“We’re Better Than Buffalo,” The State Test Debacle: Who Are the Losers and Winners?

Ultimately, no one will be pleased by a measure that is expected to show fewer than 30 percent of students are on track for success after high school. Shael Suransky, NYC Chief Academic Officer

The headlines blare, “State Test Scores Plummet,” and the policy makers scatter for cover; for some an opportunity to further their ambitions, for others a disaster and, for too many, sadness, despair and fear.

Are the scores proof that the Bloomberg-Klein-Walcott years were a failure and a charade? or,

Are we finally on the right track – raising the bar for all students?

Cyberspace will be filled with punditry: gleefully using the scores to support some argument or other or solemnly using the scores to support another argument.

The Bloomberg/Walcott versus Mulgrew wars continue – a detailed analysis sent to the media by the union, Walcott calls it “despicable.”

We are a month away from city-wide primary elections.

As the scores are released who are the losers and winners?

The Losers:

* Student, Families, Teachers and Principals

On Monday “embargoed” scores were posted online for principals. A principal of a school filled with high poverty kids was succeeding, an “A” school, 40% of the kids were “proficient” and the percentage was edging up every year. This year, she recounted, everyone was working especially hard – the new Common Core – curriculum changes – tentative guidance from above- and only 25% of the kids “proficient” on the new test.

“I’m worried that we’ll end up on some ‘bad school’ list, mostly I worry about the students and teachers – they worked so hard and have so little to show for it.”

The psychological impact on kids is hard to quantify, how can you tell kids not to worry, that it wasn’t their fault when the kids say, “You never taught me how to do that problem,” how do you respond?

* Bloomberg/Klein/Walcott

I actually think in the early days the Mayor believed Klein’s public relations machine pumping out one “success” after another. The “successes” were, for the most part, a trompe d’oeille, a carefully etched counterfeit. Credit Recovery jacked up graduation rates by a few points, the constant school closings, an example of “addition by subtraction” with at risk kids concentrated in fewer and fewer schools, charter schools scooping up kids and families with high social capital, and pushing aside kids with disabilities and English language learners, a carefully plotted gambit.

The last few years have been a disaster for a legacy-engaged Mayor. In a Zogby Poll the public trusts the teacher union more than the Mayor on educational issues, Sol Stern in City Journal writes,

New Yorkers now trust the oft-maligned teachers more than they trust the mayor’s office: almost half of all respondents said that teachers should “play the largest role in determining New York City’s education policy,” compared with 28 percent who thought that the mayor-appointed schools chancellor should.

* Commissioner King and Chancellor Tisch:

Kentucky was the first state to use Common Core items and scores dropped 30%. Perhaps it was hubris, perhaps political pressures from “across the street (the Governor’s Office), the Commissioner and the Chancellor rebuffed every effort to postpone the impact of the scores – to use a golf term, they refused to give the State a “mulligan.” The moratorium idea began in a widely covered speech by AFT President Randi Weingarten, gained traction, Education Secretary Duncan quietly said he would not stand in the way – New York State stood firm, no dice, and no postponement. At the July Regents meeting Regent Harry Phillips, a longtime member of the Regents, made a motion to delay for one year the impact of the State tests – Regent Tallon vigorously opposed the motion – Regents Cashin and Rosa spoke in favor and the motion died as the remainder of the Board said nothing.

The Commissioner asked superintendents to be “judicious” in the use of the scores – whatever that means.

The State made every effort to prepare superintendents, principals, teachers and kids for the far more complex test items. High wealth districts pumped in the dollars, low wealth districts are simply struggling to survive, and, in New York City, the readiness swings widely from school to school, with State Ed abdicating any responsibility for the city.

The Commissioner and the Chancellor fumbled an opportunity to gain widespread support across the state.

The winners:

* The Mayoral Candidates.

The candidates will use the test scores as an opportunity to bash the current administration – “As Mayor I will work closely with parents and teachers, I will oppose high stakes testing, I will select an experienced educator as chancellor, I will identify funds to do this and that and the other thing.” The candidates are both running against Bloomberg and being careful not to alienate the current Mayor too much – a tightrope. While the citizenry does not support the Mayor’s education policies most praise him for reducing crime and as a good fiscal custodian.

* The Teacher Union:

The union has been consistently declaring that schools were not adequately prepared for the new Common Core tests. With a Cheshire cat smile they can say, “We told you so.”

I suspect the union will not gloat, well, maybe a little – I suspect that they will do a careful parsing of the test, especially since many of the test items will be released in the coming weeks.

On September 10th Democratic voters will chose from among the pretenders – it appears that Quinn, Thompson and De Blasio will be battling for the two runoff spots on October 1.

The bickering, the recriminations, the warfare has to abate, the school system needs a mayor who can select a chancellor who can get everyone on board – you cannot drag a school system or a state, kicking and screaming, to higher standards.

The beatings will continue until morale improves is not a good slogan.

4 responses to ““We’re Better Than Buffalo,” The State Test Debacle: Who Are the Losers and Winners?

  1. Carole Silverstein.

    I was glad to read that Ms. Cashin and Ms. Rosa voted to support our children. What did the others do? I thank Mr. Tallon and all three Regents for speaking up for the right thing.


  2. Are the scores proof that the Bloomberg-Klein-Walcott years were a failure and a charade? or, Are we finally on the right track – raising the bar for all students?– A bad test item, Peter. You combined two questions–an item writer’s no-no. Compound questions frowned upon in the corridors of test construction. The answer is Yes and No.

    What’s more, I think Randi came up with the moratorium idea after she read an October 28th Sunday Op-Ed in the daily news: How N.Y. is testing parents’ patience. http://www.nydailynews.com/opinion/n-y-testing-parents-patience-article-1.1193382 And I heard the test moratorium notion mentioned from time to time over the years.


  3. Unfortunately, the losers in the Bloomberg/Klein Administration were always the children. When one listens carefully to Walcott’s explanation for the decline in test scores, “the tests got harder,” he is either admitting that the standards in the Klein years were less than adequate and the high scores a fiction based on easy tests, or he is admitting that the scores went down because we didn’t know how to do “test prep” for a test we hadn’t seen yet. He “expects scores to go up dramatically next year (after he and the Mayor are out of office) because he expects that principals will insist on better test prep and demand it of the teacher sand the students.

    Test prep is not the same as teaching children how to think and reason so that they can approach the tests and apply their knowledge, which is what the Common Core is supposed to be about

    We don’t give children the chance to learn things by doing test prep nor do we make them smarter by testing them more often. When the educational deformers begin to understand this, then we can have a meaningful dialogue about how to improve the system.


  4. Only in the “Alice In Wonderland” world where down is up and up is down in the politics of Education in N.Y.C. can failure be called a ‘SUCCESS’! To use another literary reference “The Emperor Has No Clothes”!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s