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Thursday, April 16, 2009

Diane Ravitch on Joel Klein's letter to the Times

Joel Klein's letter in the New York Times today fails to refute my oped.

The Brookings study to which he refers covers the period from 2000-2007--including the three years prior to implementation of mayoral control. That three-year period included one year (02-03) that showed big gains right before the Bloomberg reforms were introduced.

In other words, with the lawyerly word "largely," he takes credit for gains he had nothing to do with and attributes them to mayoral control.

The Brookings study is based solely on state test scores, which I explained, are exemplars of grade inflation rather than actual achievement because New York state scores on NAEP were as flat as the city’s from 2003-2007.

And then there is the strange idea that NYC kids do well on state tests because they study for them, but do poorly on national tests because they don't. Of what value is it to learn to read if one can read only for state tests? Does that mean that students can't read college textbooks or work manuals because they are prepared only to take state tests?

NAEP remains the federal audit and the best assessment in the nation. If a city or state does poorly on the audit test, then it is doing poorly. The fact that NAEP is an audit test for which students do not prepare makes it more valid, as it accurately reflects reading skill and comprehension, rather than test prep. If a city or state does poorly on the audit test, then it is doing poorly. Or, whom do you trust? Madoff's accountant or the federal auditors?

And last, Klein goes around the nation calling for national standards and tests, yet rejects the results of the national tests that we have. All in all, not a persuasive argument for New York City's alleged gains. ---- Diane Ravitch

Editor's note: For another excellent analysis of why NAEP results are more reliable than those of the NY State tests -- see this posting from Aaron Pallas on Gotham Schools.


Mr. Talk said...

Any teacher who has administered the State tests in math and English over the last five years already knows what you're talking about. The tests have gotten easier every single year. This year's middle school ELA tests were so embarrassingly easy that they didn't even test many of the skills we were mandated to drill into our students.

It would make an interesting study to administer the 2001 test to today's students and see how they fare. That might be even more telling than the NAEP, because Klein couldn't weasel out by claiming that students haven't been taught those skills.

Diane, PLEASE--team up with Bill Thompson or whoever the Democratic mayoral candidate may be. You've got Mike on the defensive, and we need to keep him pinned to the ropes.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Talk you just made the Chancellor's point with this statement. "This year's middle school ELA tests were so embarrassingly easy that they didn't even test many of the skills we were mandated to drill into our students."
Seems to me that without the accountability that Klein and Mike put in to DOE, the teachers wouldn't have made the effort to drill the skills they are mandated to do so.

Mr. Talk said...

Anon, you're joking, right? Teachers have always taught reading comprehension skills, but we haven't taught them exclusively. What my statement shows is that because of the need for constant test prep students do not get any of the enrichment they so need and deserve. Do you think it's accountability to force teachers to go over the difference between fact and opinion 20 times so that students can fill in one bubble correctly on a standardized test?

Education is far more than drilling skills, as you aptly called our current educational system. When I was in middle school, I learned fact and opinion too--ONCE. I also learned things that are not taught today, such as spelling, grammar, and punctuation. More importantly, I was taught (in NYC public schools, no less) a love of literature, a love which is noticeably absent in most students today. I can't say I blame students; I'd hate reading too if every book, story, or poem led to a battery of multiple choice questions or extended responses.

Diana Senechal said...

The argument "NAEP isn't aligned with NYS standards" would make sense only if NAEP and the NYS standards required different bodies of knowledge. The NYS ELA standards are quite vague and require very little specific knowledge.

So unless the NAEP reading passages and questions were esoteric (which they are not), students in NYC should be able to handle them, given the amount of time they spend on literacy and reading skills every day.

Also, there should be a substantial difference between NYS standards and the standards of states whose NAEP scores went up from 2005 to 2007 (Pennsylvania, for instance). To me the NYS and PA standards for ELA seem similar.

What do the soaring NYC ELA scores, contrasted with the flat NAEP scores, suggest? There are several possibilities: (1) the NYS tests are getting easier; (2) the NYS scoring methods have become more lenient; (3) specific scoring sites in NYC encourage scorers to score high when possible; (4) there is cheating on the part of students, test administrators, and scorers; or (5) certain aspects of the NYS tests are drilled so heavily in test prep that the students can pass them with little reading comprehension (I am thinking of the graphic organizers in particular).

Given the test score furor in NYC, I find it likely that some combination of all five has contributed to the "dramatic increases" in NYC scores. I was just looking at sample NAEP passages and questions and see nothing in them that should stump a competent reader.