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Saturday, April 3, 2010

NYC Education Officials Lie, Says Diana Ravich

I have posted before, and will again, comments on the pseudo-educational public school system that we have right now in New York City. This "house of straws" founded by Mayor Mike Bloomberg and Joel Klein (with the help of Dennis Walcott and all the Senators eager to curry favor) is built on a hill of lies about the reforms, improvements, and achievements of children in the public schools of NYC. Education icon Diane Ravich has her own thoughts on New York City's public schools, and here they are:

Cheating kids
By DIANE RAVITCH, NY POST, Dec. 10, 2009

National math scores were released this week for 18 cities, including New York City, and we learned that our state tests are a complete sham. The National Assessment of Educational Progress, which is administered by a federal agency, is considered the gold standard of education testing. The big lesson: Our state test scores are grossly inflated.

For the last several years, state education officials have held an annual press conference to boast about dramatic improvements in scores. But the NAEP scores tell a very different story.

According to state officials, the scores for New York City have soared year after year. From 2003 to 2009, they said, the proportion of fourth-grade students who met the state standard for proficiency leapt from 66.7 percent in 2003 to 84.9 percent in 2009. In eighth grade, where test scores had long been flat, the proportion who reached proficiency soared from 34.4 percent to an astonishing 71.3 percent. These amazing changes seemed too good to be true.

They were. The national scores show that the proportion of fourth-grade students who reached proficiency rose from 21 percent to 35 percent. That is solid, and Chancellor Joel Klein can certainly take pride in that improvement. But it certainly doesn't support the state's claim that 84.9 percent are proficient.

The eighth-graders showed modest improvement in the six-year span, from 21 percent proficient to 26 percent. Again, commendable progress, but it is far from the 71.3 percent that the state announced.

As a result of the state's manipulation of test scores, many students aren't getting the attention that they need, and school officials are led to believe that programs are working when they're not. Schools can't help students who are far behind in math when the state mistakenly says they're "proficient."

New York City has a policy of "no social promotion" for students who score only Level 1 (the bottom rank) on the state tests. But the number of students who score that low has been mysteriously shrinking. In 2007, 5,765 (or 8.1 percent) of fourth-grade students were Level 1, but by 2009, only 3,206 (or 4.6 percent) were.

Among eighth-grade students, the number of Level 1 students dropped from 14,099 (or 18.8 percent) in 2007 to only 3,263 (or 4.5 percent) in 2009. City officials attributed the decline to successful programs, but the federal tests again tell a different story.

NAEP found that 21 percent of fourth-grade students -- not 4.6 percent -- in New York City are "below basic," which is equivalent to Level 1 on the federal test. Worse, among eighth-grade students, a shocking 40 percent are "below basic," not the 4.5 percent that the state reported.

Congress intended that the federal tests would serve as an audit for the claims made by states, which are required to take the NAEP tests, and by those districts that volunteered to take them. What we've learned from this audit is that the New York state test program is broken. It's giving us false information about student progress, which leads not only to complacency and false pride, but to failure to acknowledge the actual situation and set a strong course of action.

We also learned from the federal tests that New York City made no progress for the last two years, and there was no narrowing of the achievement gap between black and white students or between Hispanic and white students.

But NAEP shows that over six years, the city made slow and steady gains in both the fourth and eighth grades. There is a lesson here for the city's Department of Education. If a school made no progress for two straight years, Tweed would give it an F and perhaps close it down. The department should learn from its own experience and recognize that it is unfair to measure progress based on only one or two years of scores.

For now, the challenge facing state education officials is to fix the state testing system. Not only is it broken, not only is it an embarrassment to the state, but the rosy misinformation that it provides is harming children.

Diane Ravitch, a research pro fessor of education at New York University, is author of the forth coming "The Death and Life of the Great American School System."

New York education officials are lying to the state's schoolkids
BY Diane Ravitch, NY Daily News, Wednesday, March 31st 2010, 4:00 AM

Education Secretary Arne Duncan (pictured below) says that when states lower their standards, "We are

lying to our children." He must be talking about New York State, which has a well-established record of lying to our children about their progress in school.

Every year, state officials announce another set of dramatic gains on state tests for the children of New York.

And every year, state officials lie to our children.

According to the state, the percentage of fourth-grade students who were proficient readers soared from 48% in 1999 to 77% last year, an impressive feat. Eighth-grade students made no progress from 1999, when only 48% were proficient, until 2006. Then their achievement soared and, by last year, the state proudly announced that 69% of eighth-graders had achieved proficiency on state tests.

In math, the percentage of fourth-graders who were proficient by New York State standards shot up from 67% in 1999 to 87% in 1999. The eighth-grade math scores skyrocketed from 38% in 1999 to 80% last year.

But last week, the federal government released scores for the nation and the states, and New York did not fare well. In fact, almost all of New York's reported gains for the past seven years disappeared into thin air.

The federal test - the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP - is the gold standard of testing. Congress requires all states to take NAEP tests to audit state claims. The federal audit was an embarrassment for New York.

