Educate All Students: Larry Miller's Blog

July 31, 2010

Merit Pay, Charter Schools, Teacher Firings and States Getting Race to the Top Money

Filed under: Charter Schools,Performance Pay,Race to the Top,School Reform — millerlf @ 4:00 pm

Let’s think about all the great stuff that’s coming so that we “put the kids first”:

– Merit pay. Hasn’t worked yet, but full speed ahead!

– Charter schools. Weak to no gains so far, but full speed ahead!

– Teacher evaluations and dismissals based on standardized tests. Error rates of 25%-35%, but full speed ahead!

– Institutionalizing the testing culture of schools. Big problems looming with cheating as the stakes in these tests get higherreally big problems – but full speed ahead!

– Rewarding states for their commitment to educational reform. So far, some of the worst states have been rewarded, but full speed ahead!


Critiques of NCLB and Race to the Top Sharpen

Filed under: NCLB — millerlf @ 3:52 pm
In the past week there has been significant developments in the growth of anti-Race to the Top sentiment around the country.  An impressive coalition of national civil rights groups issued a statement critical of the Obama/Duncan administration’s educational policies: Framework for Providing All Students an Opportunity to Learn through Reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. It’s worth the read.

Similarly, a coalition of 24 community groups organized by Communities for Excellent Public Schools issued a stinging critique of the federal government’s “turnaround” strategies. “Our Communities Left Behind: An Analysis of the Administration’s School Turnaround Policies” is a comprehensive critique that shows why those policies won’t work and offers concrete suggestions as to what will turn around struggling schools. For a summary see an article in the Washington Post.

The lead segment on Democracy Now on July 30 was on the Race to the Top and included interviews with Diane Ravitch and Leonie Haimson from Class Size Matters and they respond to President Obama’s recent speak at the National Urban League where he defended the Race to the Top program. It’s worth the listen:

July 28, 2010

New York Test Scores Show Dismal Performance Across State

Filed under: Achievement Gap,Education Policy — millerlf @ 9:48 pm

New York Students Are Struggling, New Test Scores Show

New York State education officials, admitting that the state’s annual tests were not properly measuring student proficiency, released results Wednesday showing that more than half of New York City students were failing to meet state standards in reading, at a time when Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg boasted that more that more than two-thirds of city’s students were reading at grade level.
After researchers concluded that the state exams had steadily become easier to pass, state officials said last week that they would recalibrate the way the tests were graded, warning educators to brace themselves for a harsh wake-up call. Indeed, the scores released Wednesday show dismal performance across the state, after years of significant gains at every level statewide. This year, only 61 percent of students were deemed to be at grade level in math, compared with 86 last year. Merryl H. Tisch, the chancellor of the state’s Education Department, said that she encouraged teachers and parents to greet the news “not with disappointment and not with anger.”
“Now that we are facing the hard truth that not all of the gains were as advertised, we have to take a look at what we can do differently,” she said. “These results will finally provide real unimpeachable evidence about to be used for accountability.” New York City officials said that if the passing rates since 2006 were adjusted to match the new scoring standards, the city had shown substantial progress over all. But that explanation is likely to offer little consolation to teachers and parents who must now face the reality that just more than half of city students in the third through eighth grades are proficient in math, not four out of every five, as they were led to believe last year.
The numbers suggest that thousands more city students should have been held back or required to attend summer school last year. The Bloomberg administration requires every student who scores a Level 1, the lowest possible level on the state exam, to attend summer school and later pass the test or repeat the grade the following year.
But perhaps even more significant is that the state’s readjustment of the scores exposes the score inflation and could raise new questions about the imprecision of educational testing, even as policy makers across the country, including President Obama, are relying on such measurements to determine teacher pay and whether or not a school should be shut down. In New York City, the scores on the state tests have been used to assign A through F grades to each school, as well as thousands of dollars in principal and teacher bonuses.
While the test scores paint a bleak portrait in New York City, urban districts upstate fared even worse. In Rochester, just 25 percent of all students were proficient in reading, compared with 43 percent last year

More on Michelle Rhee’s Firing of 241 D.C. Teachers

Filed under: Educational Practices,Michelle Rhee — millerlf @ 9:43 pm

Published on Saturday, July 24, by Valerie Strauss 2010 by The Washington Post

The Problem with How Rhee Fired Teachers

D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee was entirely correct when she said that “every child in a District of Columbia public school has a right to a highly effective teacher” in every classroom.

