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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  1. SuperSub says:

    The testing mess in NY has more to do with the DOE than any individual school. That 10% of exams are improperly graded is actually due to exam questions or provided answer keys that are too ambiguous or occasionally incorrect.
    Numerous exams have curves that turn 35 or 40% raw scores into passing grades.
    In addition, the content on the exams has gotten much easier.

  2. If we used standards that were in schools during the 1960’s, 70’s, and early 80’s, these kids would have all received F’s and been repeating the class/grade in summer school.

    We’ve gone from achieving in our school systems to accepting mediocre work from everyone due to the fact we don’t want to hurt little Johnny’s or Jane’s self-esteem.

    They’ll get a dose of reality when they try to interview for a job and find out how little they actually know (when they don’t get a job offer).


  3. formernyer says:

    This is not news, only maybe to the parents. Teachers in NYS have known for years the tests were being dumbed down. We’ll see if they really have the fortitude to tell parents that no, your student doesn’t know math at the 8th grade level, but rather at the 3rd, 4th or …whatever is their true level. NYS and pretty much every state of which I have read the curriculum, has huge issues that won’t go away just by once again redoing the test. How about redoing the curriculum, teaching elementary teachers what to teach and how to teach it.

    And how about the dirty little secret of principals changing test scores? Teachers grade fairly only to find the 64, 63 grades are magic 65, passing scores!


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