Getting real about inflated test scores

New York is trying to clean up its testing mess, writes Sol Stern in City Journal.  Merryl Tisch, chancellor of the Board of Regents, and David Steiner, the state’s new education commissioner, have ordered an outside audit of the state’s scores.

To satisfy No Child Left Behind, New York (and many other states) made it easier and easier for students to score as “proficient.” Politicians claim credit for success based on inflated test scores. In New York City, principals and teachers collect bonuses for higher scores with little oversight to prevent cheating.

(In New York) the percentage of eighth-graders reaching proficiency on the state’s math test rose from 58.8 percent in 2007 to a stunning 80.2 percent in 2009, while over the same period, the NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress) math scores for the eighth-graders remained flat. On the state’s fourth-grade reading exams, the proficiency rate went up from 68 percent in 2007 to 76.9 percent in 2009, while the NAEP test again showed no gain. On the state’s eighth-grade reading test, the proficiency rate went from 57 percent to 68.5 percent, while the NAEP tests showed a 1 percentile-point gain.

New York elementary students who guess blindly at multiple-choice questions will do well enough to reach the “basic” level. The high school Regents exams also has been dumbed down, Stein writes. The passing score on the algebra exam is 35 percent.

Stein suggests making it a crime to alter students’ test sheets, banning teachers from grading their own students’ Regents exams and putting test-based bonus schemes on hold till the audit is completed.

If New York gets real about how students are performing, will other states follow suit?

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