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Thursday, June 11, 2009

Credit Recovery and Joel Klein's Direct Harm to Students

We now know that Joel Klein was appointed CEO of the public school system to institute a city-wide cleansing of New York City's public schools, and create data that "fit" with the strategic plan of Mayor Mike Bloomberg to have total control over $16 billion+.

Along with the no-bid contracts, revision of IEPs without parental knowledge or consent, changing of city-wide tests to dumbed-down versions, "revised new-new" math to make all the data look good, and fudging of graduation rates, test scores,etc., Joel Klein also mandated that Principals promote students not prepared for a higher grade or current grade completion - students who survived superintendent suspensions, corporal punishment, verbal abuse and failing grades - with something called "credit recovery". Cute.

While members of the Panel For Educational Policy believe that they can pretend that they are doing a public service, the public is on to the sham. Social promotion has taken a new name: credit recovery.

Posted By David Bloomfield, (pictured at right),June 10, 2009 @ 10:17 am

By failing to set standards or even track the use of credit recovery in New York City schools, Chancellor Joel Klein has provided a convenient back door for students to pass courses and graduate without subject mastery. The State Education Department has now capitulated to this agenda by promulgating a draft policy [1] based on unpublicized negotiations with the city Department of Education. If implemented, the policy would do nothing to stem this tide of empty credits but, rather, encourage credit recovery by officially recognizing and regularizing it but with inadequate controls and monitoring.

What is credit recovery? The term is sometimes used technically to denote a formal program, such as summer school, with specified content, attendance, and assessment requirements. But the term is widely applied to any effort to help students pass courses that they would otherwise fail because of incomplete or below-standard work. These students substitute the extra work for regular assessments by writing a paper, taking a test, or providing some other evidence of proficiency in a narrow course topic.

Under the new state policy, schools would need only create a committee (which would not include the student’s teacher) to approve a student’s customized credit recovery plan for a course. The same committee would then review evidence of student proficiency once the plan was completed. The State does not require minimum class attendance or proof that the plan addresses all subject matter deficiencies. If a teacher says a book report suffices to show proficiency, the committee would not need to inquire beyond the teacher’s word. No record of how many courses a student passed using CR would be maintained. There would be no monitoring of assignments’ rigor or the frequency of CR’s use by teachers, schools, or the system as a whole.

What is the problem, though, with giving students a second chance at passing or completing a course by filling in the gaps? First, without standards, there is no way to determine whether credit recovery assignments actually fill those gaps. Second, a course is more than the sum of its parts. For example, a student might fail a test in one unit of geometry and possibly another but if he or she understands other basic geometric concepts, they will likely pass the course. Course failure demonstrates significant overall deficits in factual and conceptual knowledge that a single assignment or mini-course can not erase. But passing the course will mean a lot to the student’s, the teacher’s, and the school’s appearance of success.

Helping students over the hump through credit recovery is not limited to New York City. Nationally, education publishers including Plato and Pearson sell credit recovery kits. But the DOE’s emphasis on data-based accountability, particularly high school credit accumulation and graduation, seems to have resulted in an explosion of credit recovery in New York. Schools are under tremendous pressure, through school report cards’ A-F rating, to produce progress in these metrics.

Credit recovery is a direct route to helping students and schools achieve the 10 credits each year that serve as the DOE’s benchmark of success. Then, with passing grades and a little luck on the Regents — often obtained through narrow and repeated test preparation — students are on pace to graduate. For hundreds of school principals, looking over their shoulders to stay ahead of the peer group against which they are measured, this is a matter of professional life and death. If one principal looks the other way on credit recovery in their schools, others are penalized for more rigorous standards. This race to the bottom will now be officially sanctioned by the State, urged on by Chancellor Klein.

If we do not reject this new policy proposal, more children will seem to be succeeding in high school and more will seem to be graduating with college- and job-readiness. But this will be a mirage. We will be gaming the system for students and administrators alike. We will be saluting proxies rather than real academic achievement.

The Board of Regents needs to put an end to this charade by rejecting this mockery and re-establishing high academic expectations for our youth.

David C. Bloomfield heads the Educational Leadership Program at Brooklyn College, CUNY and is an elected parent member of the Citywide Council on High Schools. He is the author of American Public Education Law.

Marc Epstein
Not Worth the Paper . . .
New York’s public schools have replaced social promotion with universal promotion.

1 June 2009

New York City Schools Chancellor Joel Klein’s vision of education reform is based on his idea of the “business model” of accountability and results—which sounds good in principle. Producing numbers that show bottom-line progress is essential to demonstrating Klein’s success. The city’s much-touted improvement in student test scores, though dubious, has convinced many observers that substantial progress is happening. To keep the momentum going and appease the Department of Education’s number crunchers, school administrators strive constantly to improve graduation rates. One of the easiest ways of doing this, unfortunately, is to water down course-credit standards for graduation.

