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Sunday, December 28, 2008

Save Our Schools, An Australian Group, Questions the Validity of Joel Klein's School Grading System

Australia "knows" what is going on in New York City, and is writing about it - more than any journalist at a major newspaper in NY City! Thanks, Canberra!

New York City High School Results Questioned
Friday November 21, 2008

Last week, report cards for New York City high schools were released for 2007-08. As was the case of the report cards for elementary and middle schools released in September, they beggar belief.

There were huge improvements from the previous year, much of which seem due to manipulation of the results by the New York City Department of Education rather than an actual increase in school performance.

There was a dramatic increase in schools receiving an A or B. The number receiving an A almost doubled, from 57 in 2006-07 to 112 in 2007-08. Overall, 39% of high schools received As, compared to 24% last year. The proportion of schools receiving an A or B was 83% compared to 65% in the previous year.

Several schools that were either failed (F) last year or given a D received a B this year. The number of schools receiving a D or an F fell by one third, from 21 to 14.

No doubt, Schools Chancellor, Joel Klein, will be using these new high school results next week as evidence to convince Australian opinion writers and policy makers that reporting school results improves school performance.

However, it appears that the improved performance is largely due to manipulation by the New York City Education Department. The Department has simply reduced the cut-off point scores for each grading level. The cut-off score for an A was reduced from 67.6 last year to 64.2 in 2007-8 while that for a B was reduced from 48.8 to 43.5.

This has contributed to the higher proportion of high schools achieving an A or B. One New York researcher has shown that if the Department had used the same cut-off point scale as last year, only 71% of schools would have received an A or B

About two-thirds of the increase in the proportion of high schools that received an A or B was due to the reduction in the cut-off scores for each grade.

The same researcher also notes that the cut-off scores were reduced for elementary schools in 2007-08 as well and this change fully accounted for the increase in the proportion of elementary schools achieving an A or B.

The cut-off score for an A was reduced from 64 last year to 59.6 in 2007-8 while that for a B was reduced from 49.9 to 45.8. Last year, 70.5% of elementary schools were graded as A or B level. This year, 79.8% achieved A or B grade. However, if the Department had used the same cut-off point scale as last year, only 71.5% of elementary schools would merit an A or B, almost no change from last year.

Another issue about the high school results is whether the system of credit recovery has been manipulated to increase graduation rates, which are a key factor in the grading of high schools. Credit recovery involves allowing students who lack credits for high school graduation to make them up by participating in special programs. They were introduced to help reduce drop-out rates in US schools and are a legitimate means of helping offset the effects of disadvantage in education.

However, commentators such as Diane Ravitch, Professor of Education at New York University, and Aaron Pallas, Professor of Sociology and Education at Columbia University, have raised questions about the standards required of some of these programs and whether they are being abused to ‘game’ graduation rates. An investigative report in the New York Times 11 April 2008 found that principals and teachers are under tremendous pressure to improve graduation rates and credit recovery is a way of getting quick improvement.

The reduction of the cut-off scores for grading schools, together with questions about the use of credit recovery programs to improve graduation rates, mean that latest high school progress reports in New York City cannot be taken at face value. Like the elementary and middle school reports issued earlier, the results strain credibility. The methodology used to prepare reports for New York City schools is so intricate and arcane that it is open to manipulation in a variety of ways to artificially boost results.

The only independent check on student achievement is the National Assessment of Education Progress test results administered by the US Department of Education. These show that student achievement in New York City has stagnated since 2003 and that the achievement gaps between Blacks and Whites, between Hispanics and Whites and between low and high income students are as large as they were when Joel Klein took charge of the New York City public school system.

Trevor Cobbold
Save Our Schools

Fighting for Equity in Education
Media Release - "Creative Confusion" By Mr Klein

Monday November 24, 2008

Save Our Schools today challenged the claims of visiting New York City Schools Chancellor, Joel Klein, about large increases in school performance shown in newly published report cards for the City’s schools.

SOS convenor, Trevor Cobbold, said that the results strain credibility and there are suspicions that school grades have been manipulated to boost results.

“Mr. Klein has said that his approach to managing the New York City public education system was to cause ‘some creative confusion’. His new school report cards have certainly succeeded in creating confusion about the real state of schools in the City. The New York Times said that many New Yorkers are ‘somewhat befuddled’ by inconsistencies with other test results for the City’s schools.

