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The End of NYC’s Achievement Miracle

August 17, 2010

by Norm Fruchter

In spite of New York State’s action in raising the proficiency benchmarks and significantly lowering the percentage of students deemed proficient in English and Math, Chancellor Klein is still insisting that NYC’s students made dramatic gains across the past eight years. But the Chancellor’s claims ignore the findings of the testing experts appointed by New York State Commissioner Steiner. These experts concluded that “relatively little of the score gain on the New York 8th-grade math test represented real, generalizable improvements in student performance. … Thus in ELA as well, the apparent improvement on the New York test appears to arise in substantial part from score inflation, a lowering of standards, or both.”

The experts concluded that the state’s testing results cannot legitimate the city’s purported gains, not only because of score inflation and lowering standards, but also because test content had been significantly narrowed and test items had been repeated so often that the tests have become predictable — meaning test prepping could skew results. Yet the Chancellor persists in using these unreliable, and likely invalid test score results to insist that the city’s gains are real.

The Chancellor has distorted test score results for years; his initial claims for his administrations’s test score rise, and the success of his policies, were based on the efforts of predecessors, because the increases actually preceded the onset of his reform interventions. His regime has persistently distorted the city’s performance on NAEP testing, so much so that a NAEP administrator had to go on record stating that in his view, the Chancellor’s interpretation of NYC’s results was not sustained by the data.

Why such persistent misrepresentation, distortion, and manipulation of test score data? Because the Klein regime has privileged test score gains as the definitive measure of performance at the school level, and of policy success at the system level. But if, as the results of the state’s recalibration suggests, much of NYC’s claimed gains are testing artifacts rather than genuine increases in English and Math student capacity, then Children First’s educational policies — the myriad structural changes, the use of accountability as carrot and stick, the imposition of principal autonomy, etc — have little relationship to improving student learning. If there is no NYC achievement miracle, then national education policy based on similar uses of testing and accountability become increasingly suspect. Given such high stakes, it may be understandable to continue to argue that the city’s gains are real, and to distort data to buttress the claim, rather than to confront the reality that only quite limited increases in learning have been achieved by the regime’s reforms. But the city’s students, schools, and educators will continue to suffer for such denial.

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