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Sunday, August 17, 2014

The evidence accumulates not to trust data from NY State Education Department



On Friday afternoon I got a call from the Daily News reporter Stephen Rex Brown, who told me that the NY State Education Department had provided him with data purporting to show that this spring, more than 22,000 NYC kids opted out of the NY state ELA exams and more than 26,000 the math exams  – out of a total of 66,000 statewide.   Here is the data straight from NYSED:

ELA
2013

2014

Region
Count

Count
% State Non-Participation
State Wide
13120

55564

Nassau
1605

6493
11.7%
Suffolk
1316

8866
16.0%
Westchester
399

8827
15.9%
NYC
6003

22656
40.8%
Rest of State
5505

8722
15.7%










Math
2013

2014

Region
Count

Count
% State Non-Participation
State Wide
15164

65617

Nassau
1978

12876
19.6%
Suffolk
1806

18888
28.8%
Westchester
456

1645
2.5%
NYC
4358

26949
41.1%
Rest of State
10924

5259
8.0%

As you can see, the number of “non-participating” NYC students appears to have ballooned four times or more since 2013, so it was unlikely to be explained away by truancy or simple absence.   

As much as I would have liked to believe the opt out figures were this high, I expressed skepticism to Stephen– and explained that I thought the numbers of students opting out  had been far higher on Long Island and Westchester than in NYC.  In the suburbs, in general, parents are more organized, enjoy well-funded public schools with high college-going and graduation rates, and have erupted in justified incredulity  when the state tried to convince them their schools were failing and their kids were not “college and career ready.” 

Stephen also told me that the state was holding firm, despite the fact that the city was arguing that less than 2,000 students had opted out, according to their data.

The next day, Brown’s article appeared in the Daily News, but the story had now changed:

State Education officials were scrambling to determine Friday why test data appeared to show more than 20,000 city students did not take math and English exams…. The figures were more than triple the previous year’s numbers. State officials suspect there was an error in the way a large group of city students were coded in the state database of third- through eighth-graders who took the tests.

My response to all this: with such erratic and unreliable information, how can anyone trust any of the test score data from NYSED?

I admit to being discouraged by the sadly ritualistic appearance of Mayor de Blasio and the Chancellor Farina, celebrating the small increase in scores in the city based on these highly faulty and unreliable exams as evidence of progress.   The Mayor was even moved to give credit to Bloomberg for his support of Common Core and his supposed “investment in our schools”, though school budgets have been cut to the bone and we have the largest class sizes in 15 years.

Before the new Common Core tests, we  had ten years of state test score inflation in NY that was obvious to anyone paying close attention, but year after year was ignored by the powers that be, because it was politically convenient.  Each year Mayor Bloomberg and  Chancellor Joel Klein, sometimes accompanied by Randi Weingarten, would ritualistically bow down to the supposedly infallible test score gods and celebrate the results as showing that their reforms were working.  And then the entire imaginary edifice came tumbling down in 2010, when the educrats finally admitted that an enormous test score inflation had occurred, somehow without their knowledge and complicity.

It is too early to assume that the small rise in test scores this year were due to similar manipulations , but a decade of experience should teach us to be open to the possibility. Merryl Tisch predicted that more kids would pass this year – and they did.  In any event, we have overwhelming evidence from teachers and principals that the tests were poor quality and a lousy judge of real learning. 

The state’s release of data showing thousands of opt outs in NYC is just one more piece of evidence showing how skeptical everyone should be about any data our government officials supply.
These tests were designed to show that the majority of students across the state are failing, and are wrongly aligned with NAEP proficiency levels that were never meant to signify college readiness.   Indeed, the test scores feed into a narrative of failure that is being manufactured by the privateers to attack job security for teachers and expand charter schools.   

They are central to  a “shock doctrine” strategy, engineered to make parents believe that their children’s schools are deficient, to enable privatization and instruction to be outsourced to corporations.  Whether test scores go up or down, parents should beware not to drink the Common Core Kool-aid and allow themselves to be convinced by faulty data -- either produced by incompetent bureaucrats or skewed for political ends.

2 comments:

Left of Center said...

It will be very hard to tell the real numbers of opt out for New York City. On the answer grid for these tests, any opt out student should have been coded refused to take the test. I believe many just marked students absent for the examinations instead of using the refusal category. If a parent kept a student home for each day of the assessment, to me, that is an opt out. However, the refusal was coded only if a parent wrote a formal letter to the school saying that the child was going to refuse to take the assessment. I should know because I am a retired test coordinator.

Anonymous said...

I wouldn't assume a mistake. With schools like Earth School, PS321, and others having nearly all of their student opt out plus more and more parents joining the cause, a few thousand out of a million doesn't seem that off.