2010-03-19 / Columnists

The Rockaway Beat

Lower The Standards Enough, And Everybody Will Graduate
Commentary By Howard Schwach

Our mayor and school chancellor made a big hullabaloo last week over the fact that more students are graduating from high school.

They attributed the rise in graduation rates to their fantastic stewardship of the public school system and the fact that the higher standards they demand are beginning to get traction.

More smoke and mirrors.

The fact is, standards have been lowered to a point where almost anybody can pass the dreaded Regents tests.

As a teacher for 30 years, and one who wrote portions of the grade 11 American History Regents for about ten years, I have a good handle on the way the Regents have been “dumbed down” over the last ten years.

Questions that were once reserved for the lesser-known Regents Competency Test (RCT), given to those who probably had no shot at passing a fullblown Regents test began to apear on the Regents itself. The questions on the RCT’s in all content areas were written so that almost anybody could pass.

When that didn’t work, and kids kept failing despite the city and state’s best effort to gift the students forward, the State Regents, including our own Geraldine Chappey (the elder), lowered the passing grade to 50 from 65.

Now, comes the word that even that cheapening of education was not enough. They want to do away with the Re-gents altogether.

The powers-that-be in Albany and in Tweed Courthouse will tell you that the move to do away with the Regents test is simply a move to shed the big bucks it costs to administer and grade the tests, but there is something far more interesting at work.

Presently, there are 17 Regents exams offered to New York State high school students. Most students are required to pass five Regents tests over the four years they are in high school in order to receive a Regents Diploma.

An advanced diploma requires the student to pass seven Regents tests over the four years (with a passing grade of 50).

The Board of Regents is talking about cutting as many as 13 of the tests, merging some others and cancelling exams altogether in January and August, when kids who have somehow failed the June tests can get a second bite of the apple.

Take a look at the exams slated for deletion: Global History; U.S. History and Government; Earth Science; Chemistry; Physics and all foreign language exams.

Why those? Because schools are no longer teaching those subjects and it will quickly the students fail an American History exam.

Why aren’t schools throughout the state teaching social studies and science any longer?

Because the race for high scores on the English Language and Mathematics tests has become the be-all and endall to education and those subjects are taught 20 of the 35 available periods each week. Add five periods of test taking skills, and that leaves ten periods a week for everything else, including social studies, science, foreign language, technology, art, music and physical education.

Last week I wrote about education expert Diane Ravitch and her philosophical turnaround on standardized testing because only those subjects that are tested are taught.

Eliminating the tests would save $13.7 million a year, proponents say. We can save that much by cancelling a few of the consultant contracts school officials have with their friends, relatives and cronies.

People are beginning to catch on to the smoke and mirrors game played by Bloomberg Klein and the Board of Regents, however.

Last year, the New York Daily News hired experts to study the amazing rise of reading and math scores in the city public schools.

The study found that the tests get much easier each year, because they become more predictable and because the number of right answers needed to get a higher level score has dropped.

Teachers tell me that 32 right answers were needed to get a Level 2 on the English Language Arts (ELA) test four years ago, but that only 26 right answers were need to get a Level 2 on last year’s test.

That’s the game. Lower the standards while using the big lie that you are actually raising the standards and you can look like a large success – at the same time that real education in the four major subjects declines precipitously.

Does either Bloomberg or Klein care that they are destroying education?

Probably not.

They are achieving their major aim, which is to destroy the UFT and turn the schools over to the private sector.

Even in this backwater, the city is set to close Beach Channel High School to give room to a charter school owned by State Senator Malcolm Smith. It also plans to move aside the Goldie Maple Academy students to make room for a charter owned by a local minister.

Look at the published reports about the relationship between former Council education chair Eva Moskowitz (who knows little or nothing about education) and Chancellor Joel Klein.

Moskowitz runs four charter schools in Harlem, schools with a total of fewer than 1,500 kids, earns nearly $400,000 a year. When she needs more room, she calls Klein and he kicks out or moves aside an entire public school to make room for her students.

There is now an investigation into that relationship and the entire charter school movement in the city.

It’s about time.

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