For years now, schools have been switching to “annualization” of their course offerings. Under this structure, students who fail the first semester of a sequential course (say, English 5 and 6) can get credit for both terms if they pass the second semester. The practical effect of this change is to destroy the work ethic of those students who’ve figured out how to game the system. By their junior and senior years, they know that they can blow off the first term and, with some effort in the second, get credit for the full course. For the schools’ part, annualization obviates the need to create costly, inefficient “off-track” spring sections of sequential courses for students who failed the fall section. This helps cut down drastically on night school and summer school, and also sends graduation rates skyward. Under this flawed model, teachers face inexorable pressure to get their numbers up in the second term, however they can.

The education department has taken other questionable steps to boost graduation rates. Consider the fate of summer school. Even as recently as 13 years ago, when I first taught summer classes, the course standards and rules were strictly enforced. Three absences resulted in a student’s automatic termination from the program, and a disciplinary infraction would have the same result. But Harold Levy, Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s last schools chancellor, instituted a kinder and gentler system of asking, if not begging, kids to show up. Teachers were paid to call home and implore parents to send their kids, while a smiling Levy appeared on the evening news, manning the phones himself. Principals would let kids come late, allow them to disappear for two-week vacations in the middle of summer, and drop the issue of passing them into teachers’ laps, asking them to use “discretion.” Then, under Mayor Bloomberg and Chancellor Klein, the old Summer and Evening Division was eliminated altogether in a cost-saving move. A vastly shrunken summer-school operation, run individually by the schools with no outside oversight, retains very little of the old system’s tough standards.

The schools began implementing a program known as “credit recovery,” driven, again, by the pressure on city high school principals to improve their dismal graduation rates. Through credit recovery, a student can receive credit for a failed course after attending at least nine hours of class and completing a total of 25 hours of work. The credit-recovery classes are held during school vacations or in after-school programs. They’re sometimes referred to as “boot camp,” in order to conjure up images of Camp Lejeune in July. State and city directives always call for “rigorous” standards for these programs, but one doesn’t need to be an education policy expert to judge that nine hours in class is a paltry substitute for 16 weeks of class work, or even the 36 hours of summer school in the old system. What amount to extra-credit assignments cannot substitute for course proficiency. Besides, no statewide mechanism for auditing these programs really exists, so it’s left up to the full faith and credit of each school to ensure that they’re reputable. Stories about schools “stuffing” credit-recovery programs to boost graduation figures are legion.

But it gets worse. Until now, students who’ve failed a course must have spent a certain amount of time in that class (known as “seat time”) to be eligible for credit recovery. Last month, however, the State Education Department issued a draft proposal declaring that “seat time” will no longer be a prerequisite. Instead, a school-based committee made up of certified teachers and the principal will set the standards. “The provisions . . . do not require specific seat time requirements for the make-up opportunity since the opportunity must be tailored to the individual student’s need,” the memo declares. This alternative approach renders Chancellor Klein’s own regulations—which call for 90 percent attendance and “successful completion of standards in subject areas”—meaningless.

New York City’s much-heralded end to social promotion in schools has been replaced by something even worse—totally empty, if not universal, promotion. Partly as a result of new policies like credit recovery, this June’s graduation rates will likely reach record highs. Klein’s supporters will once again sound their optimistic refrain about educational progress. But at some point, ordinary New Yorkers, largely excluded from the education debate, will begin to realize that the progress is not what it seems.

Marc Epstein, a teacher at Jamaica High School, served as its dean of students for six years.

Under pressure to raise graduation rates, some high schools are turning to online courses to help faltering students revive their academic careers and retrieve the credits they need to earn their diplomas.
By Andrew Trotter

As alternatives to remedial lessons, summer school, and other traditional ways of getting struggling high school students back on track, technology-based options for “credit recovery” have been expanding.

“It’s a huge area of growth, especially in the last three years,” says Susan D. Patrick, the president and chief executive officer of the North American Council for Online Learning, a Vienna, Va.-based trade association for online schools.

Most of the new credit-recovery options are online programs offered by virtual schools and commercial curriculum providers. They offer approaches to individualizing instruction that are targeted and packaged for credit recovery, according to the companies and other providers offering the programs.

Credit recovery, or credit retrieval, is usually defined as an in-school opportunity for students to earn academic credits that they have lost, or are about to lose, by failing a regular course.
Michael J. Greene, 18, left, spent the spring in the "Apex lab" run by teacher Kim Feltner, right, at Pine Ridge High School in the Volusia County, Fla., district.
—Gerardo Mora for Education Week

Such options are available from an array of online-curriculum companies, such as Apex Learning Inc. and Plato Learning Inc., as well as nonprofit providers such as the Orlando-based Florida Virtual School and the Atlanta-based Georgia Virtual School.