But if Rhee really thinks that her IMPACT evaluation system of teachers is going to get the system there, then she is fooling herself, and everybody else who agrees with her.

And this is a problem not only for 165 teachers she fired Friday after they received poor appraisals under the system, but for the rest of the teaching corps in D.C. public schools who have yet to go under the IMPACT scalpel.

Rhee, tough as ever, fired a total of 241 teachers; the others were let go because they did not have the proper licensing, as required by the federal No Child Left Behind law, my colleague Bill Turque wrote in a Washington Post story Saturday.

It may well be that all 165 teachers fired because of bad evaluations under IMPACT were bad at their jobs, but IMPACT isn’t designed well enough to tell, according to a number of teachers and other educators.

According to Turque, about 20 percent of the District’s classroom teachers — all of them reading and math instructors in grades 4 through 8 — were evaluated on student improvement in scores on the District of Columbia Comprehensive Assessment System, or DC CAS. Those were the only grades and subjects for which there is annual test score data from DC CAS. “Value-added” — a misnomer that ranks with the best of them — will constitute 50 percent of their evaluation.

Judging teachers on the test scores of their students is all the rage in school reform these days — thanks so much, Education Secretary Arne Duncan — but, frankly, this is unconscionable for several reasons, not the least of which is that DC CAS wasn’t designed to evaluate teachers. That’s a basic violation of testing law. Ask any evaluation expert.

Think back to an important test you bombed because you were tired, sick or just got brain freeze. How would you like your pay linked to the results?

But there’s more to the evaluation system than mere test scores, and this makes almost as much or, rather, little sense.

Under IMPACT, all teachers are supposed to receive five 30-minute classroom observations during the school year, three by a school administrator and two by an outside “master educator” with a background in the instructor’s subject.

They are scored against a “teaching and learning framework” with 22 different measures in nine categories. Among the criteria are classroom presence, time management, clarity in presenting the objectives of a lesson and ensuring that students across all levels of learning ability understand the material.

A number of teachers never got the full five evaluations, apparently because a number of master teachers hired to do the jobs quit, according to sources in the school system.

But even if they all were, let’s look closely at this: In 30 minutes, a teacher is supposed to demonstrate all 22 different teaching elements. What teacher demonstrates 22 teaching elements — some of which are not particularly related — in 30 minutes? Suppose a teacher takes 30 minutes to introduce new material and doesn’t have time to show. … Oh well. Bad evaluation.

In a 2009 story, Turque wrote: “IMPACT documents suggest that no nuance will be left unexamined in the 30-minute classroom visits. Observers are expected to check every five minutes for the fraction of students paying attention. Teachers are supposed to show that they can tailor instruction to at least three ‘learning styles’ (auditory, visual or tactile, for example). They can lower their scores by ‘using sarcasm that visibly hurts or decreases the comfort of one or more students.’ Among the ways instructors can demonstrate that they are instilling student belief in success is through ‘affirmation chants, poems and cheers.’ ”

And there’s more, which you can see for yourself here.

IMPACT is actually a collection of 20 different evaluation systems for teachers in different capacities and other school personnel. One thing teachers say it does not do is provide enough support for teachers found wanting to improve.

The overall impact of IMPACT is not only unfair but not likely to do the job it is supposed to do: Root out bad teachers. Some great teachers are likely to be tossed out, and others, who know how to play along when the observers come in but don’t do much when they aren’t, could get a pass.

