Putting Bloomberg's Testers to the Test

The latest test scores for New York City’s 1.1 million school children don’t dispel any confusion. In fact, the statistics add to the bewilderment -- for parents, teachers, school administrators and the public.

You get the impression that maybe some of the folks who devise the tests in math and reading need a crash course in basic math themselves. But perhaps that is unkind. Perhaps it’s also unkind to think that some politicians or officials may try to politicize the tests to make themselves look good.

The latest figures indicate that New York City’s 4th and 8th graders showed no notable improvement on national math exams this year as compared to 2007. This contrasts greatly with the city’s performance on state-administered tests.

Those state exams -- used by City Hall to justify its takeover of the schools -- indicated great improvement in the last couple of years. And Mayor Bloomberg, as he campaigned for reelection, predicted that the city would show “great progress" on the national tests too. It didn’t happen.

Why the difference between the state and national exams?

Merryl Tisch, the chancellor of the Board of Regents, the state’s top educational agency, told me she means to “end the confusion.” She wants national and state tests to have the same standards, with a similar approach to measuring student progress. Right now, she says, the situation is “a mess that needs to be cleaned up.”

The Board of Regents leader doesn’t blame the Mayor and his schools chancellor, Joel Klein.

“I believe they’ve been trying earnestly to improve the system, that the system they will leave behind will be better. But they can’t do it all in five years," she said.

Ms. Tisch seems reluctant to criticize anyone. In another life, she could have qualified as a diplomat. Yet, she is a realist.

“Sometimes, “ she said, “when people feel forced to over-report progress, they can get into trouble. All of us involved with public education are under tremendous pressure.”

Ms. Tisch has high hopes that the new State Commissioner of Education, David Steiner, can clean up the mess. We hope he will. And we hope, too, that Mayor Bloomberg, who is not known for his diplomatic skills, will accept new protocols for testing our youngsters.

The kids and their parents deserve nothing less.

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