Questionable contract?

If you want to volunteer for our Citizens Contract Oversight Committee, or have a tip to share, please email us at

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The Achievement Gap Nobody's Talking About - Part 2: Where's the Proficiency?

Roughly 75,000 NYC general education public high school students, most of them ninth graders, took the NYS Regents Integrated Algebra exam, the lowest level Regents math exam and the only one required for high school graduation, during the 2008/09 school year.

Ninth graders that year had been third graders in 2003, making most of them the end product of SIX elementary and middle school classroom years under mayoral control and the stewardship of Chancellor Klein. They also represented the cohort of students who, as eighth graders the previous year, had been celebrated (and repeatedly used politically) by the same mayor and schools chancellor for their markedly improved mathematical proficiency over their predecessor eighth graders. In fact, Chancellor Klein had just the previous year claimed that, under his academic ministrations, 59.6% of those eighth graders were "proficient" in math, as compared to just 34.4% of the eighth graders in 2003. For 2008/09, those Grade 8 math proficiency numbers made an astonishing leap to 71.3% (downloadable slide presentations here).

Following their initial year of high school math, these students tackled a first-level math Regents exam, one that arguably measures baseline knowledge of rudimentary algebra, coordinate geometry, and statistics, along with a tiny nibbling of introductory trigonometry. Thanks to the constant easing of standards by the State Board of Regents, they needed earn just 30 of the exam's 87 possible points to be given a scaled passing grade of 65. By that NYS standard, a 34.5% (an F) qualified as a 65 (a D), and 67 out of 87, or 77% (a C or C+) was scaled up to an 85, a solid, ostensibly "college ready" B.

Based on data for general education students drawn from the NYS school-level report cards (the Comprehensive Information Reports, or CIRs) for all 418 non-charter public high schools I could find in the five boroughs, the results were hardly proficient. Collectively, those 418 schools reported 74,699 Integrated Algebra test-takers for 2008/09, and they achieved a combined pass rate of 58.2%. In other words, only 58% of our public high school students, products of six previous years of mayorally controlled education, were at least able to earn the subterranean, abysmal 34% needed to pass; 42% of the test-takers couldn't even manage that level.

Even more disturbing, however, was the fact that only 4.2% of those 75,000 students were able to receive an 85%, which only required that they earn at least 77% of the possible raw score exam points. Stated another way -- only 4.2% of the 75,000 general education public high school students who took that Regents math exam in 2008/09 were able to reach the level of a C+. Take away twenty schools -- Bronx Science, Brooklyn Tech, Staten Island Tech, Murrow, Bayside, Cardozo, Midwood, Fort Hamilton, Francis Lewis, Townsend Harris, LaGuardia, Tottenville, NEST+M, Forest Hills, New Utrecht, W.C. Bryant, John Bowne, Scholar's Academy, Fashion Industries, and the HS for Math, Science & Engineering (Stuyvesant had still not yet converted over from Math A to the newer Integrated Algebra exam) -- and there remained 64,600 students at 398 public high schools with a combined passing rate of 54.4%, of whom a mere 2.5% (about 1,600 students) were able to reach that C+ mark.

Viewed yet another, even more alarming way, there were 187 public high schools that reported 0% of their students at or above 85% for 2008/09. That's 187 schools with 22,982 test-takers, from among whom there were effectively zero students who could earn at least 77% of the available points. Another 87 public high schools reported only one percent of their students reaching the Regents 85% level, and still another 39 public high schools reported just two percent of their students reaching that level. Those three groups combined for a total of 297 schools (71.1% of all public high schools) and 49,595 students (66.4% of the general education NYC public high school Integrated Algebra I test-takers) from among whom roughly only 360 (0.7%) managed to reach that C+ level in order to receive a scaled score of 85.

If Commissioner Steiner raises the Regents passing bar to anywhere near the level of the Grade 3 - 8 exams, the high school math exam pass rates will only get far, far worse. As I discussed in my last posting (The Achievement Gap Nobody's Talking About - Part 1), a drop of twenty or more percentage points in the overall pass rate is likely if the bar is only moved from the current 34.5% (30 out of 87 points) to just 50% (44 out of 87 points); by comparison, the weighted average Grade 3 - 8 proficiency bar for Math was just revised upward to 72.4% of available points for the 2010 exam results.

Sad to say, those results will be much closer to the unhappy truth that for so many -- after so much wasted money, institutionalized pressure, misrepresented progress, PR-spun statistics, organizational chaos, community disruption, and willful condescension toward parents and the public -- there is still no real mathematical proficiency in the NYC public schools other than that by which these results have been manipulated, spun, disguised, or (in this case) simply ignored.


Robert D. Skeels * rdsathene said...

Thank you for bringing this to light.

Here in Los Angeles the charter-voucher schools boast of high numbers of CSU enrollments, while not mentioning the universities finding near 70% non-proficiency among those students in mathematics.

Green Dot is one of the most egregious, but Alliance and some of the others are right behind them.

Too bad the press doesn't "investigate" that story.

Anonymous said...

This story must somehow make it into the mainstream public. Your analysis is all too believable and consistent with the manner in which the administration deceives the parents and students with their high tech news conferences that avoid the real facts which would expose their myth of test proficiency. Great work you are doing God's work for the poor victums of this fraud.

Michael Fiorillo said...

Excellent analysis, Steve.

Bloomberg, Klein and all the other ed deformers are constantly, and dishonestly, harping on their "outsider" status, and attacking their opponents as defenders of "the status quo."

The fact is that, after eight years of dictatorial control, THEY ARE THE STATUS QUO, and we must do everything in our power to point that out publicly. Your piece does a fine job of that.