2010-04-16 / Columnists

The Rockaway Beat

There Is A ‘Shock Gap’ In NY Test Scores
Commentary By Howard Schwach
The headlines tell the story.

The New York Times speaks of “Stagnant Reading Scores.”

The New York Post blares, “Feds Bare a Shock Gap in NY Test Scores.”

A Daily News column by famed educator Diane Ravitch says, “NY is Lying to School Kids.”

Even the UFT newspaper ran the story, albeit more subtlety. “State’s NAEP Reading Scores Disappoint.”

What’s the deal?

The deal is that at the same time Mayor Mike Bloomberg, Chancellor Joel Klein and the State Board of Regents (featuring our own Geraldine (the elder) Chapey are screaming at the top of their lungs about the wonderful things they have done for our schools, including sharply raising standardized test scores in reading and math.

Federal tests show that those achievements are illusory at best and disingenuous at worst.

The UFT paper actually ran a graph that shows a definite trend.

The percentage of fourth grade students who achieved Level II (passing) scores in reading on New York State tests rose to 77 percent in 2009 from 64 percent and the percentage of eighth grade students achieving Level II rose to 69 percent in 2009 from 45 percent in 2003.

At the same time, the scores of those New York State students taking the National Assessment of Academic Progress (NAEP) remained relatively flat.

The percentage of fourth graders who passed the NAEP reading test rose to 36 percent in 2009 from 34 percent in 2003. The percentage of eighth graders who passed the test dropped to 33 percent in 2009 from 35 percent in 2003.

Let’s get this straight.

Education officials in both the city and state say that 77 percent of fourth graders and 69 percent of eighth graders are reading on grade level.

The feds say, however, that their tests (considered the gold standard of standardized tests nationally) show that 36 percent of fourth graders and 33 percent of eighth graders are reading on grade level.

How can that be?

Ravitch has the answer.

She says that the city and the state are lying to both kids and their parents.

“Every year, state officials announce another set of dramatic gains on state tests for the children of New York. And, every year, state officials are lying to our children,” she writes.

That is just what I have been writing ever since Bloomberg took over the schools, and it is nice to have company.

The question that has to be asked in light of the wild differences between state and federal tests is if students in this city and state made little or no gains on the national tests, why did they make such spectacular gains on state tests every year?

Ravitch says that the parents deserve an answer to that question and so do the school kids.

I am fairly sure that I already know the answer to the question.

The city and state lie to the parents in a blatant attempt to show that mayoral control of the schools has been wonderful and that our schools are actually educating kids.

When Audrey Pheffer and the rest of the state legislators gave control of the public schools to Bloomberg eight years ago, he promised that he would increase test scores and decrease the high school drop-out rate.

He has done those things, but the gains are all smoke and mirrors.

In fact, it is clear to me, and probably to every teacher in the system, that there is less real education going on today than there was before Bloomberg took over.

All we have today in our schools is the pursuit of tests scores and an empty shell called “curriculum.”

Vital financial resources are directed to testing and monitoring that testing rather than to education.

The DOE division that monitors test scores and provides information about those scores has grown five-fold in eight years. That growth is both in personnel and in the money directed to that division.

Educational resources are directed to the high-stakes standardized tests as well. Of the 35 42-minute periods available each week, two-thirds of those periods are directed to the two subjects that are tested – reading and math – as well as test-taking skills or drill.

Twenty-five out of thirty-five periods each week are dedicated one way or another to addressing those high-stake test areas.

What does that leave for other content areas?

Ten periods a week for science, social studies, foreign language, technology, music, art, physical education and everything else. There is no way that the city meets the state mandates, which require that subjects such as science and social studies be taught at least four periods a week (one unit) and that students have two periods of art or music in the seventh and eighth grades.

In addition, students must be given at least two periods of physical education each week. There is no way the city shoehorns all those subjects into a weekly schedule.

I do know the game they play.

The Language Arts teacher uses a novel such as “Johnny Tremaine” or “The Red Badge of Courage” and that counts as social studies instruction.

The math teacher talks about space and that becomes a period of science.

Take it from one who knows and who was once a staff developer for this school district – that doesn’t work as instruction.

You can’t teach art in foreign language or call going out to the school yard during lunch period “physical education.”

Smoke and mirrors.

It is time for Pheffer and all the others who authorized mayoral control to take a real look, not a political look, at what it has wrought.

If they really care for kids, they will become sick to their stomachs at what they find.

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