Of course, every school system should fire bad teachers. But they need a sophisticated and fair system to do that, and so far, D.C. doesn’t have one.

© 2010 The Washington Post

Valerie Strauss writes the Answer Sheet blog for the Washington Post.

Phoenix sheriff planning to do 17th sweep of county to arrest immigrants

Filed under: Immigration — millerlf @ 7:11 am

Arizona braces for new law’s impact

Jonathan J. Cooper and Michelle Price / Associated Press July 28. 2010

Phoenix — The sheriff of Arizona’s most populous county is making room in a vast outdoor jail and determined to round up illegal immigrants to fill it. Police from the U.S.-Mexico border to the Grand Canyon are getting last-minute training. And protests and marches are planned throughout Phoenix.

Arizona’s new immigration law takes effect Thursday, creating a potentially volatile mix of police, illegal immigrants and thousands of activists, many planning to show up without identification as a show of solidarity.

At least one group plans to block access to federal offices, daring officers to ask them their immigration status.

“Our message for that day is: ‘Don’t comply, don’t buy,’ ” said activist Liz Hourican, whose group, CodePink, plans to block the driveway for immigration offices in downtown Phoenix.

As both sides prepare, a federal judge is deciding whether to step in and block the law. It requires officers enforcing other laws to check a person’s immigration status if they suspect the person is in the country illegally. It also bans illegal immigrants from soliciting work in a public place.

Police across the state scrambled on Tuesday to train officers, including on how to avoid racial profiling, and plan for a potential influx of detainees.

The hardest-line approach is expected in the Phoenix area, where Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio plans his 17th crime and immigration sweep. He plans to hold the sweep, regardless of any ruling by U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton.

Arpaio, known for his tough stance against illegal immigration, plans to send about 200 deputies and volunteers out, looking for traffic violators, people wanted on criminal warrants and others. He’s used that tactic before to arrest dozens of people, many of them illegal immigrants.

“We don’t wait. We just do it,” he said. “If there’s a new law out, we’re going to enforce it.”
From The Detroit News:

July 27, 2010

Civil Rights Groups’ 6 Point Plan For Education Reform

Filed under: Education Policy,School Reform — millerlf @ 7:44 pm

Today, a group of seven education and civil rights groups released a six-point plan for equitable and sustainable national education reform in this country. And, big surprise, the report is basically a 17-page repudiation of the Obama administration’s education reform platform.

Groups including the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, the National Urban League, the Rainbow PUSH Coalition and the Schott Foundation for Public Education called for an end to many of Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s signature initiatives, and a commitment instead to policies that incentivize positive results and lay the groundwork for long-term change in the neediest school districts. On every major Duncan policy initiative–aggressive promotion of charter schools, turnaround models for failing schools, national education standards, punitive teacher accountability measures–the coalition had harsh criticisms. And this morning, the Education Department issued a pat response:

We’re listening. The administration is dedicated to equity in education and we’ve been working very closely with the civil rights community to develop the most effective policies to close the achievement gap, turn around low performing schools, and put a good teacher in every classroom.

On charter schools, the civil rights groups write that not only is charter school performance uneven at best, but many charter schools only serve a small selection of the neediest students. The civil rights groups criticized the blind acceptance of charter school-as-panacea, because charter schools often don’t accept as many students with disabilities, students who rely on free school lunches, and English language learners–many of the groups of students who could jeopardize their test scores.

“While some charter schools can and do work for some students,” the report says, “they are not a universal solution for systemic change for all students, especially those with the highest needs.” Regarding “turnaround” models, the reform approach that demands mass firings of teaching staff when schools are deemed “failing,” the report said that where they’ve been tried, they’ve rarely produced positive results.

