Black (+ educator) will run NYC schools

Cathie Black will get the waiver she needs to take over as chancellor of New York City schools — with a chief academic officer who’s worked as a teacher and principal. Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg agreed to the deal demanded by the state education commissioner, David M. Steiner, who’d threatened to deny Black a waiver because of the publishing executive’s lack of education experience.

Shael Polakow-Suransky, 38, a former principal of a Bronx high school and a top official at the city’s Department of Education, will be Black’s second in command. He’s known for his focus on improving instruction, reports Gotham Schools.

Now, fix the Regents exams

Now that New York has raised its definition of proficiency in exams for grades three through eight, it’s time to fix the high school Regents exams, writes Marc Epstein in City Journal. The Regents have been dumbed down, charges Epstein, a high school history teacher in New York City.

The Global History and Geography Regents requires no knowledge or geography, he writes.

One handout shows a man sitting in a pedicab while the driver tries to walk the bicycle pulling the passenger through about three or four feet of water. The question asks: “What was one problem that people in the Varanasi region of India faced once the 1983 summer monsoons arrived, based on this National Geographic photograph and its caption?” If you couldn’t figure it out just by looking at the picture, the caption informs you that there was flooding and sewage, along with floating animal carcasses.

. . . A second part of the test, known as the thematic essay, asks the student to write about change and ideas, selecting two famous people—from a list including Nelson Mandela, Karl Marx, Galileo, and Mikhail Gorbachev—and explaining a specific idea the individuals developed, the historical circumstances surrounding its development, and how it influenced a group, a nation, or a region. After two years of global history, it’s safe to say that even your marginal students can find something to say about Marx and Communism or Mandela and apartheid.

The U.S. History and Government exam asked students to “write about the positive and negative effects of technology on the American society and economy,” a “rehashed question” from an old test designed for special-needs students or those who couldn’t pass the Regents exam, Epstein writes.

The document-based questions on the History exam were just as risible. A cartoon from the National Temperance Almanac depicts a saloonkeeper laying bricks around the entrance to his saloon—with the bricks labeled “wrecked lives,” ruined fortunes,” “lost virtue,” and “ruined characters.” The question then asks the student to state two effects that alcohol had on American society.

Students can pass by answering only one of two essay questions if they do well enough on the multiple-choice and document-based questions.

Proficient should mean college ready, backed up by automatic admission to a state  university, writes Core Knowledge’s Robert Pondiscio on Answer Sheet.

For low-income families with high aspirations but little educational experience, all they know is what the state and public schools tell them. And they’ve been misled. Seeing their children through the K-12 pipeline with a clear picture of readiness and a guaranteed college acceptance would likely be the difference between success and failure.

“’Proficiency’ on our exams has to mean something real,” (New York Education Commissioner David) Steiner wrote recently. “No good purpose is served when we say that a child is proficient when that child simply is not.”

Sol Stern writes about the history of New York’s testing mess in National Review.

'Proficient' = 52% graduation rate

Test scores are soaring in New York, reports the Buffalo News. But the scores don’t mean students are doing well, says Education Commissioner David M. Steiner.

Steiner asked a group led by Harvard’s Daniel M. Koretz to determine whether eighth-grade scores correlate to high school Regents exam scores and then to success in college.

The conclusion: Students in New York State are moving through elementary, middle and high school with test scores they believe to be adequate, but once they get to college, they find they are not prepared.

“Proficient” on New York’s test was equivalent to the 45th percentile on national tests in 2006, the study finds. By 2009, students at the 20th percentile on national tests were being labeled proficient in New York.

No wonder scores are up.

Even worse, of all students who test proficient in math and reading in eighth grade, only half graduate from high school, reports the New York Post.

More than 95 percent of those who graduate with the minimum passing score (65) on the Regents math exam end up in remedial math as CUNY freshmen. The study found students who score below 80 have little chance of passing college-level classes.

This is no surprise, writes Core Knowledge’s Robert Pondiscio.

For years, I saw 5th graders come into my Bronx classroom who were ostensibly on grade level yet demonstrated little command of basic arithmetic.

But not everybody wants to take an honest look at how well students are doing, Pondiscio notes.

Buffalo’s school superintendent blasted Steiner and his deputy John King last week for focusing on more rigorous tests. ”I think they’re two people who don’t know what they’re doing,” James A. Williams told the Buffalo News. “A more rigorous test is not going to improve student achievement. It’s not going to improve the graduation rate. I think it’s ridiculous.”

. . . Steiner isn’t talking about testing our way to proficiency. He’s talking about how test scores should be indicative of real-world proficiency.

Pretending that marginal students are “proficient” isn’t going to raise the achievement rate either.

Twice as many New York City students are taking summer school classes this year, the Post reports, because Steiner made this year’s math and reading tests less predictable and wider in scope and raised the passing bar.  That might raise achievement and graduation rates.