Has the Public Been Lied to On School Test Scores?

New York State's fourth and eight graders made no notable progress on federal math exams this yea

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    NEWSLETTERS

    New York State's fourth and eighth graders made no notable progress on federal math exams this year.That's what the latest federal test scores show.

    The federal results, the New York Times reports, contrast sharply with New York State figures, which paint a much rosier picture. The state reports that 80 percent of eighth graders met learning standards in math, an increase of 20 percent in two years. So what's going on here? Are we cooking the books in New York? Is it incompetence? A deliberate effort to deceive?

    Education historian Diane Ravitch says: "What this amounts to is a fraud. This is a documentation of persistent dumbing down by the State Education Department and lying to the public."

    Clearly Ms. Ravitch is angry and rightfully so. It is not only a fraud perpetrated on our school children. For the kids and their parents and teachers, it is a tragedy.

    As we have noted in this space in the past, the campaign to increase test scores has become an obsession in New York City. Teachers use old exams to train children to pass new ones. Principals and teachers get rewards for bringing up the scores. But "training to the test" can skew the results.

    If the true purpose of education is to produce a well-rounded citizen, concentrating efforts on merely a statistical result seems unfair----to the children. Education involves establishing special relationships between pupils and teachers----and stimulating an appetite for learning. The cold, statistical approach to education isn't good for New York or for the children.

    Results on the federal math exams have renewed criticism that the state exams have become too easy. Mayor Bloomberg and his Schools Chancellor, Joel Klein, have used the state tests to bolster their claim that New York City schools have made great progress under centralized, mayoral control. Educational reform has become a major issue in the mayoral campaign

    To her credit, Merryl Tisch, chairwoman of the state Board of Regents, is ready to admit that the state testing may be flawed. She calls the national exam the "gold standard" and concedes that federal officials do a better job of measuring student achievement. She has promised to address the gap between state and Washington results this year. Her aim: "to make the state tests more transparent and more truthful."

    Recently, she told me it was time to "raise the bar"---the standards for grades----on state tests.

    An educational adviser to the Bloomberg campaign defended New York City testing, pointing out that, when future statistics are made public, city schools may well do better than other schools in the state.

    But that's hardly enough. The Board of Regents has to untangle figures that produce much confusion. Under Ms.Tisch's leadership, it can be done. We need a straight accounting of our children's successes and failures.

    We need educators, not politicians, in charge of our children's education.