The civil rights groups perhaps reserved their harshest criticisms for Race to the Top, the $4.35 billion competitive grants program that hands out money to states that commit to the Obama education reform agenda. They write:

The Race to the Top Fund and similar strategies for awarding federal education funding will ultimately leave states competing with states, parents competing with parents, and students competing with other students. Moreover, even states that do not choose to compete for federal incentive funds should have an obligation to provide a standard of education consistent with protecting their children’s civil rights. The civil right to a high-quality education is connected to individuals, not the states, and federal policy should be framed accordingly. Good federal policy should mitigate political inequities that serve as barriers to delivering the ultimate change that is so plainly desired and needed. By emphasizing competitive incentives in this economic climate, the majority of low-income and minority students will be left behind and, as a result, the United States will be left behind as a global leader.

The Duncan-led Obama education reform crusade is built on several programs: the competitive grants program called Race to the Top, which rewards states with cash if they can prove they’re committed to the Obama reform platform. Many states have successfully rammed through overhauls of their states’ education laws to lift state caps on charter schools; tie teacher salaries (and job security) to their students’ test scores; and adopt national education standards.

Duncan’s reform often looks like a slash-and-burn assault on educators. Case in point: one of the education reform movement’s darlings, Washington, D.C.’s chancellor of schools Michelle Rhee, announced on Friday the termination of 241 teachers, and threats for another 700 teachers who could be fired within the year if their students’ test scores don’t improve. The stated aim is teacher accountability, by any means necessary. But in actuality, it just blames teachers for the plainly under-resourced and overly bureaucratic systems they work in.

The new report coincides with the National Urban League’s 100th anniversary and annual conference, where both Duncan and President Obama are scheduled to speak this week.

Civil Rights Groups’ Strong Criticism of Obama Ed Plan

Filed under: Arne Duncan,Education Policy,Race to the Top — millerlf @ 9:49 am

Civil rights groups skewer Obama education policy (updated)
It is most politely written, but a 17-page framework for education reform being released Monday by a coalition of civil rights groups amounts to a thrashing of President Obama’s education policies and it offers a prescription for how to set things right.
You won’t see these sentences in the piece: “Dear President Obama, you say you believe in an equal education for all students, but you are embarking on education policies that will never achieve that goal and that can do harm to America’s school children, especially its neediest. Stop before it is too late.”
But that, in other nicer words, is exactly what it says. The courteous gloss on this framework can’t cover up its angry, challenging substance.
The “Framework for Providing All Students an Opportunity to Learn” is a collaboration of these groups: Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, Rainbow PUSH Coalition, Schott Foundation for Public Education, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, National Coalition for Educating Black Children, National Urban League, and the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc.
Leaders of these groups were scheduled to hold a press conference Monday to release the framework but it was cancelled because, a spokesman said, there was a conflict in schedules. The delay was, presumably, not connected to public appearances this week by Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan at the convention marking the 100th anniversary of the Urban League in Washington D.C. Obama is making a speech on Thursday; Duncan on Wednesday.
The framework’s authors start the framework seeming conciliatory, applauding Obama’s goal for the United States to become a global leader in post-secondary education attainment by 2020.
But quickly their intent is clear. They take apart the thinking behind the administration’s education policies, and note a number of times the differences between what Obama and Duncan say about education and what they do.
To wit:

