Has the statute of limitations expired? I admit it, I scrubbed Regents exam essays, or. to use the current term, “re-scored” the exams. We weren’t worried about graduation rates or teacher evaluation; we simply wanted to give kids a break. We took a look at every paper with grades from 61 to 64, sometimes you “found” one or two points, and, sometimes not. If the kid came to class, did his/her homework and tried, a little push over the top seemed warranted. If the kid cut class, was truant, no mercy, if he/r failed the course, take the course over, night school or summer school; such were the unwritten rules for decades.
In the post 2002 world of accountability graduation rates matter, they determine the future of a school and they determine the future of a teacher. Under federal rules states must identify low performing schools as identified by student scores on state grades 3-8 tests and graduation rates determined by credit accumulation and Regents passing rates. In New York State 700 out of the 4400 schools fall into the “struggling” categories – focus, priority and persistently struggling. 62 of these schools could fall into receivership, i. e., removed from the school district and handed over to a company to manage. (Read the program description here).
There are three ways to increase student achievement:
1. Improve teaching and learning by improving the skills of the school leaders and teachers.
From Washington to Albany to school districts and schools we all “talk the talk,” walking the walk is much more difficult; hiring talented school leaders and teachers, providing them with consistent supports, creating a climate of collaboration, rich curriculum and materials, all essential, and, often lacking.
2. Schools can attract more capable students:
Charter schools commonly have fewer Students with Disabilities, fewer English language learners and fewer poor kids, if you compare “apple to apples,” exclude the above categories publics perform at least as well as charter schools. The Bloomberg administration created over 200 screened schools and programs, picking kids increases the data for your schools and decreases the data for everyone else.
3. Cheat, well, increase the frequency of credit recovery and re-scoring.
In the years after No Child Left Behind the statewide test scores in New York State increased almost every year. We appeared to be doing something right, although we didn’t know what we were doing right. In 2008 Chancellor Merryl Tisch and newly appointed Commissioner David Steiner asked a Harvard professor to take a look – and – low and behold, the questions on the state tests, by design or by incompetence, were similar every year; test prep prepared the kids who did increasingly better.
New tests were instituted and the scores lagged, with consequences.
At the high school level a reasonable idea become a ploy. If a student fails a course why should he have to repeat the entire course – all 54-hours of required seat time – why shouldn’t the kids only have to exhibit competency in the areas s/he had failed – sounds reasonable.
A confidential report commissioned by a member of the Regents showed widespread misuse of credit recovery. Schools purchased computer software packages by course, a kid sits in front of a computer screen and answers questions, looks up answers in a text book, and, continues until s/her achieves competency. Instead of 54-hours, maybe a few hours, without any actual instruction and nobody fails, you keep plugging in the answers until you “gain competency.” After a public hearing and increasing state scrutiny the city issued regulations to curtail the practice.
In spite of the regulations, nothing changed. A series of articles in the NY Post is disheartening. The practice is once again widespread across the city with the knowledge and consent of the administration.
… nearly 40 schools awarded between 5 percent and 31 percent of their credits to kids through makeup work in 2011-12, while close to three dozen gave between 5 percent and 46 percent of their credits that way the previous school year.
Multiple sources claim [John] Dewey [High School[ is cutting corners by passing kids with the help of a shady “credit recovery” program that students sarcastically call “Easy Pass.”
Flushing HS put 150 flunking students in quickie online “credit recovery” courses and pressured teachers to reverse failing grades to boost a lower-than-50 percent graduation rate, a stunning internal ¬e-mail shows. “Our benchmark of a 60 percent graduation rate in June is nonnegotiable,” ¬Patricia Cuti, assistant principal for guidance, insisted in a June 1 missive to staff.
Investigators are knocking on the doors of Richmond Hill HS teachers to question them about a Regents re-scoring scandal — and who leaked an incriminating internal ¬e-mail to The Post, sources said.
Officers asked staffers of the Queens school if they gave The Post an e-mail from an assistant principal about assembling a team of teachers to re-score exams. “They’re going after the whistle blowers,” a source said.
The widespread use of inappropriate credit recovery practices across the school system is not a coincidence; superintendents and upper school district leadership encourage “whatever is necessary” to bloat graduation rates. Every grade is entered in the Department database, including the name of the teacher; credit recovery courses have distinct codes. Did the credit recovery course taker attend school regularly? Did s/he fail the course because s/he was truant? Did the course attendance plus the credit recovery seat time equal the required 54-hour of instruction? Was the credit recovery teacher licensed in the subject area of the credit recovery course? Did any actual instruction take place? The Department knows the practice is widespread and chooses to ignore.
The Department policy seems to be plausible deniability (…the ability for persons (typically senior officials in a formal or informal chain of command) to deny knowledge of and responsibility for any damnable actions committed by others (usually subordinates in an organizational hierarchy because of a lack of evidence that can confirm their participation); protecting the higher ups as they fight off pressures to increase graduation rates.
A scandal only becomes a scandal when the scandalous nature of the action is acknowledged. In spite of the excellent reporting from the NY Post the Department has gone into the “raise the drawbridge, defend the castle” mode. The NYC Department Investigation Unit is pursuing the whistleblowers not the evil-doers.
The state has the power to investigate test integrity, and, the misuse of credit recovery, which, in my judgement, falls under the “Test Security and Educator Integrity Unit”
The new State Commissioner should direct the Integrity Unit to begin an investigation of misuse of credit recovery, rescoring exams and the role of the city administration.