NYC Test Scores Raise Serious Questions About Testing

Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Schools Chancellor Joel Klein hail the big gains on state math tests this year in the city's public schools.

But Merryl Tisch, the chancellor of the state's Board of Regents, warns there is strong reason for caution in analyzing these results.

"Just because scores have gone up dramatically does not mean that our youngsters are ready to go to college," she told the New York Times.

While she complimented Bloomberg and Klein for moving the school system in the right direction, Ms. Tisch told me that "the time has come to raise the bar in the testing process. It's  time to start a conversation about testing.

"When we look at the graduation statistics, we find that many students are not prepared to enter college. Seventy-four percent are in need of remediation when they reach college."

In plain language, Ms. Tisch thinks the tests are too easy. She believes  young people are graduating without basic skills. She's not saying that we're cooking the books. But she is raising a serious question: are the tests really telling us how well the educational system is doing? 
I talked to a veteran teacher and administrator at a Queens school. She didn't want her name used but she had a lot to say about the tests that our young people are taking. "The tests are too predictable. And teachers, including myself, are training kids to pass the tests.
"This math test has been most predictable. We know what's going to be on it from examining past tests. We practice constantly and the ultimate result is the kids are likely to score well but not necessarily know more than they did last time they were tested."

The Mayor and Chancellor Klein insist that the achievement gap between city students and those in other parts of the state is closing. Also, they say, the gap between students of different races is closing.

"This is a big victory for the city," Klein said. "And we should bask in it."

But the leader of the state's entire educational system, Ms. Tisch,  insists otherwise.

"No one should interpret (the recent test-score results) as an enormous victory," she said. "We're moving in the right direction but just because scores have gone up dramatically does not mean that our youngsters are ready to go to college."

She has a point. When three-fourths of those who reach college need remedial work to qualify for courses, it's clear there's something wrong here. We can understand Tisch's concern.

And we can also understand why the seasoned teacher who talked to us says, "We're teaching to test and the results are predictable, but not necessarily beneficial to the students.
It angers me that there is so much emphasis on tests and so little on the well-rounded education that can only come in the classroom from the relationship between teacher and students."

There is a danger in this election year that the statistics can be used for political purposes. Let's hope, for the sake of the kids, that this won't happen.

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