About Race to the Top, the competitive grant program for states that is the administration’s central education initiative thus far, it says:
“The Race to the Top Fund and similar strategies for awarding federal education funding will ultimately leave states competing with states, parents competing with parents, and students competing with other students….. By emphasizing competitive incentives in this economic climate, the majority of low-income and minority students will be left behind and, as a result, the United States will be left behind as a global leader.”
About an expansion of public charter schools, which the administration has advanced:
“There is no evidence that charter operators are systematically more effective in creating higher student outcomes nationwide….Thus, while some charter schools can and do work for some students, they are not a universal solution for systemic change for all students, especially those with the highest needs.”
And there’s this carefully worded reproach to the administration:
“To the extent that the federal government continues to encourage states to expand the number of charters and reconstitute existing schools as charters, it is even more critical to ensure that every state has a rigorous accountability system to ensure that all charters are operating at a high level.”
Double ouch.
But there’s more.
The framework says that the reauthorization of No Child Left Behind, formally known as the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, “should seek buy-in from community advocates.” But it notes that Obama’s Blueprint for Education reform makes “only cursory mention of parent and community engagement in local school development.”
It blasts the administration’s approach to dealing with persistently low-performing schools, saying that closing them in the way now being advanced is wrong, and it says that the administration is not doing enough to close gaps in resources, alleviate poverty and end racial segregation in schools.
And it says that the government should stop using low-income neighbors as laboratories for education experiments:
“For far too long, communities of color have been testing grounds for unproven methods of educational change while all levels of government have resisted the tough decisions required to expand access to effective educational methods. The federal government currently requires school districts to use evidence-based approaches to receive federal funds in DOE’s Investing in Innovation grant process. So, too, in all reforms impacting low-income and high-minority communities, federal and state governments should meet the same evidence-based requirement as they prescribe specific approaches to school reform and distribute billions of dollars to implement them.
“Rather than addressing inequitable access to research-proven methodologies like high-quality early childhood education and a stable supply of experienced, highly effective teachers, recent education reform proposals have favored “stop gap” quick fixes that may look new on the surface but offer no real long-term strategy for effective systemic change. The absence of these “stop gap” programs in affluent communities speaks to the marginal nature of this approach. We therefore urge an end to the federal push to encourage states to adopt federally prescribed methodologies that have little or no evidentiary support – for primary implementation only in low-income and high-minority communities.”
This is really tough talk, and it is about time that America’s civil rights leaders are speaking up.
The only question is whether anybody in the Obama administration is actually listening.
Now we know why civil rights leaders suddenly cancelled today’s press conference at which they were going to talk about their new powerful framework for education reform, which includes a withering critique of the Obama administration’s education policies.
They met instead with Education Secretary Arne Duncan.
Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr., head of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition, said in an interview that he and other leaders felt that meeting with Duncan to discuss policy differences was “a better use of our time” than holding a public press conference.
Considering that most press conferences are a waste of time, Jackson makes a point.
But in this case, the postponement — or, perhaps, cancellation — left the impression among some that the civil rights leaders chose not to publicly criticize President Obama’s education policies any more than the framework already does.
The press conference was originally called for 10 a.m., which, it turned out, was exactly the time that the Duncan meeting started.
Jackson said Duncan listened as he and other civil rights leaders explained their concerns about ensuring equitable resources for each child and about how education reform should be part of a comprehensive urban renewal strategy that involves the Departments of Justice and Labor.
If quiet diplomacy can actually get Duncan to change some of his ill-conceived policies, then we can applaud this effort.
But if it doesn’t, it will be incumbent upon the civil rights leaders to shout to everyone who will listen that this administration is not doing what it must to ensure an equal education for every student.
They have to be as tough on a president that they like as they would be on a president that they don’t.

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By Valerie Strauss  |  July 26, 2010; 3:00 PM ET

July 26, 2010

Support October 2nd March On Washington To “Demand The Change We Voted For!”

Filed under: Elections,Fightback — millerlf @ 9:20 am

NAACP president announces Oct. 2 march on Washington


NAACP members will march in Washington, D.C., in October to draw attention to social problems that have intensified during the recession, the organization’s president said Monday night.

At the NAACP’s 101st annual convention at Bartle Hall, Benjamin Todd Jealous asked the country to join the NAACP on Oct. 2 to rebut division that he said the tea party has created and to fight together against ills such as foreclosures, joblessness, failed schools, urban violence and racism.

“Fire up the troops of hope, unity and justice in this nation,” Jealous said. “This fall, we are going to lead a great and mighty army that looks like America.”

Audience members held signs with the title of the movement, “One Nation,” along with “Revive,” “Organize” and “10-2-10.”