“The huge increase in the number of schools being graded as A is hard to believe. The new progress report show that the number of schools graded as A increased by 80% over the previous year and 70 per cent of schools that failed (F) last year received an A or B. A Columbia University academic has described these changes as ‘magical transformations’.

“Major inconsistencies between City, NY State and Federal assessments of the same schools have been revealed by the New York Times (16 September 2008). For example:

Two elementary schools that received an A in Klein’s report cards were added to the New York State’s list of failing schools this year.
In over 60 of the 394 elementary schools rated A by Klein’s report cards, more than half the students failed to reach proficiency on the New York State’s reading test.
30% of the elementary schools deemed failures under the Federal No Child Left Behind Act received an A in the report cards, while 16 of the 18 schools given an F are rated satisfactory under Federal guidelines.
“The only independent check on student achievement in New York City shows a completely different picture from that claimed by Klein,” said Mr Cobbold.

“The results of the National Assessment of Education Progress administered by the US Department of Education show that student achievement in New York City has stagnated since 2003. The achievement gaps between Blacks and Whites, between Hispanics and Whites and between low and high income students are as large as they were when Klein began to overhaul the system.”

Mr Cobbold said there was added confusion because the cut-off scores for each letter grade were reduced for the 2007-08 tests (see attached table).

“The reductions in cut-off scores have raised suspicions that the data was manipulated to artificially boost the results.

“This year, 79% of elementary schools received an A or B compared to 71% last year and 83% of high schools received an A or B compared to 65% last year. Virtually all of the increase in elementary schools and about two-thirds of the increase for high schools appears due to the reduction in grade cut-off scores. If last year’s cut-off points had been used, only 72% of elementary schools would be rated as A or B, almost no change from last year, and only 71% of high schools.

“The reduction in cut-off scores is not even mentioned in the list of changes to the school progress reports appended to the new technical guides to the reports published by the Department of Education. The guides for last year’s reports stated the cut-off scores ‘will be used for the next several years’. They lasted only one year before being revised down.

“Clearly, Mr. Klein has some explaining to do before his claims can be taken seriously.”

Mr Cobbold warned against adopting the New York City’s school reports in Australia.

“The New York City system of school reports lacks credibility and reliability. US education experts have criticised it variously as ‘inherently unreliable’, ‘dubious’, ‘baroque’ and producing ‘bizarre results’. Its methodology is so arcane and arbitrary that it is open to manipulation in a variety of ways to artificially boost results.

“Adopting such a model in Australia would lead to inaccurate and misleading comparisons of school performance. Experience with publishing school results elsewhere in the United States and England shows that they increase social segregation and inequity in education and stigmatise low income and ethnic students as failures.

“Publication of school results is heavily criticised in England for these reasons. Wales and Northern Ireland have stopped publishing school performance tables in recent years because they are unreliable and inaccurate measures of school quality and create perverse incentives.

“Governments all around Australia know where the problems are in our schools. We don’t need a reporting system which has already failed to prove its worth to find this out. What is needed is a real commitment of resources to disadvantaged students and schools.”

24 November 2008

Contact: Trevor Cobbold 0410 121 640 (m)

Download table of NYC school grade cutoff scores

Note: The cut-off scores in the attached table refer to the overall rated score out of 100 achieved by a school on a range of measures covering School Environment, Student Achievement and Student Progress. Source: New York City Department of Education. Progress Report Educator Guides

The 2007-08 Guides can be directly accessed while the 2006-07 Guides can be obtained by using the site’s search engine.

What We Stand For
Sunday August 5, 2007
Save Our Schools strives for a high quality public education system that:

Ensures that all children receive the education necessary for a full adult life and to be active citizens;
Achieves social equity in education outcomes; and
Sustains a democratic and socially tolerant society.
Education for all

Public education should be free and open to all to ensure non-selective and non-discriminatory access to education. Every child has a right to be educated, to develop as a human being. This capability should not be denied to anyone, either by design or neglect.

A public education system should ensure that:

all children, without regard to gender, race, ethnicity or socio-economic status, receive an education that enables them to fully participate in, and contribute to, adult society;
access to schooling is not dependent on family circumstances;
all children learn to respect, understand and tolerate cultural and social differences;
all children have reasonable physical access to a government school;
partnerships between home and school are developed to support children’s learning; and
the public is involved in decision-making about educational policy.

