NYC: Cheating or sympathy?

“Scores on English Regents exams for high schoolers plummeted” when New York City barred teachers from grading tests given at their own school, reports the New York Daily News. Passing rates dropped at 373 out of 490 schools and the failure rate on English exams rose from 27 percent to 35 percent. That change was “not reflected in the other nine Regents subjects.”

At Harlem Renaissance High School 69% of students passed English in 2012. In 2013, only 37% passed. “Teachers helped us out a little bit. They gave us credit for trying,” said senior Morrell Christian, 19, recalling the good old days. “If you needed extra points they gave them to you. That changed when they couldn’t mark their own tests.

Evaluating essays is subjective, teachers told the Daily News. While “grade inflation was rampant,” it wasn’t cheating, they said.

“Teachers know their students. Sometimes a bad grade means the student giving you hell again next year, or him not getting a scholarship,” said one teacher at a Brooklyn school. “There’s a form of empathy coming out. Like, ‘Oh my God, there has to be another point in there! Let’s find it.’”

Many said teachers were “encouraged to grade the exams generously so more students would graduate.” That helped students, but raising graduation rates also could keep a school from closing and earn the principal a “fat bonus.”

Don’t blame measurements for cheating, writes Matt Yglesias on Vox. He’s responding to tweets by Chris Hayes, who “offers a take on the VA scandal that’s calculated to warm the hearts of America’s teachers unions,” writes Yglesias. Hayes writes:

Current VA story is a classic example how metrics ordered from above often just lead to books being cooked rather than better performance . . . See juking crime stats, Atlanta standardized test cheating scandal, etc…

Yglesias wonders if  “a person who cheats in response to an incentive program the kind of person who’s going to do amazing work in the absence of an incentive program . . . If a data-based framework is imperfect, is going to a data-free one any better?”

About Joanne


  1. Sounds like a cheating scandal to me, esp. due to the disparity of scores (a few percentage points I could understand, but 69 to 37 percent, not a chance).

    Par for the course in our schools anymore

  2. Michael E. Lopez says:

    Students learn to write what their teachers like, in a style that their teachers like.

    This sort of thing happens in college all the time, when TA’s from other sections end up grading a paper that a student wrote after spending 9 weeks with a different TA who stressed different things and had slightly different expectations.

    Now maybe the gulf is too large, as Bill suggests. But in principle, lower grades when outsiders do the grading is nothing either surprising or disturbing. And really, the score distribution would tell us more about whether the shift is too large. If a great number of students were right near the threshold between passing and failing, say if it were a normal distribution with the threshold right near the vertex, you might see a rather large shift if the distribution as a whole were just inched one way or another.

  3. Those doing the assessing should generally be different from those whose reputation and apparent performance will be enhanced by a high assessment score. Otherwise there exists incentive to inflate scores.
    For instance, in hospital settings, there is a part of the birth team that focuses on taking care of the newborn baby, including typically assigning APGAR scores; the OB is usually busy tending to mom, not the baby, during the first five minutes after birth. APGAR scores of 10 are not frequently given out at hospitals because babies’ hands and feet take a little bit to pink up. That happened with my first child, and I remember my OB saying, “She should have been given a 10!” But based on the standard APGAR criteria, the score of 9 was actually the correct one to give.
    A recent study indicates that when a child is born at home with a homebirth midwife assisting, the midwife–who is often both taking care of mom and assessing the baby–is much more likely to give a five-minute APGAR score of 10 than would be statistically warranted.

    • Mark Roulo says:

      “APGAR scores of 10 are not frequently given out at hospitals because babies’ hands and feet take a little bit to pink up.”
      According to a friend’s sister, who is/was a nurse, APGAR scores of ten are usually reserved for babies of ob/gyn doctors 🙂

  4. Yeah, if it’s a word that encapsulates the motivating sentiment of the school district it’s “sympathy”.

    • Roger Sweeny says:

      If your students believe, “If I do what the teacher tells me and I don’t make trouble, I will pass,” they are much more likely to behave.

      Prisons do the same thing: “If I do what the guards tell me and don’t make trouble, I won’t have to serve my whole sentence.”

      • And that has what to do with this bit of news? Not much I’m thinking so the word that encapsulates the motivating sentiment of the school district is “cheating” when I’m not being broadly sarcastic.

        I suppose a defense that might fly is diminished capacity since the thought of having some responsibility for your job has probably resulted in extreme stress among the professionals who’ve never given the idea a second’s thought throughout their career. That would still be cheating but….

        It would still be cheating.

