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Saturday, November 23, 2013

Playing With the Web Doesn't Make The NYC DOE Look Good

I don't understand the random internet entries which work or don't work at the DOE. I think there is something going on here, and I'm not a conspiracy theorist (what's wrong with that, anyway?) but a fact-based theorist.

For example, I have posted two recent stories below: Two teens scooped the newspapers in finding answers posted on the internet for a test before it was given by the DOE, but then the DOE cannot rollout the STARS Application.


Just askin'.

Betsy Combier

Staten Island high school students break story about exam answers accidently posted online

Curtis High School student journalists Dinah Nahid and Caroline Gottlieb got the scoop when a student discovered answers to an English test on the Department of Education website. The test — which is part of new teacher evaluations — was taken by city seniors in the fall.

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Dinah Nahid (left) and Caroline Gottlieb, student journalists at Curtis High School that broke the story
about answers to a new English exam being posted online.


Educrats posted the answers to an English test before city seniors took the exam this fall — and student journalists at Curtis High School on Staten Island got the scoop.

The test, part of the new teacher evaluations, coupled with an end-of-year exam, will help determine a substantial portion of teacher ratings.

“I was shocked that there was this breach of security,” said Dinah Nahid, a 16-year-old junior who is co-editor of the Curtis Log.

Nahid and co-editor Caroline Gottlieb, also a 16-year-old junior, were hush-hush even with fellow student newspaper reporters after learning the answers were discovered by a Curtis student on an official Department of Education website.

“The two of us kept it under wraps until we got it up on the website. ... It was kept mostly exclusive,” said Gottlieb, who spent a month reporting the story and asking Education Department honchos for an explanation. “We got very few answers.”

The new tests were administered at Curtis over two days in late October.


On the first day, students were required to read selected passages. On the second they wrote essays based on the readings.

But at least one enterprising student sought to re-read the passages — including ones from the novel “All Quiet on the Western Front” — by Googling them after the first day. The student unexpectedly stumbled upon sample responses, which were apparently used to help teachers and administrators in the grading process.


Department of Education officials expressed gratitude Thursday for the students’ investigative work.

“This should not have happened. It was a mistake, and there will be no negative impact on students or teachers,” said spokesman Devon Puglia. “Principals will have latitude to deal with any problems this causes and, as always, we will thoroughly review any anomalies in the data and make adjustments if necessary. We are assessing the situation and thank the students at Curtis High School for bringing this to our attention.”

A decision to invalidate the exam could wreak havoc on the city schools because they’d have to re-administer and re-grade the tests citywide.

Curtis Principal Aurelia Curtis praised the students’ work and argued the exam should be invalidated.

“I am confident of the fact that if my students found it, other students found it,” she said. “I think the only difference is my students found it and actually told the teachers about it.”


A less-than-stellar debut for STARS

Melissa Borzouye
Report card season is always a busy time for teachers. But this time was even more hectic — and stressful — than usual. That’s because the Department of Education once again rolled out new technology that was not ready for wide release.
The DOE introduced the Student Transcript and Academic Reporting System (STARS) this year to take student report cards into the 21st century. But the web-based electronic program has been riddled with problems since its debut.
Teachers said the system crashed repeatedly, lost data and consumed hours of their personal time. City officials have promised technical fixes, but meanwhile teachers say it has been a major source of anxiety. Although some middle schools have used the virtual report card in previous years, it was new for elementary schools. The UFT has filed a union-initiated grievance on behalf of the many teachers who reached out to the union about lack of access to adequate equipment and how much time outside regular hours they were putting into STARS-related work.
Kristen Lampman, a 5th-grade teacher at PS 89 in Elmhurst, Queens, said it would take her 30 seconds to input a single digit of a grade, and if she added comments, the grades she entered would disappear. Her principal gave her extra time, but it was a tough slog. “It was really poorly designed and implemented,” Lampman said. “And the DOE servers couldn’t handle it.”
Lampman and many other teachers thought Election Day would be the perfect time to enter grades in STARS, but the heavy volume of users caused the system to slow down and freeze. Others got error messages, or warnings that the STARS site was not secure. Lampman said she finally got through on a Sunday morning at 7 a.m.
Melissa Borzouye, a 4th-grade teacher at PS 154 in Flushing, Queens, said she spent about six hours at home one week night attempting to enter student data.
“It can’t handle traffic,” Borzouye said. She also saw data disappear from her screen, which she then had to re-enter.  
UFT Vice President for Education Catalina Fortino and other union officials met with DOE representatives on Nov. 13 to discuss the problems.    
“They are working on the technical fixes,” Fortino said. Among the promised improvements: a larger button icon to save work on the page, and a warning that navigating away from the page will risk losing data. The UFT has also recommended that the DOE provide more training for schools.
This year may mark only the beginning of challenges ahead. Using STARS was an option for elementary schools this year, but next year it will be required for everyone. That worries Fortino.  “Many of our schools do not have proper bandwidth,” she said.

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