Social equity in education

Social equity in education should be a key goal of public education. Not only should all students achieve the socially expected minimum level of education, but outcomes for students from different social groups should be broadly similar. It means that school outcomes should be free from the effect of negative forms of discrimination and free of differences arising from students’ socio-economic background or geographical location.

While a high quality public education is critical to the achievement of social equity in education outcomes, it cannot be achieved without change in other factors that affect school outcomes. Equity in education also depends on social reforms that address the impact of family background factors such as income, employment, health and nutrition, housing and access to transport on early childhood experiences and school outcomes.

Education for democracy and social cohesion

Public education should not only serve the public but it also establishes the public. It should provide all children with the knowledge and skills necessary for citizenship and participation in the democratic process.

A public education should promote social cohesion amongst people of different cultural and religious backgrounds by providing a common socialising experience while respecting social diversity. It should inculcate values such as mutual respect for others and social tolerance of people of different backgrounds and beliefs.

A public education system should also give effect to democracy by being accountable to the public and by providing for public participation in the formulation of education policy at the system and school levels.

Commenting is closed for this article.

No, Julia! New York is Not Working
Sunday November 16, 2008, SOS

The imminent visit to Australia by New York City Schools Chancellor and prospective US Secretary of Education, Joel Klein, puts his education policies in the spotlight. Federal Education Minister, Julia Gillard (pictured at right), has been spruiking them ever since her visit to New York last August.

Gillard says that Klein’s reforms to the New York City public school system are “working” and have produced “remarkable outcomes”. She says that there has been continual improvement in student achievement in New York City under Klein.

However, these assertions are refuted by test results in reading and mathematics. National tests show that average student achievement in New York City schools has stagnated while state tests show a mixture of increases and declines, with no consistent pattern of improvement.

The National Assessment of Education Progress tests conducted by the US Department of Education show no statistically significant change in average student scores for reading in Grades 4 and 8 between 2003 and 2007 in New York City. They show a small improvement in Grade 4 mathematics but no improvement in Grade 8.

They also show that there was no improvement in average reading scores for low income, Black and Hispanic students in either Grade 4 or 8. There were small improvements in average mathematics scores in Grade 4 for low income, Black and Hispanic students. In Grade 8 mathematics there was no improvement for Black and Hispanic students, but a slight improvement for low income students.

Scores for New York City students on the New York State tests are just as unconvincing. Average scores for English across Grades 3-8 show a mixture of increases and declines between 2003 and 2008. For example, average Grade 3 scores increased significantly while average Grade 8 scores declined substantially. Small increases occurred in Grades 4 and 5 while Grade 5 and 6 scores declined slightly.

Large improvements in average scores occurred in mathematics in Grades 3, 4 and 5 between 2003 and 2007 while there was a large decline in Grade 8. There was a small decline in Grade 7 and no change for Grade 6.

There is also little evidence of any improvement compared to the previous four years, as there was a similar pattern of increases and decreases from 1999 to 2003 and from 2003 to 2007/8.

Most experts agree that the state tests are less reliable than the national tests. For example, the state tests do not report measurement errors. This makes it difficult to determine whether results are statistically different over given periods or between different groups of students. Experts have also suggested that the state tests are too easy.

Claims that the achievement gaps between Black and White students, Hispanic and White students and low income and other students have narrowed in New York City since 2003 are also incorrect. They have remained as large as ever under Klein according to both national and state tests.

National tests show no reduction in the difference in average scores between Black and White students, Hispanic and White students and between low income and other students in reading and mathematics in Grades 4 and 8 between 2003 and 2007. There was also no change in these achievement gaps for 2003 Grade 4 students who reached Grade 8 in 2007.

The State tests show a number of small increases and declines in the achievement gaps for reading and mathematics between Black and White students and between Hispanic and White students from 2003 to 2007/8.

Chancellor Klein resorts to several artifices to claim that student achievement has increased and achievement gaps have narrowed.

He often uses the 2002 results as the comparison benchmark instead of 2003. The 2003 tests were conducted 6 months prior to the implementation of his reforms, so this is the appropriate comparison point. Using 2002 exaggerates the impact of the reforms because there were significant increases in student achievement from 2002 to 2003, but this was well before Klein’s changes were made.

Klein refuses to report the margins of statistical error on test results. He dismisses the importance of reporting statistical error in testing as “playing something of a game”.