The reading scores released last week show that 36% of New York's fourth-graders - not 77% - are proficient. And unlike the state scores, which have gone up every year without fail, the state scores on NAEP for fourth-graders have been flat since 2002. The federal test continues to show huge achievement gaps: 45% of white students are proficient, as are 52% of Asians. This contrasts with 18% of black students and 22% of Hispanic students.

In eighth grade, the picture is no better. On the NAEP test, 33% of our students are proficient in reading, not the 69% claimed by the state. The federal test shows zero improvement at this grade since 1998. And the racial achievement gap is shocking: 44% of whites are proficient, as are 49% of Asians, but only 13% of blacks and 16% of Hispanics.

In math, the state does slightly better, but not much. The federal tests show 40% of our fourth-grade students are proficient, while the state says it is 87%. Over time, the federal scores have improved for this grade, but not for eighth grade. There, only 34% are proficient, not the 80% claimed by the state. And, unlike the state, which has boasted of big improvements in the eighth grade, the federal tests reveal that there have been no gains in eighth grade since 2003.

If students in New York made no gains on the national tests, why did state tests report spectacular progress every year? The people of the state deserve an honest answer.

Fortunately, there is new leadership in Albany. Merryl Tisch, the

new chancellor of the Board of Regents, and David Steiner, the new state commissioner of education, have pledged to review the entire testing program. Surely they will determine how standards dropped so low that the public was regularly misinformed about student progress.

Now is the time for honesty, integrity and transparency.

Ravitch, a historian of education, is the author of "The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education."

A new agenda for school reform
By Diane Ravitch
Friday, April 2, 2010; A17

I used to be a strong supporter of school accountability and choice. But in recent years, it became clear to me that these strategies were not working. The federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) program enacted in 2002 did not produce large gains in reading and math. The gains in math were larger before the law was implemented, and the most recent national tests showed that eighth-grade students have made no improvement in reading since 1998. By mandating a utopian goal of 100 percent proficiency, the law encouraged states to lower their standards and make false claims of progress. Worse, the law stigmatized schools that could not meet its unrealistic expectation.

Choice, too, has been disappointing. We now know that choice is no panacea. The districts with the most choice for the longest period -- Cleveland and Milwaukee -- have seen no improvement in their public schools nor in their choice schools. Charter schools have been compared to regular public schools on the National Assessment of Educational Progress in 2003, 2005, 2007 and 2009, and have never outperformed them. Nationally, only 3 percent of public school students are enrolled in charters, and no one is giving much thought to improving the system that enrolls the other 97 percent.

It is time to change course.

To begin with, let's agree that a good education encompasses far more than just basic skills. A good education involves learning history, geography, civics, the arts, science, literature and foreign language. Schools should be expected to teach these subjects even if students are not tested on them.

Everyone agrees that good education requires good teachers. To get good teachers, states should insist -- and the federal government should demand -- that all new teachers have a major in the subject they expect to teach or preferably a strong educational background in two subjects, such as mathematics and music or history and literature. Every state should expect teachers to pass a rigorous examination in the subjects they will teach, as well as a general examination to demonstrate their literacy and numeracy.

We need principals who are master teachers, not inexperienced teachers who took a course called "How to Be a Leader." The principal is expected to evaluate teachers, to decide who deserves tenure and to help those who are struggling and trying to improve. If the principal is not a master teacher, he or she will not be able to perform the most crucial functions of the job.

We need superintendents who are experienced educators because their decisions about personnel, curriculum and instruction affect the entire school system. If they lack experience, they will not be qualified to select the best principals or the best curricula for their districts.

We need assessments that gauge students' understanding and require them to demonstrate what they know, not tests that allow students to rely solely on guessing and picking one among four canned answers.

We should stop using the term "failing schools" to describe schools where test scores are low. Usually, a school has low test scores because it enrolls a disproportionately large number of low-performing students. Among its students may be many who do not speak or read English, who live in poverty, who miss school frequently because they must baby-sit while their parents look for work, or who have disabilities that interfere with their learning. These are not excuses for their low scores but facts about their lives.

Instead of closing such schools and firing their staffs, every state should have inspection teams that spend time in every low-performing school and diagnose its problems. Some may be mitigated with extra teachers, extra bilingual staff, an after-school program or other resources. The inspection team may find that the school was turned into a dumping ground by district officials to make other schools look better. It may find a heroic staff that is doing well under adverse circumstances and needs help. Whatever the cause of low performance, the inspection team should create a plan to improve the school.

Only in rare circumstances should a school be closed. In many poor communities, schools are the most stable institution. Closing them destroys the fabric of the community.

We must break free of the NCLB mind-set that makes accountability synonymous with punishment. As we seek to rebuild our education system, we must improve the schools where performance is poor, not punish them.

If we are serious about school reform, we will look for long-term solutions, not quick fixes.

We wasted eight years with the "measure and punish" strategy of NCLB. Let's not waste the next eight years.

Diane Ravitch is a historian of education. Her most recent book is "The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education."