A resolution will be proposed this week condemning racism within the tea party movement.

Tea party leaders, however, deny that the movement is racist and said the resolution is unfair. Brendan Steinhauser, director of campaigns for FreedomWorks, which organizes tea party groups, said that “racism is something we’re absolutely opposed to.”

A month before the November election, marchers will demand the change they voted for when Barack Obama was elected, Jealous said. They will keep their senators accountable to regulate lenders, create jobs and stop moving money out of education and into wars and prisons.

He praised comprehensive health care reform and called for comprehensive immigration reform.

“We are descendants of slaves, native Americans and immigrants,” Jealous said. “We believe in the values represented by the Statue of Liberty. And that faith commands us to fix our broken immigration system in a way that respects basic human rights, universal human dignity and the sanctity of families.”

The One Nation movement will march on Washington to show “that the majority of this nation is ready and willing to fight back and ensure that all of the change we voted for is a reality for all of our children,” he said.
Read more:

Valuable Insight Into Mistakes Being Made By President Obama

Filed under: Racism,Tea Party — millerlf @ 9:10 am

Op-Ed Columnist NY Times

You’ll Never Believe What This White House Is Missing

By MAUREEN DOWD Published: July 24, 2010

The Obama White House is too white.

It has Barack Obama, raised in the Hawaiian hood and Indonesia, and Valerie Jarrett, who spent her early years in Iran.

But unlike Bill Clinton, who never needed help fathoming Southern black culture, Obama lacks advisers who are descended from the central African-American experience, ones who understand “the slave thing,” as a top black Democrat dryly puts it.

The first black president should expand beyond his campaign security blanket, the smug cordon of overprotective white guys surrounding him — a long political tradition underscored by Geraldine Ferraro in 1984 when she complained about the “smart-ass white boys” from Walter Mondale’s campaign who tried to boss her around.

Otherwise, this administration will keep tripping over race rather than inspiring on race.

The West Wing white guys who pushed to ditch Shirley Sherrod before Glenn Beck could pounce not only didn’t bother to Google, they weren’t familiar enough with civil rights history to recognize the name Sherrod. And they didn’t return the calls and e-mail of prominent blacks who tried to alert them that something was wrong.

Charles Sherrod, Shirley’s husband, was a Freedom Rider who, along with the civil rights hero John Lewis, was a key member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee of the ‘60s.

As Lewis, the longtime Georgia congressman, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, he knew immediately that something was amiss with the distorted video clip of Sherrod talking to the N.A.A.C.P.

“I’ve known these two individuals — the husband for more than 50 years and the wife for at least 35, 40 — and there’s not a racist hair on their heads or anyplace else on their bodies,” Lewis said.

We may not have a “nation of cowards” on race, as Attorney General Eric Holder contended, but we may have a West Wing of cowards on race.

The president appears completely comfortable in his own skin, but it seems he feels that he and Michelle are such a huge change for the nation to absorb that he can be overly cautious about pushing for other societal changes for blacks and gays. At some level, he acts like the election was enough; he shouldn’t have to deal with race further. But he does.

His closest advisers — some of the same ones who urged him not to make the race speech after the Rev. Jeremiah Wright issue exploded — are so terrified that Fox and the Tea Party will paint Obama as doing more for blacks that they tiptoe around and do less. “Who knew that the first black president would make it even harder on black people?” asked a top black Democratic official.

It’s the same impulse that caused Obama campaign workers to refuse to let Muslim women with head scarves sit in camera range during a rally. It’s the same impulse that has left the president light-years behind W. on development help for Africa. In their rush to counteract attempts to paint Obama as a radical/Muslim/socialist, Obama staffers can behave in insensitive ways themselves.

“I don’t think a single black person was consulted before Shirley Sherrod was fired — I mean c’mon, “ said Congressman James Clyburn of South Carolina, a black lawmaker so temperate that he agreed with an op-ed piece in The Wall Street Journal on Friday by Senator James Webb of Virginia, which urged that “government-directed diversity programs should end.”

