My response to the NY Times article about the political uses of test scores
Update: See Sunday's NY Post, which unlike the other papers, actually gave some historical context for our skepticism.
On Friday and Saturday, some reporters started walking back their earlier stories that gave undue credence to the apparent test scores increases in NY state and NYC. In the process, they made some of the same points I made in my blog on Thursday, that any claims of improved achievement were untenable, that this year's results cannot be compared to last year's, and that too many groups were making these claims for political reasons. However, in the process of writing their stories, these reporters caricatured my position in the debate.
First , please read my blog from Thursday if you haven't already. Then read Saturday's NY Times. Although the reporter Liz Harris seems now to agree that any claims of improved achievement are untenable, she makes several errors in the process.
1. The article identified me as leading "some groups opposed to the tests." I don't lead any "anti-testing groups". There are several NYC groups that might be characterized as such, but I lead none of them. I run Class Size Matters, which is dedicated to reducing class size in the NYC public schools and the nation as a whole, and I co-chair the national group the Parent Coalition for Student Privacy. Moreover, as I explained to Liz, I support testing, if the tests are well-designed, grade appropriate, stable and consistently scored, with no stakes attached. That's why I paid such close attention in my blog to the NAEPs, the national exams that feature reliably scaled results.
Why? The results of such tests are among the very few ways we can objectively track trends in student achievement. The use of such tests are also one of the reasons we know for sure that smaller classes lead to more learning and a narrowing of the achievement gap between racial, ethnic and economic groups. Because I believe in the importance of testing to help diagnose whether a student is learning or if system-wide policies are working, I get especially angry when the results are distorted for political ends.
As I also explained, because of repeated changes in the state tests and the scoring, NY hasn't produced tests that can reliably track learning or achievement trends since at least 2002. Since then, we have had 14 years of wild swings, with huge test score inflation between 2002 and 2009, then sudden deflation, then another apparent drop in achievement when John King decided to impose new Common Core tests and set the proficiency levels to prove that two thirds of the state's students were failing. This year, to assuage the opposition of teachers and parents who said the tests were too long, too confusing and too stressful, and to counter the opt-out movement, the Commissioner shortened the exams and implemented them untimed, which meant that this year's results could not be compared to last year's. Yet the NY Times reporter insisted on characterizing me as "anti-testing," presumably to imply that I was politically motivated as well.
After the NY Times reporter told me they were going to focus on the politics rather than the accuracy of the state's claims, I wrote, "The politics are irrelevant to me. We and others pointed out the test score inflation under Mills/Bloomberg/Klein and we're pointing it out now under Elia/deBlasio/Farina. The more that things change, the more that they stay the same."
2. The reporter also wrote that I had claimed "the state had manipulated the underlying data to have more children pass." This is untrue. In my blog and in my conversation with her, I pointed to at least five reasons why reporters and members of the public should be skeptical of any claims of improved achievement in NYC and statewide. These include: the state's history of test score inflation, more recent NAEP trends NYC Public School Parents: My response to the NY Times article about the political uses of test scores: