2011-11-18 / Columnists

The Rockaway Beat

Bloomberg Spins And Fiddles While DOE Burns
Commentary By Howard Schwach

Last week on his weekly radio show, Mayor Michael Bloomberg talked about the advances in the school system under his tenure, stating that reading scores are up, graduation rates are up and that the schools are much safer now than when he took over the public school reins. None of what he said was true, and the headlines above tell another story.

They tell the story of Department of Education officials who have become the “gang who couldn’t shoot straight,” because a large percentage of them, principals included, have no idea what education really means or how to deliver that education to students. They tell the story of a dysfunctional system that places test scores above all else – arguing that accountability demands that standardized test scores be the major determinant in both closing schools and firing teachers.

They tell the story of teachers and supervisors who tamper with the numbers by insuring that students pass the standardized test and by allowing even the most determined truant to graduate from high school without fulfilling the requirements so that the school’s graduation rate will look good. They tell the story of a public school system so focused on reading and mathematics numbers that it forgot to teach social studies, science, foreign language and physical education.

They tell the story of a system tampering with the number of right answers a student needed to achieve level 3 (competent) so that many more students would pass the test and it would look like Bloomberg’s methods were working, when in fact, the scores were admittedly smoke and mirrors.

They tell a story of educational neglect that would get a parent busted and sent to prison.

If you don’t believe all that, take a look at what the state had to say recently. “A passing grade on the state’s old [pre-2010] Grade 4 ELA [English Language Arts] test and Grades 4 and 8 math tests were the equivalent of a ‘below basic’ score on the federal National Assessment of Educational Progress exams, considered the gold standard in measuring student achievement. Likewise, a passing grade on the state’s old Grade 8 ELA test corresponded to NAEP’s ‘basic’ [failing] achievement level.” Smoke and mirrors, and everybody but the mayor and his educational “experts” such as Cathie Black knew what was going on.

Here’s an example of what I am talking about, taken from the DOE’s own website. It seems that, like the Germans during World War II, the DOE keeps great records of all of its transgressions – if you can find them. The chart shows the percentage of right answers a student needs to reach specific levels. Remember that Level 3 and 4 are “passing.”

Those “cut scores” were lowered each year between 2002 and 2009, making it look like reading scores were rising. In 2010, the state, embarrassed by the fact that everybody knew the scores were fake, put the cut score back where it belonged.

Look at the chart. In 2009, the last year of the “Bloomberg Scores,” a seventh grade student needed 67 percent of the right answers to reach level 3. In 2010, when the scores were brought back to reality, the same student needed 85 percent of the right answers. The mayor called it raising the bar. I call it common sense. The fact is, according to state standards, more than a third of the city’s public schools are failing their students. The New York State Education Department added some 350 schools to the list of “Schools In Need of Improvement.”

It said that many of the city’s students are “warehoused” after their schools closed – a closure that allows the brighter students to attend the new, small schools in the building and send those without the skills to large comprehensive schools that no longer have skilled students at all.

What does the mayor say to that?

Bloomberg says that many of the students have made gains, “even though they are not ready for an Ivy League School.”

Bloomberg added that the state is “misinformed.”

The headlines speak for themselves. U.S. DOE Finds New York’s Tests Were Too Easy In College, Working Hard To Learn High School Material Ed Poo-Bah Ripped For ‘Poor Judgment’ Schedule Chaos At Long Island City High School On National Test, New York Declines In Math High School Principal Hit For ‘Cover-ups’ City’s Poor Students Are Warehoused: State Ed Big Database Shows A Rise In Test-Tampering Allegations Fitting In Exercise, Between Math And English Allegations Of Test-Tampering Soar Regents Slap For Brooklyn Principal Ed Department Fails Budget Math It’s Total Bullys&%! They’re Too Dumb To Fail

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