2010-08-06 / Columnists

The Rockaway Beat

Is Bloomberg Stupid, Or Did He Lie?
Commentary By Howard Schwach

To my mind, there are only two possible explanations for the recent bombshell announcement by the state that the rising reading test statistics that Mayor Michael Bloomberg has been crowing about for years, and that got him reelected, were all a sham: either the mayor is stupid and did not know that the state has been dumbing down the test for years; or the mayor knew what the state was doing and took credit for the rise as political capital.

There is no other explanation that would satisfy me, or thousands of other teachers and administrators who knew the test scores were a sham all along.

There is no doubt now that the scores were greatly inflated, as I and others have been saying all along.

This year, only 61 percent of students were deemed to be at grade level, compared with 86 percent last year.

The state Department of Education has admitted that the reading test scores were inflated by cutting the number of correct answers necessary to reach level 2, which is considered the passing grade in today’s marking system.

Meryl Tisch, the chancellor of the state’s Education Department, said that she encouraged teachers and parents to greet the news “not with disappointment and not with anger.”

I would imagine that if I were the parent of a student who was told that his or her child was doing well above average last year, and who is now being told that the same child needs to be left back, then I would react with both disappointment and anger. I might just sue Bloomberg and Chancellor Joel Klein for lying to me.

“Now that we are facing the hard truth that not all of our gains were as advertised, we have to take a look at what we can do differently,” Tisch said. “These results will finally provide real unimpeachable evidence about to be used for accountability.”

The move by “educational reformers,” who know little about education, to tie test scores to teacher salaries and to the issue of who should be fired and who should be retained, should now be in shambles.

After all, if the tests were sham, how can we fire a teacher because of them. If they were never real, how can we tie a teacher’s livelihood to the sham test scores?

Everybody from President Obama to Education Secretary Duncan to Chancellor Klein to everybody else who thinks they know better than teachers, should start to rethink their core beliefs.

Test scores do not equate to education, and especially if the scores are illusionary.

Writing in the New York Times shortly after the new scores were released, staffer Jennifer Medina wrote, “Perhaps [even] more significant is that the state’s readjustment of the scores exposes the score inflation and could raise new questions about the imprecision of educational testing, even as policy makers across the country, including President Obama, are relying on such measurements to determine teacher pay, and whether or not a school should be shut down. In New York City, the scores on the state tests have been used to assign A through F grades to each school, as well as thousands of dollars in principal and teacher bonuses.”

Medina’s lead says it all.

“New York State education officials, admitting that the state’s annual tests were not property measuring proficiency, released results Wednesday showing that more than half of New York City students were failing to meet state standards, at a time when Mayor Michael Bloomberg boasted that more than two-thirds of the city’s students were reading at grade level.”

Is Bloomberg stupid, or did he lie to us?

That is the question, and there is no other answer but one of those two.

If you read The Wave on a regular basis, this information should not be new to you, although the proof and the state’s admission are new.

I have been writing just that for years, and so has Norm Scott, who writes the “School Scope” column.

Earlier this year, I excerpted portions of a book by national education expert Diane Ravitch, who said exactly the same. Yet the mayor has gotten away with the big lie for years, largely with the support of the elite that are his real constituency and the daily newspapers, who slopped up the pap that he and his chancellor served.

All they had to do was talk to some teachers, but that was never done. After all, what do the professionals know?

Some of that is still going on, although it might stop once the new scores are digested.

Just last week, at the same time the news pages of the Daily News were predicting the scores that were released this week, the same paper’s editorial was stating how important it was that the mayor had increased education as shown on the reading scores.

Yes, those reading scores, the scores that the state now admits were inflated. There is no doubt in my mind that the state knew what it was doing and that the city knew what the state was doing and approved.

After all, under the No Child Left Behind Law there was a race to rack up lots of federal bucks and the only way to do that was to do what Obama and Duncan said to do – even if it made no sense educationally. That money was tied to test scores, so let’s make sure the scores go up, and fast.

They did, satisfying the law, but making a mockery of education.

Ten periods a week spent on reading, ten on math and five on test prep, leaving ten periods for everything else, including social studies, science, art, music, technology, foreign language, gym and whatever else. That is not education.

What did the mayor have to say? He threw his usual spin at the disaster, claiming that the reduced scores showed just how much he had improved the system and that increasing the cut score would insure a much better education for our students.

Bloomberg said, “Today, the State Department of Education released the results of the math and English exams administered this spring. This year’s scores maintained the major progress we have made raising student achievement levels in recent years, and the decision by the State to raise its benchmark for proficiency will help us raise achievement levels even higher. According to the new, tougher benchmarks, roughly 54 percent of city students in grades 3-8 are meeting or exceeding math standards, while just over 42 percent are meeting reading standards.

Parents, teachers and principals should understand that these numbers do not mean our students are performing any worse than they were last year; it just means that there is a new, tougher benchmark for measuring our successes.”

At least the mayor gets points for consistency. Now, I know that he is, in fact, trying to feed us the big lie.

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