Ravitch in a letter to the editor. But apparently some principals needed more convincing, because Klein wrote in a recent Principals Weekly newsletter that he had heard from "a number" of them with questions about whether Ravitch's op/ed was accurate. To answer the principals' questions, Klein said he asked Jennifer Bell-Ellwanger, a senior DOE official who oversees testing, to fact-check Ravitch's claims. Bell-Ellwanger produced an 8-page memo, dated April 28, rebutting Ravitch point by point. Klein linked to the memo in his most recent e-mail newsletter to principals; I've also posted it in full below the jump. After I shared Bell-Ellwanger's memo with her, Ravitch composed a long response of her own, noting that her Times op/ed was thoroughly vetted before publication. "The editor at the Times required documentation for every single fact in the article, and I supplied it," she writes in her response, which I've posted just after Bell-Ellwanger's memo below.
March 13, 2009
Report: Test score gains predate Bloomberg and mayoral control
A graph from Assemblyman James Brennan's report shows that test score increases began before 2002, when mayoral control was enacted and Mayor Bloomberg took office. A Brooklyn lawmaker is throwing doubt on two key arguments in both Mayor Bloomberg's re-election campaign and his effort to keep the mayor in charge of the public school system: The idea that Bloomberg's leadership is responsible for city students' rising scores on standardized tests — and the extent to which achievement actually improved under Bloomberg. In a paper released earlier this year, Assemblyman James Brennan points out that city students' test scores were rising steadily for four years before Bloomberg took office, and, in some cases, at a faster pace than they have under Bloomberg. He also argues that a list of changes in the schools that are unrelated to the Blooomberg administration or mayoral control (a near quadrupling of early childhood programs, for instance, and a dramatic increase in state funding that dates back to 1998) are the real reason for the gains the system has made. "I generally don’t view their success to be credible," Brennan, who could play a significant role in the mayoral control discussions this spring, said in a recent interview. "I do not believe that some of the recent improvements in the school system are directly related to policies of Klein." Brennan's stance directly challenges the mayor and Schools Chancellor Joel Klein, who declare in speeches, billboards, television advertisements, and interviews that their changes to the school system are responsible for a battery of improvements, including higher test scores. A Department of Education spokesman, Andrew Jacob, defended this point of view in a short memo disputing Brennan's conclusions. The memo argues that the city's test scores are rising more steadily than scores across New York State, and accuses Brennan of ignoring several Bloomberg administration policies, including the opening of hundreds of new schools and transfers of funds to schools from the bureaucracy. It also points out an indisputable rise in the graduation rate, which soared by 10 percentage points under Bloomberg, compared to a change of just one-tenth of a percentage point in the entire decade before he took control of the schools. Below the fold, I'll walk through each part of the dispute.
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