Sunday, August 01, 2010

The New Truth ... Same as the Old Truth

Faced with mounting criticism that the standardized math and reading proficiency tests used to gauge public school performance were so watered down that chimpanzees could pass them, New York State recently revised the tests, making them tougher. The results were, well, predictable.

There were large drops in passing rates across New York, reflecting new requirements intended to correct for years of inflated results. The exams, state education officials said, had become too easy to pass, their definition of proficiency no longer meaningful. Citywide, the proficiency rate in English fell to 42 percent, from 69 percent last year; 54 percent reached grade level in math, down from 82 percent.

Some schools were hit harder than others.

At some schools, the drop was breathtaking. At Public School 85 in the Bronx, known as the Great Expectations School, there was a literal reversal in fortune, with proficiency on the third-grade math test flipping from 81 percent to 18 percent. At the main campus of the Harlem Promise Academy, one of the city’s top-ranked charter schools, proficiency in third-grade math dropped from 100 percent to 56 percent.

“There are two reactions those of us in this business can have,” said Geoffrey Canada, the chief executive of the Harlem Children’s Zone, which operates the school. “One is to complain, and it’s human nature to do that. The other is to say we need to do something dramatically more intensive and powerful to prepare our kids. We are going to look at the mirror and say we have got to do better.”

In New York City, charter schools, a touchstone of school reform, had been outperforming traditional schools on state tests. But due to steep losses, they are now even with traditional schools on the English test, though they maintained an advantage in math. Statewide, the proficiency rate for charter schools is now one point lower in math and 10 points lower in English than at traditional schools.

The charter school run by the local teachers’ union, the UFT Charter School, showed one of the most severe declines, to 13 percent of eighth graders proficient in math, from 79 percent.

While it would be easy to blame the teachers' union and the entire public school apparatus for both the failing results, and the years of dumbed-down testing that was used to conceal the real situation (and surely some blame appends there), the truth is that the primary reason for the low scores is the quality of the students themselves.

The test results clearly demarcate the problem demographics.

Much of the city’s progress in reducing the achievement gap between minority and white students was eroded by the new numbers, revealing that more black and Hispanic students had been barely passing under the old standards. The percentage of black elementary and middle school students proficient in math fell to 40 percent, from 75 percent, while among white students, passing rates declined to 75 percent, from 92 percent.

Charts that break down the scores by race show that white and Asian students are doing relatively well, whereas black and Hispanic students show markedly lower average scores. The racial gap in test scores corresponds with differences in IQ consistently found between whites, Asians, Hispanics and blacks, and has remained a reality - despite persistent efforts to leftists to dismiss it, ignore it, or change it, for decades. The new New York State standardize test results simply confirm what decades of testing had already shown: the more black or Hispanic a school is, the worse, on average, its overall academic performance will be; the more white or Asian a school is, the better, on average, its performace will be.

And what is true for schools, is true in other contexts too. Which should be food for thought when considering America's changing ethnic demography.