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19th August

First Published in The New York Sun, August 19, 2005

By Andrew Wolf

Last week, I discussed the waste and inconvenience caused by the duplicate testing of some children in New York City, necessitated by the bureaucratic incompetence of state education officials. Because the state will administer its standardized tests beginning in January, and won’t return the results to the city before late summer, students in three grades will have to take much the same test twice. This is causing unhappiness among students, parents, and teachers.

This is not the only problem with the testing programs run by New York’s State Education Department. There is a list of mistakes and problems that has been well documented. So it isn’t surprising that state educrats would need eight months to grade examination papers.
After all, these are the persons who sanitized reading passages on tests for political correctness. Recall the distress over the math and physics exams that had to be rescored a few years back. And there is the fact that the state exam writers have so diminished standards that getting 31% of the answers correct on the Math “A” Regents exam earns a passing grade.

Many use the results of the tests administered by the states — not just New York but all states — to measure how well our schools are doing. But there is growing evidence that suggests we are being misled, at least in the Empire State.

New York state test results appear to be inflated, compared to the scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress tests, administered by the federal government. The tests are given to a sampling of students in each state across the nation. They were crafted under the supervision of a nonpartisan governing board, appointed by the U.S. secretary of education, that includes a broad spectrum of educators and non-educators.

Under the No Child Left Behind law, the NAEP tests will be used to calibrate the exams given by individual states to ensure that the progress reported is real and not the result of tests rigged to produce positive results.

The results of recent tests are available on Standard & Poor’s SchoolMatters Web site and were analyzed nationwide in a recent article in the scholarly journal Education Next. By comparing the size of the gap between the scores on the state tests and the portion of the NAEP sample given in each state, Paul E. Peterson and Frederick M. Hess were able to grade most of the states. New York earned a C. I view this as marking on a curve.

While New York is not the worst state, when you look at the raw data from which Messrs. Peterson and Hess divined their grade, an F seems more appropriate.

Examining the data for New York state from 2003, the last year that scores are available, discloses an ugly picture. According to the state tests, 64% of children in the fourth grade achieved proficiency in reading. But the results of the NAEP test suggest that just 34% achieved that goal. This is better than the national average of 30%, but still awful.

The reading gap for eighth graders is narrower. The state maintains that 45% are proficient in reading, while NAEP pins this figure at 35%.

The results for mathematics are worse. The state insists that according to its exams, 78% of fourth-grade students were performing well in math. This doesn’t add up when 33% of the sample tested by the federal officials the same year were deemed proficient. This mirrors criticisms that I have made on this page of the state math test, when results are compared to those on the test given by the city.

In 2003, 66.7% of fourth-grade students in New York City passed the state math tests. But the following year, when the same children were tested as fifth graders, only 38.5% made the cut.This is very much in line with the NAEP outcomes and would seem to validate the thesis that state scoring is inflated.

For eighth graders, the state claimed that 51% of the students were performing adequately in math, while federal officials pegged the figure at 32%.

This is the kind of minutiae that has rarely been analyzed publicly. But this year, these discrepancies are likely to win wider notice as federal officials begin to admonish states whose results appear inflated, as New York state’s do.

Other states, such as South Carolina, Maine, Missouri, Wyoming, and Massachusetts, seem to be getting it right, offering tests whose results appear to be in line with those administered by federal officials. Why is New York, a state with a tradition of high standards, doing poorly? Why are we deceiving children and their parents? Why are we deluding ourselves into thinking that our students are doing better than they are?
This is why we need to change testing procedures and evaluation in our city and state, putting it in the hands of an independent agency that will be committed to the one thing that will do more to improve education than anything else: telling the truth.

© 2005 The New York Sun, One, SL, LLC. All rights reserved.

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