It is time for a rigorous, truly independent review of New York's entire testing system
Ohanian Comment: As usual, Winerip nails it, calling for a careful, rigorous examination of the whole testing system. Compare his view with that of the New York Post editorial:
LONG BEACH, N.Y.
TAKE another tissue, Kim," said the guidance counselor at Long Beach High School, Patricia Kronick. "It's going to be O.K., sweetie."
It was Monday afternoon, and Kimberly Rollman could not stop crying. Ms. Rollman, a senior, had just found out — three days before graduation — that she had failed the state's Mathematics A examination and would not be receiving a diploma. Now a reporter was sitting before her, asking what it felt like to have worked so hard in high school and be denied that diploma based on a single state test, and Kim could not speak. She was crying too hard.
"Kim, take another tissue," said Ms. Kronick, who began to speak for her.
"Kim is not a student who does the minimum," Ms. Kronick said.
Kim had passed the state tests in global history, American history, earth science, biology, chemistry, English and Spanish. Because she is not good in math, she took a special prep class for the Math A examination created by the high school, which also gave her a personal tutor.
"Kim, take another tissue," said Ms. Kronick. Kim had passed all her courses, including math. And though she does not have an easy life — she was left by her parents to be raised by her grandparents — she always managed to make it to school. Everyone from her principal, Nicholas Restivo, on down felt that she had earned a diploma. And now a reporter wanted to know how she felt.
"I don't know how to describe it," she finally whispered.
For days, reporters have been asking students like Ms. Rollman how it felt. It was not hard to find them. The state's Council of School Superintendents estimates that 70 percent of those who took the state math test failed. Seventy percent! Education Commissioner Richard P. Mills is constantly bragging about what a great testing system he has created, about all the scientific field testing for the tests before release. Indeed, Dr. Mills has been a leader in the national testing movement, mandating that New York students pass five state tests to graduate.
And so you can imagine, when such a crackerjack testing operation creates a test that almost everybody flunks — not to mention all those crying students — it is a big political problem. After days of being bombarded with complaints, Dr. Mills said yesterday in a press release that he was throwing out the test for juniors and seniors. His statement was intended to sound contrite.
"This situation is unacceptable, and we are taking action now to protect the children," the release says. But it is crucial not to lose sight of what the children needed to be protected from: Dr. Mills's testing program. Dr. Mills even came up with a novel solution — let students' math grades determine whether they passed math. And he promised to assemble a panel of independent experts to review what went wrong with the math test.
But as Assemblyman Steven Sanders of Manhattan, chairman of the Assembly Education Committee, says, this is a "seminal moment" in the state testing program.
And it is not just the math test that needs to be scrutinized. Physics teachers across the state say they have had failure rates on the June test that are even higher than the disastrous results on the widely criticized physics test last year. In June 2002, 39 percent of the students failed the test, compared with 11 percent in 2001. The students who take physics are the smartest in the state. How did they suddenly get stupid? State officials ignored their own consultants hired to scale the test and, at the last minute, changed the scale to make it harder.
Robert Marx, a physics teacher for 11 years at Edward R. Murrow High School in Brooklyn, says it is even worse this time. Through the years, Murrow results have mirrored the statewide pattern. Typically, 90 percent of its students passed the physics Regents until June 2002, Mr. Marx said, when 60 percent passed. This year, 40 percent passed, he said, noting that all those years Murrow has had the same teachers.
School districts are losing confidence in the tests. Last fall, for the first time, the superintendents' council wrote college admissions officers to urge them to disregard the results of the physics test, which the council termed "suspect."
William Johnson, superintendent in Rockville Centre, an upscale suburban Long Island district, did not have his students take the physics test this year, because he does not trust the scoring. In Long Beach, scores on the Regents usually count toward 20 percent of a final grade in a subject. But even before Dr. Mills threw out the math results, Long Beach officials had concluded that the math and physics scores were too unreliable this year to be trusted in calculating grades.
It goes on and on. Last year, the state was widely criticized for sanitizing literary excerpts on its English test, including removing references to Jews and gentiles in Isaac Bashevis Singer's work.
For Kim Rollman, yesterday's news was great. Her guidance counselor, Ms. Kronick, tracked her to a hair salon, where Kim was preparing for the prom. "Thank God," she said.
But for Dr. Mills, the news was not good. A state testing system that produces a test with what appears to be a 70 percent failure rate is way out of kilter. Something is radically wrong. This is not just about Math A. It is time for a rigorous, truly independent review of New York's entire testing system. Dr. Mills and his band of adults who have been so certain about the value of standardized tests to assess children need to be rigorously assessed themselves.
New York Times
A 70 Percent Failure Rate?