Providers say they tailor learning to individual students, by using flexible pacing and schedules, extra practice, frequent assessment, and robust monitoring and reporting on participation and progress, while also allowing openings for personal interaction with teachers.

Their learning-management systems tend to have such typical online tools as e-mail, online assessments, and databases. Courses mirror, and are cross-referenced to, states’ academic standards.

Marc Epstein
The Regents, Stuck on Stupid
New York’s statewide exams get a little dumber every year.

City Journal 23 July 2008

A year ago, I wrote about the dumbing down of New York State’s Regents exams, the five tests in core subjects that students must pass to get a regular high school diploma. Since then, little has changed—unless it’s that the exams have become even dumber. Look no further than this year’s United States History and Government exam for 11th-graders.

The test has three parts and a total of 75 points weighted and calculated to total 100 percent, in a Byzantine formula established in Albany. Fifty multiple-choice questions, along with 15 document-based questions, account for 65 of those points. The student’s raw score is then plotted on a conversion chart provided by the state in combination with the student’s score on two essays, which account for the total score’s remaining ten points. If a student receives as few as 36 points out of 65 in the first two parts of the exam, he can still pass the Regents by earning five out of the ten essay points. According to the point-conversion chart, if he scores 50 points in the first two parts, he doesn’t even have to answer an essay question to pass—because his overall grade is already a 65, the minimum passing grade. If you’re confused by this elaborate scoring system, you’re not alone. But the key point is that students who get fewer than half of the questions correct can pass. And this leniency applies to other Regents tests as well. Students taking the algebra exam, for instance, need only earn a “raw score” of 30—out of a possible 87 points—to pass.

Some might argue that the rigor of the examinations justifies this system of weighting scores. That’s laughable. Consider some of the questions on the history exam. The multiple-choice section features a political cartoon in which a Supreme Court justice points to a chart showing pictures of the three branches of government. The cartoon reads “U.S. Constitution” at the top and “checks and balances” at the bottom. The test question asks: “Which constitutional principle is the focus of the cartoon?” This is all too typical of the half-dozen graphs, maps, and cartoon questions in this section of the test.

The document-based questions account for another 15 points; information garnered from them is then incorporated into one of the essay questions. Students need no prior knowledge of American history to answer the questions successfully. For example, a picture of students outside Little Rock Central High School, where troops guard the schoolhouse doors, bears the caption: “A white student passes through an Arkansas National Guard line as Elizabeth Eckford is turned away on September 4, 1957.” A second photo of Elizabeth Eckford, a black student, reads, “a mob surrounds Elizabeth Eckford outside Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas.” The question asks the student to describe what happened to Eckford when she tried to attend Central High School! Another photo depicts the eventual resolution of the Little Rock standoff, when the military enforced desegregation rulings at President Eisenhower’s command. The caption reads: “On September 25, 1957 federal troops escort the Little Rock Nine to their classes at Central High School.” The student is asked, “Based on this photograph, what was the job of the United States Army troops in Little Rock, Arkansas?”

The thematic essay requires students to discuss two people, other than presidents, who played significant roles that led to changes in the nation’s economy, government, or society. In case the students can’t come up with any names, a list is provided: Margaret Sanger, Bill Gates, Henry Ford, César Chávez, Martin Luther King, Jr., Frederick Douglass, Andrew Carnegie, Jacob Riis, and Upton Sinclair. If that’s not enough, the test even provides the nine people’s fields of endeavor.

An examination that neither requires a mastery of a body of knowledge nor demands the proper competence in reading and writing for its grade level measures nothing. However, it does perform a useful, albeit cynical, function: deceiving those who wish to be deceived. While some government officials pursue the content of our foods with a vengeance—restaurants in New York City may no longer use trans fats, and many are also required to display the number of calories in their food—others seem to be busy manipulating the content of our kids’ exams in order to yield pleasing results. All the rhetoric calling for higher standards and improved teacher and student performance turns out to be nothing more than bluster. In the end, there is only one difficult question that the Regents exam poses: What does a student have to do to fail?

Marc Epstein was a contributor to A Consumer’s Guide to High School History Textbooks, edited by Diane Ravitch. He teaches history at Jamaica High School in New York City.

Regents math test was quite a challenge
‘Raw score’ of 30 was enough to pass

National Standards, Charter Schools and Teacher Recruitment/Dismissal: The Confluence of Policy and Politics

Credit Recovery

Patronizing the Poor