“The president’s getting hurt real bad,” Clyburn told me. “He needs some black people around him.” He said Obama’s inner circle keeps “screwing up” on race: “Some people over there are not sensitive at all about race. They really feel that the extent to which he allows himself to talk about race would tend to pigeonhole him or cost him support, when a lot of people saw his election as a way to get the issue behind us. I don’t think people elected him to disengage on race. Just the opposite.”

Eleanor Holmes Norton, D.C.’s House delegate, agreed: “The president needs some advisers or friends who have a greater sense of the pulse of the African-American community, or who at least have been around the mulberry bush.”

And why does the N.A.A.C.P. exist if not to help clear a smeared champion of civil rights who gave a stirring speech about racial reconciliation at an N.A.A.C.P. banquet? Its president, Ben Jealous, shamefully following the administration’s rush to judgment, tweeted Monday night that Shirley Sherrod was a racist without even calling his Georgia chapter president or reviewing the N.A.A.C.P.’s own video of the speech.

It was Donna Brazile, a Democratic strategist, who, after hearing the entire speech, pushed to get it out and helped clear Sherrod’s reputation on CNN.

The president shouldn’t give Sherrod her old job back. He should give her a new job: Director of Black Outreach. This White House needs one.

New York City Public Schools’ “Success”; Is It Smoke and Mirrors?

Filed under: Education Policy,School Reform — millerlf @ 9:04 am

Harsh lesson for N.Y

Sunday, July 18th 2010  NY Daily News

A day of reckoning is coming for students, parents, teachers and principals. They are about to learn that education in New York is not what it was cracked up to be.
Over the last four years, the number of children deemed “proficient” on standardized English and math exams has steadily climbed, particularly in the city. In English, 57% of city eighth-graders scored proficient in 2009, up from 37% in 2006. In math, the number rose to 71% from 39%.
While the gains reflected rising achievement, there is fresh and stunning evidence that New York’s definition of “proficient” has been a fraud.
To wit: Almost half the eighth-graders who scored at the lowest level eligible to qualify as proficient will never graduate from high school.
To wit: Almost three-quarters of city teenagers who make it through graduation and go on to City University community colleges require remediation before they can tackle course work.
State Education Commissioner David Steiner is about to use these and many other dismal statistics to explain why New York must dramatically overhaul how it measures whether students are actually on track, not only to graduate from high school, but also to attend college.
The exercise will be painful, starting with soon-to-be-released results of this year’s standardized tests. As Steiner put it in a meeting with the Daily News Editorial Board, “a lot” of students will be notified that they are sub-par – even though they previously had been graded as proficient.Instructors who had been satisfied with their students’ performance will discover they have not really been getting the job done.
Schools that have seemed excellent will confront being rated as mediocre.
To gauge the true quality of education, Steiner and Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch have for the first time checked what happens to students labeled proficient in eighth grade as they progress to taking Regents exams and move up to college.Just one-third of eighth-graders who eked out a high enough score to rate as proficient on the state math test got at least an 80 on the Regents exam – the level needed to avoid remediation in college.
Only 57% of eighth-graders with a similar score in English have gotten a 75 or better on the English Regents, the benchmark on that exam for going straight into a college classroom.
Those numbers signify that New York’s educational hierarchy has been deceiving students and parents in two critical ways. It is a falsehood to say at each step of the way that children are proficient, only to have them wind up ill-prepared for higher education. Further, it is simply wrong to tell students that they have passed Regents exams with a grade of 65 when the skills needed to attain that mark don’t remotely prepare them for college-level work.
Steiner and Tisch deserve credit for coming clean. They are previewing the numbers in a promised drive for high standards. Steiner says he will soon take initial action by raising the passing grade on standardized exams taken by children in the third through eighth grades.
That’s a good start, but he and Tisch have a long way to go. Let’s hope they pass the test.

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