        But since it’s an ill wind that blows no good, this means there’s a reason to cheat, i.e. something of value to the teachers/administrators is at stake. Anyone with a conscience has to want a situation in which good teachers are identified and retain while bad teachers are given the boot, right?

  5. PhillipMarlowe says:

    Unmentioned is that charter schools still grade Regent exams in house.

    • Change of subject penalty. Five yard loss.

      • PhillipMarlowe says:

        Oh dear.
        The inane rise again.
        Last year much huzzah was given to the selective Eva charters that did well on the state tests.

        • And another change of subject.

          I guess that’s all the perennial loser really has on offer.

          I guess though if you can change subject I ought to be able to as well, hey?

          Do you think Bill de Blasio’s going to go to bat again for your side? He did get pretty well slapped around on his first outing so it might be a while before he gathers his courage or his wits or whatever it is he’s got to pull together before he goes out to get smacked around again.

          • PhillipMarlowe says:

            Allen, you are much like the pickpocket, who, when caught, cries out “thief!”

          • And you’re like the guy who has a stratospherically high opinion of himself requiring you to hate anyone who pops your bubble.

            Still nothing to say about the subject at hand?


          • PhillipMarlowe says:

            ..go the weasel.
            Oh dear, the thickness sets in.
            Charter schools are grading their own essays again this year.
            We won’t know if there is any grade inflation.
            But that asterisk won’t be mentioned if their scores are better than the public schools.

            Instead, we will read you crowing that this shows the superiority of charters and the public schools will choke on their own vomit and die in the dustbin of history, along with the poor ignorant parents who fail to recognize the wonders of charters.

          • I guess what passes for cleverness in your sad, little world is to change the subject every time some item emerges which casts the district system in a less then favorable light.

            But the issue is whether district schools are cheating or are so suffused with the milk of human kindness that it’s sympathy that motivates the falsifying of test scores.

            Yeah, who could doubt that it’s the latter?

            Pretty much everyone with two working brain cells to rub together which is why you have to change the subject. Any defense you could offer wouldn’t pass the “laugh” test so you try to change the subject.

            You are right about school district being shoveled into the dustbin of history and the really delicious irony is that part of the political deal that brought charters into existence, the significantly lower funding then that enjoyed by district schools, will provide the evidence that’s needed to bring an end to school districts.

            You want some irony? There ya go, baby.

          • PhillipMarlowe says:

            Projecting again, allen.
            You are the one changing the subject, bringing on the nastiness.
            I would suggest you get out and talk and work with parents, rather than trolling me and other internet femme fatale.

          • Well then you display your insightfulness by refusing to be diverted and make some remark about the subject of this thread, the remarkable reduction in test scores when tests weren’t scored by school district teachers who gave the tests.

            Joanne’s made it easier for you then it might otherwise be by suggesting a possibility other then cheating.

            Go ahead, try to make the argument that the teachers were cheating on the tests because they wanted to shield the delicate flowers of youth from a harsh reality. The exercise will do you good and everyone will have a hearty laugh for which you’ll be responsible. That’ll be nice, won’t it?

          • PhillipMarlowe says:

            It’s funny that despite your belief in the imminent collapse of the public school system by choking on its own vomit and the subsequent breaking of the shankles holding back the poor, ignorant downtrodding, that you find the time to respond. Suggests to me that you have doubts and/or feelings of inadequacies and are trying to compensate here on the internets.

          • How long do you think it takes to respond? It’s not much of an imposition so your foray into psychoanalysis via forum postings is more a comment on your preference for avoiding the topic which suggests to me you’re entirely aware of the shortcomings of the district system but you just don’t care.

            Oh, I timed the writing of this post and it took me a bit over four minutes. So if I have doubts and/or feelings of inadequacy they’re assuaged with just four minutes of modest effort.

            But to get back to the topic you’ve so far chosen to avoid, were those teachers cheating for their own gain or did they fudge the scores out of a misplaced sense of kindness for the children about they so deeply care?

          • PhillipMarlowe says:


          • Hardly but then you rarely have much appetite for the topic at hand. I think I’m the one who ought to be typing “QED”.

          • PhillipMarlowe says:

            QED, again,

          • PhillipMarlowe says:

            And as noted before, you have an obsession to prove yourself correct. Inadequacies fulfilled on the internets.

          • Even were that true, you’re a casual liar. Between the two my purported character trait’s rather less reprehensible then your lying in service of your desire to prove yourself correct.

            But those NYC teachers, were they slimy cheats only interested in service to themselves or secular saints who were only interested in shielding the tykes from ugly reality?

            You do remember that’s what this topic is about, right?