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Hold Your Nose: New York Times Editorial

Ohanian Comment: This is what we're up against. Even though it sounds like it, this editorial isn't from the New York Post or the Florida Sun-Times. Read this and you'll understand why the letters section also contained two letters carping about how easy the Math A test was and suggesting New York teachers should return to the good old days of skill drill and beating up on kids who did not perform.

Note in the editorial below the slimy phrase "which is calibrated." Who calibrates? And does calibration have anything to do with the problematic validity? Not to mention the pedagogical question of why every student has to master algebra and geometry in order to receive a high school diploma. Or why one test wipes out twelve years of teacher evaluations of a student's work. The slimy phrase is a weasel way of sliding past a real problem besetting such tests. Not to mention all the other problems--such as letting Corporate America set the agenda, putting undue emphasis on one test, and so on.

The editorialist declares that "The state of New York has gained national praise for a reform effort. . ." Praise from whom? A careful examination of the praise network is in order.

And Florida students, teachers, and parents certainly deserve better than the flip and dismissive "just what the doctor ordered" to describe their test problems.

Shame, shame on the Standardisto who wrote this editorial.

Here's Fairport, New York Superintendent of Schools William Cala's response to the editorial:

The June 30, 2003 NY Times Editorial, "Why Testing Can't Fail," would be more aptly titled "Why Testing Has Failed," if more than deceptive State Education Department press releases on the "successes" of its testing program had been used. In fact, dropouts have dramatically escalated over the past 5 years. Commissioner Mills just calls them something else (We all remember the Clinton definition of *is*). Between 1998-2001 over 160,000 children were "pushed out" of NYC schools alone to avoid the dropout rate. Dropouts among Students with Disabilities skyrocketed from 7600 in 1996 to 9600 in 2001 (last available data). IEP diplomas (not a high school diploma!) increased by 27% in the same time period. I'd say, "Do the Math, the successes don't add up," but the state this June, has demonstrated through their bungled Math A exam, that this may be a difficult chore.

Why Testing Can't Fail

High-quality schools need well-trained teachers, a strong curriculum based on clear standards and periodic tests that show whether or not students are being taught up to the standards. Getting those tests right takes time and sometimes, as happened recently in both Florida and New York, large numbers of students fail. While no student should be penalized for performing poorly on a test that is somehow defective, periodic problems with tests are not a reason to scrap the whole testing initiative.

The state of New York has gained national praise for a reform effort that began in the mid-1990's, when it announced that students, starting with those entering the ninth grade in 1998, would be required to pass rigorous examinations issued by the State Board of Regents in order to graduate. Despite dire warnings to the contrary, dropout rates have not soared and more than 90 percent of those in this first group passed the necessary exams by the time they were seniors.

But the state was thrown into shock earlier this month when 63 percent of students statewide including thousands of seniors failed a math test that may or may not have been faultily constructed. Suspecting problems with the test, the Regents threw out the scores and appointed a special panel to investigate. If the problem turns out to be lack of preparation, schools will be hearing from angry parents.

Stormy meetings between parents and school officials are just what the doctor ordered in Florida, where more than 12,000 high school seniors failed to graduate this year because they did poorly on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, also known as FCAT. The Legislature passed a special bill to allow at least 400 of those students to graduate, by substituting SAT and ACT scores for FCAT scores. Those not covered by the new law will receive certificates of completion instead of diplomas. About 40 percent of those who did not pass the test would not have graduated anyway because of low grades or insufficient credits.

Parents and politicians who want to get rid of the FCAT (which is calibrated at a 10th-grade level) should be angry with the school systems that failed to prepare these students. Everyone in the state has known since 1999 that the test would be required, and students have had several opportunities to take it.

Evidence from several states shows that success rates on rigorous tests can be boosted dramatically when the state invests in education, helps troubled students and holds the schools accountable for getting the best out of students in rich and poor neighborhoods alike.
Testing is not the problem. The problem lies with states that impose them and then fail to invest the necessary money and attention to make sure that students in the poor districts have qualified teachers and decent schools.

— Editorial
New York Times
Why Testing Can't Fail




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