Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Education in New York

New York State, faced with years of declining test scores has found an innovative way to brighten the picture (and comply with Bush's No Child Left Behind):

When does 2 + 2 = 5?

When you're taking the state math test.

Despite promises that the exams -- which determine whether students advance to the next grade -- would not be dumbed down this year, students got "partial credit" for wrong answers after failing to correctly add, subtract, multiply and divide. Some got credit for no answer at all.

"They were giving credit for blatantly wrong things," said an outraged Brooklyn teacher who was among those hired to score the fourth-grade test.

State education officials had vowed to "strengthen" and "increase the rigor" of both the questions and the scoring when about 1.2 million kids in grades 3 to 8 -- including 450,000 in New York City -- took English exams in April and math exams last month.

But scoring guides obtained by The Post reveal that kids get half-credit or more for showing fragments of work related to the problem -- even if they screw up the calculations or leave the answer blank.

Awarding partial credit allows New York to improve its test scores without any actual improvement in student skills of knowledge. It's a clever trick to obscure the underlying reality that no amount of money or resources or brand new teaching techniques have substantial reversed the steady slide in statewide test scores over the past few decades. The leftists who run New York's public schools cannot admit to themselves - and certainly cannot confess to the public - that additional money or new teaching methods won't fix the problem (since that would put them out of a job), so instead, they simply inflate the scores so that it looks like progress is being made, when it isn't.

These questions ask students to show their work. The scoring guidelines, called "holistic rubrics," require that points be given if a kid's attempt at an answer reflects a "partial understanding" of the math concept, "addresses some element of the task correctly," or uses the "appropriate process" to arrive at a wrong solution. Despite flubbing the answer, students can get 1 point on a 2-point problem and 1 or 2 points on a 3-pointer.

The Brooklyn teacher said she and peers who had trained to score the tests were stunned at some instructions.

"Everybody in the room was upset," she said.

The teacher had scored tests with some "controversial questions" for several years, but "this time it was more outrageous," she said. "You feel like you're being forced to cheat."

Scorers joked about giving points to kids who wrote their names, brought a pencil or shared gum.

If this wasn't so tragic, it might be funny. Just another example of a government bureaucracy covering its own posterior with creative cheating.

A year ago, Chancellor Joel Klein boasted that the city was making "dramatic progress" when 82 percent of city students passed the state math test and 69 percent passed in English, up sharply from 2002. And fewer kids have been left back in recent years.

What officials didn't reveal was that the number of points needed to pass proficiency levels has, in most cases, steadily dropped.

The state Board of Regents, which oversees the tests, has postponed the release of results until late July, but let the city Department of Education set its own "promotional cut scores" to decide which kids may be held back. The DOE will release those scores in the next two weeks, a spokesman said.

Unfortunately, what is not discussed - what cannot be discussed - is the real reason New York test scores are declining: the increasing percentage of non-Asian minorities (NAMs) among the public student body. No amount of additional funding, lower teacher-per-student ratios, better resources or teaching methods can change that. The evidence is easily found. Whites and Asians score well on standardized tests; blacks and Latinos do not. In general, schools with largely white or Asian student bodies rank highly; in general, schools with mostly black or Latino student bodies do not.

Making the situation worse (as if that were possible) is the near messianic zeal with which they educational bureaucracy views its role in society. John Derbyshire notes that America's elites have deluded themselves with the idea that everyone has unlimited potential and that it is the job of the government (through the schools) to realize that potential.

If the theory of modern American education is wildly romantic, the practice is a sort of missionary endeavor, in which selfless idealists give their all — including, to judge from one movie portrayal, their marriages — in order to lift up benighted heathens into the saving light of knowledge. When I was a schoolteacher it was a job. You did your best in the prescribed hours, then went home and tackled a bit of gardening. Nowadays you are expected to be Albert Schweitzer.

This missionary ideal has utterly corrupted American education. Where, after all, are the benighted heathens to be found? At the bottom of the ability scale, that’s where. So all our efforts in public education are tilted towards “helping the disadvantaged.” Unintelligent, unmotivated students are showered with resources, while those who will benefit most from teaching are neglected.

That, at any rate, is the missionary ideal. The notion of “giftedness” is blurred and diluted down to nothing (current official ed-theory doctrine is that all students are gifted — I have not made that up) while heroic efforts, and boxcar-loads of cash, are devoted to instilling bookishness in the un-bookish. Often the bookish and the un-bookish are taught together, with malign results for both: The smart kids slumber in slowed-down lessons, while dim ones are academically overwhelmed.

This sort of nonsense has led to the government encouraging tens of thousands of American students to dig themselves into major indebtedness in order to go to college, when they lack the intellectual skills to prosper there, and in turn has led colleges and universities to dumb down their curricula in order to graduate large number of students who had no business being there in the first place.

Meanwhile, New York state, unable to admit either the demographic changes that have caused its test scores to plummet, or the idea that most students aren't college material, now simply resorts to lying about the actual test scores in order to fool the public into thinking that things aren't quite as bad as everyone knows they are.

This is called progress.

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