2010-07-23 / Columnists

The Rockaway Beat

Even Grades Are Meaningless In Bloomberg’s DOE
Commentary By Howard Schwach

We all know that the school report cards doled out by the DOE are meaningless. When 98 percent of the city schools are deemed to be either A or B schools, you know in your gut that its got to be a joke.

We now know that the state’s standardized tests are meaningless, showing fantastic, even unbelievable gains year after year when the same kids continue to show no gain on the federal tests.

Just this week, state officials announced a study that shows that city students who were level three and four on the state tests in recent years had a fifty-fifty chance of graduating from high school.

“We are using labels that didn’t align with the truth,” said state Education Department Chancellor Merryl Tisch.

In response, state testing officials are now going to raise the number of right answers necessary to reach level three – meeting standards, or a passing grade.

For the past few years, the number of right answers needed to reach that level has been dropping, giving more kids a chance to pass the test and giving the mayor and his school chancellor the ability to crow that kids are doing much better under their stewardship.

Now, that house of cards is beginning to fall down as lay people begin to realize what professional educators have known all along.

The mayor’s educational gains have all been smoke and mirrors – a political game that has destroyed education in New York City.

As a result of renorming the tests, many more city students will fall below grade level, which will not make for a happy mayor.

His people will have to find a way to put a positive spin on the drop in standardized test scores, perhaps blaming it on the state legislature.

In fact, the grade inflation has been going on across the board.

The same study shows that a student with a barely passing grade on the state Mathematics Regents has only an eight percent chance of testing out of a remedial program at the State University.

That’s what the Regents has come to be.

In fact, that’s what our entire system of grading has become, and that’s why the teachers look at the prospect of being paid based on student grades so ludicrous.

Leonie Haimson, the executive director of Class Size Matters, perhaps said it best.

“[Grade inflation] is happening all over the city,” she said. “If you’re a teacher or a principal and your chances of getting [or keeping] a job depend on how many kids you successfully graduate, the vast majority will give the kids credit, whether they deserve it or not.”

Her comments were in response to a case at Lafayette High School in Brooklyn, in which a student’s record was marked with truancy and failure. In fact, the student was a no-show all year long. She did not show up for her classes once for the entire year.

In June, she came to school for the last five days of the year. She was plopped down in front of a computer and given some health and science questions to answer. She was left alone to Google the answers and then her teachers ware pressured by the principal into giving her passing grades for the year.

She was graduated at the end of the year, along with several other students in the same predicament.

“They’re giving out diplomas like this is a lemonade stand,” one teacher told the New York Post.

That’s the educational shell game. The more kids you can graduate, the more successful you appear to be.

The more kids that pass the standardized tests, the more successful you appear to be.

The stories go on and on.

In a Queens elementary school, ten students were allowed to retake the state Social Studies test strictly on the authorization of the school’s principal, something that is against all the testing rules.

The principal said that she made the ‘executive decision” to allow them to complete the test because they had failed to answer a number of the questions, leaving them blank on their answer grids.

The goal of the public schools was once to educate students, to get them ready to be knowledgeable, productive adults.

The goal of principals today is to pass everybody and ensure the highest possible standardized scores.

Once you understand that test scores do not equate with education, then you will understand how much has changed under Bloomberg and Klein.

Now, the game for teachers will be, the more kids that pass the standardized tests, the more salary you will earn and the longer you will keep your job.

There was a situation once in this district where a principal was told that his job depended on raising reading scores by a set percentage.

The principal passed the same message to the school’s two reading teachers.

A day after the test was given, before the grids were packaged and sent to the district office, an assistant principal, the two reading teachers and an aide reportedly went into a classroom and locked the door, erasing incorrect answers and changing them to the correct answer.

Reading scores went up and the principal was praised. His job was saved.

When those kids got to the local mid- dle school, however, their reading scores went down precipitously, causing some consternation, because their reading scores had put them into some classes they never should have been placed into.

Eventually, a computer program at the Board of Education picked up the fact that there were ‘excessive erasures” on the school’s tests, and there was an investigation.

The principal left the building quietly. The others were never sanctioned for their actions.

It’s going to be interesting to see what happens when teacher salary is tied to test scores.

My prediction, however, is that the scores will continue to rise, whether or not they are in any way tied to reality.

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