Fudged Test Scores: School teachers left holding the bag

Stunning recent charges of cheating at PS 31 in Greenpoint and PS 257 in Williamsburg have rocked the two communities. The schools have been regarded as two of the city’s best public elementary schools. In March I wrote about the problems that have now arisen: “The best way to keep effective teachers in our public schools is to have principals who are knowledgeable educators. I have spoken to many teachers who feel today’s principals are driven solely by test scores, since principals and teachers receive merit pay based on the results of standardized tests. Well-rounded curricula, arts, and even gym time are sacrificed year-round for additional test prep time in many of today’s public schools. If we are serious about improving our schools, we must take steps to improve the conditions teachers are forced to work under, while also selecting the best teacher candidates, providing higher salaries to compete with those of suburban schools, offering better support and mentoring systems, and ending merit pay.”

It seems that teachers at IS 318 (a middle school that just won the chess championship) saw a huge drop in the test scores of students coming into the school from from PS 31 and PS 257, the same students who had higher scores from tests administered the prior year.

According to a staff member at the IS 318, who was quoted in the New York Times, “In some cases, students with perfect scores dropped from being in the 99th percentile to the 30th percentile. It was impossible.”

Also according to the Times, last year PS 31’s “math scores were nearly perfect, and 90 percent of its students passed the English test, more than 40 points above the citywide average. To celebrate, staff members tied a sign to the building: ‘School Report Card PS 31 is #1 in New York City.’ ”
The school has 550 students, in pre-K to fifth grade.

At PS 257, where most of the pre-K to fifth-grade students are black or Hispanic, and poor, “62 percent of the children at the school had a score of proficient or higher on the state English exam,” according to the Times.

But that proficiency was not evident at IS 318, where so many scores showed such a drop between fifth and sixth grades that nearly 60 percent of the teachers at the middle school were rated below average or low on their teacher data reports, which were released earlier this year. The teacher rankings are based in large part on expectations of student improvement on test scores from one year to the next.

So the fact is that test scores were fudged to show educational gains that really were fiction. The students were, as at many other grade schools, taught to memorize a standardized test. So when students transfer to another school that is more interested in education, and the students the school has been given are not prepared for middle school, the kids’ scores drop off the edge of the earth and teachers are unfairly reported as bad teachers.

This is another example of the failure of Bloomberg’s educational policy. At this time the educational system is in a pretty hopeless, dire state because of a policy that’s based on test results and teaching children to memorize test answers, rather than on educating them. It’s happening so that principals get additional merit pay based on test results, and to kick it down a little bit to the teachers, creating a lot of divisive policies that don’t make for a positive atmosphere for teachers and students. It’s all based on the propaganda of the mayor as the so-called “education mayor.”

I am encouraged that many parents throughout the city now realize that their children have been used as props by Mayor Bloomberg and that they are now fighting to end the teach-to-the-test mindset and fight for the right that all kids should have: a first-rate education in the greatest city on earth. Yet the media continues to blame teachers and to call for more charter schools as a remedy. It’s up to all of us to look at all candidates running for mayor in the next election and see who will put
all of our kids first.

Still on fire