For example, the New York City Education Department has re-produced the results of the national tests in a special publication to claim significant improvements in student achievement. However, it failed to follow the national practice of reporting the margin of errors and ignored the fact that the results for 2007 are mostly statistically indistinguishable from those of 2003.

The fact is that New York City has very little to offer Australia in the way of education reform. Student achievement in Australia is amongst the highest in the world and far exceeds that of New York.

Australia should be looking to overseas practice to help address its major challenge – reducing the large achievement gap between students from low and high income families. It should look to Finland, which not only has the highest outcomes in the world according to OECD tests but also one of the smallest achievement gaps.

Julia Gillard would have done better to invite Dr. Sakari Karjalainen, Director-General of Finland’s Ministry of Education, to advise on effective polices to improve equity in education rather than someone whose policies have been shown to be ineffective.

Trevor Cobbold
Save Our Schools

New York Parents Condemn Klein’s Education Policies
Tuesday November 18, 2008
Reprinted below are three letters by New York parents on the education policies implemented in the New York City public education system under Schools Chancellor, Joel Klein. They present an entirely different perspective on these policies than that heralded by the Federal Education Minister, Julia Gillard.

The letters were originally published on the New York Public School Parents Blog on 10 November in response to revelations that Klein is being considered for the position of US Secretary of Education under Barack Obama.

Original letters on NY Public School parents Blog

The Department of Education under Joel Klein has been run like a ruthless dictatorship – with no input from parents or educators, and no thought of how the policies he has imposed on our schools have been destructive to our children and their futures.

He has consistently ignored the crisis of overcrowding in our schools, that in many neighbourhoods has gotten worse because of rampant residential development, as well as a result of his insistence to insert hundreds of new charter schools and small schools into existing, overcrowded school buildings.

In a recent survey, half of all principals say that the overcrowding creates unsafe conditions for students or staff, 29% said that lunch starts at 10:30 AM or earlier, 25% said that they have lost their art or music rooms in recent years, and 18% said they had classrooms with no windows. Thousands of children are being given special services in hallways or in closets.

He has put almost no effort in building new schools, and under this administration, twice as many new seats have been created in new stadiums than schools. The city’s investment in school construction as a percent of its total capital spending is at an historic low, and will drop even more precipitously in the future, if the DOE’s proposed school capital plan goes through.

Joel Klein has refused to reduce class size, despite repeated audits and reports from the State Comptroller’s office and the State Education Department showing how under his administration, hundreds of millions of state dollars meant to provide smaller classes to NYC students have been misused. As a result, 86% of NYC principals in a recent survey have said they are unable to provide a quality education because of excessive class sizes.

Similarly, he has argued that even under Mayoral control, the Department of Education is not subject to city law, and thus he continues to defy laws passed by the City Council over the Mayor’s veto, requiring him to take measures against bias crimes and bullying in schools, to allow students to bring cell phones to school, and to obey the recycling laws required of every household and business in NYC.

The Chancellor has moved to eliminate the authority of school leadership teams –made up of half parents, half staff – to have decision-making authority over school budgets, contrary to the state law that created these teams. He has continued to shut out parents from having any input whatsoever, at the school, district, or citywide level.

He has spent literally hundreds of millions of dollars on no-bid contracts, and rather than decreasing the bureaucracy, the number of highly paid bureaucrats at Tweed continues to grow—- most of whom have no background in education. To counter a recent article by a Daily News reporter pointing out the personal wealth of many of the top education officials, who are former business executives and corporate consultants, the DOE press office responded in defense that two out of twenty of Klein’s top advisers were long-term educators.

The only educational philosophy of those running the system is based on trying to improve standardized test results, no matter how much cheating and test prep that involves. Whatever the rise in state test scores that has resulted is not matched by improvements in the more reliable national assessments called the NAEPs. In fact, NYC was 11th out of 12 urban school districts in terms of its gains in the NAEPs over the course of this administration, and there has been no closing of the achievement gap in any subject tested.

Indeed, Joel Klein’s insistence on basing all decisions on high-stakes tests has led to racial disparities growing in many areas – with far fewer children of color admitted to gifted programs and to our selective high schools, and a declining number of Black and Hispanic teachers in our teaching force.

In short, he has been a disaster for our schools, and Barack Obama should be forewarned not to name him to any position of authority in his administration – as much as we would like to get rid of him!

