New York is Mired in a Test Score Muddle

Finally, the testers are going to be tested.

By Gabe Pressman
|  Tuesday, Sep 13, 2011  |  Updated 6:24 PM EDT
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Finally, the testers are going to be tested. The Board of Regents wants an independent investigator to see how well the state education department handles complaints.

There have been widespread complaints that teachers -- and principals too -- have manipulated student test scores so they, the educators, would look better. Now, the Board of Regents, New York State’s highest educational authority, has, in effect, confirmed that some test scores can be suspect.

The New York Times quotes one expert on test security, Gregory Cizek of the University of North Carolina, as saying that New York’s current test security practices put us "near the bottom" of states nationally.

The Regents are considering whether reforms like scoring all tests in one place would give the state a better chance to nail suspicious erasures or sudden increases in test scores. And they’re considering whether to prohibit teachers from grading or proctoring their own students’ exams.

It seems strange , considering how much weight is given to these scores, that the state hasn’t moved sooner to ensure their reliability.

Educational scholar Diane Ravitch says: "It seems clear that, in quest of favorable ratings by their principals, many teachers will teach to the tests. And that’s not a sound educational principle."

The essence of a good educational system is the relationship between teacher and student. So far, no reliable test for the strength of that relationship has been devised.

It seems sad that the Board of Regents has to search for someone to investigate how the state handles cheating accusations. Isn’t that what the Regents are supposed to do?

Ravitch told me: "So much money is being spent on testing and, now, making sure there’s no cheating by teachers that soon we’ll be spending much less on instruction. The fact is some kids desperately need smaller classes. All the emphasis by both the city and state is on testing, not on instruction. How crazy is that?"

Parents have to be baffled about what’s going on. They can hardly have confidence in a system as confused as this one seems to be.

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