Leonie Haimson
The only accomplishment under the Klein administration is the reaffirmation of the fact that we should never have a non-educator be in charge of our education system. Mr. Klein is not an educator but an exemplary student of the Bush School of Public Administration—autocratic, top down (and arrogant) management style, utter disregard of and disdain for stakeholders and constituencies, privatization of public services, competition and monetary rewards as incentives, and the most skillful (and deceitful) use of marketing and PR tactics to advance his agenda are all hallmarks of Mr. Klein’s administration.

Many misguided policies have been introduced by Mr. Klein, who despite the public outcries went ahead and implemented them. Under Mr. Klein, parents have been disenfranchised, teachers have been demoralized, the School Leadership Teams have been stripped of meaningful roles, and the Community Education Councils’ authorities have been eroded. He has created a climate of fear where teachers and school administrators are afraid to voice their concerns or criticisms of the Klein administration.

Mr. Klein has also been very generous with awarding contracts to private for-profit entities, many of them no-bid contracts. For instance, IBM was awarded $80 million to develop a “super database” where parents can access their children’s report cards including teacher comments for all school years going back to kindergarten. As of today there is nothing, at least that parents can access. Mr. Klein has also brought in a consulting firm from Cambridge, UK, to conduct reviews of schools—tasks that used to be conducted by superintendents and school district staff. Many test publishing companies have seen windfalls under Mr. Klein as a result of increased reliance on standardized tests as the most important indicator of students’ learning (an example of a misguided policy, by the way).

Principals are now business managers, with the title of Chief Executive Officer. They used to be considered instructional leaders, who understood and focused their energy on improving teaching and learning in their schools. Furthermore, they are now pitted against each other in a system that provides monetary rewards to principals who improve students’ test scores. Gone are the days when collaboration allowed schools to share successes and pitfalls to benefit all students. There is also a talk of offering money to students who score high on standardized tests. I naively thought we should be striving to teach our children the love of learning—learning for the sake of knowing, not learning for the sake of a few more iTune downloads.

Finally Mr. Klein and the Mayor have relied heavily on marketing and PR firms to cast their “accomplishments” in a positive light. Mr. Klein has boasted that he has increased the high school graduation rates since he took over. However, the numbers are disputed by the State Education Department. Mr. Bloomberg claims to have created 66,000 new school seats, yet there are more schools at overcapacity (meaning more students than the building is designed for) today than before the Mayor took over the control of the school system and our class sizes have not gone down (in many cases class sizes have gone up). Yet, if you are not a highly involved parent, you may think Mr. Klein’s and Mr. Bloomberg’s claims are legitimate and meaningful. The Mayor has launched a subway advertisement campaign claiming his achievements (and I must add, at a time when the school budget is being cut).

I admit there is no guarantee that a Secretary of Education with the appropriate education background would not take a similar path. However, I believe some of the policies and changes instituted by Mr. Klein would never have come about if we had someone who understood the public school system and some fundamentals of what it is like to manage 30 energetic children of diverse abilities and backgrounds in a confined space – an understanding of what it means to educate the future citizens of this country.

Shino Tanikawa
If you care about the children of this nation and the future of education, please listen to the parents of New York City who have experience with Joel Klein and under no circumstances appoint him as your secretary of education.

What Klein has done as Chancellor here, under the direction of Mayor Bloomberg, is to remove virtually all consideration of actual education from the school system and replace it with a business-oriented model, in which measures of “outcome” have replaced actual learning as the standard—just as most educators in this administration have been replaced with businessmen. In other words, our schools have to a large extent become test-prep factories, with our children the “products.”

Furthermore, actual avenues of input from those knowledgeable about what goes on in the classroom—teachers, students, parents, principals—have been closed. Unlike your bottom-up campaign, education in New York City has become a top-down one-way street. With Orwellian precision, the hugely expensive Office of Accountability is in no way accountable to parents, students, or the public.

Don’t be misled by Joel Klein’s propaganda. Test scores, claims of increasing principals’ control over their own schools, nods to parental involvement, reports from accountability, assessments and “school report cards” that don’t measure what they claim to—all of it is just for show. What our children have lost under this chancellor cannot be replaced.

Please think about the kind of education you want for Sasha and Malia and how you can provide that for the rest of the country’s children, who are no less worthy. Then think about who is likely to create the possibility for that circumstance. As much as we would like to see Klein depart, we cannot bear to see him inflicted on the rest of the country!

Ellen Bilofsky

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