NY Post: 2+2=5?

I woke up this morning to find the top story on the New York Post’s web site was about the inflation of NYC test math scores. The article doesn’t really contain any information that news to me, but I figured it  would be a good catalyst to share my own similar experiences.

The article centers around a Brooklyn teacher hired and trained to mark the state tests. Referring to the scoring guide, the Post indicates the mistakes a student can make but still receive partial credit.

Now, to be fair, I did not see the fourth grade test this year, nor the scoring guide. So I can’t speak totally to the validity of the Post’s reporting about them. I have, of course, seen scoring guides from the past, and have even taught my students how the holistic rubric scoring system works, and how they are able to receive points even if their answers are wrong.

Here’s an example the Post pulls from the scoring guide, an instance in which children are allowed points based on methodology and not answers:

A kid who answers that a 2-foot-long skateboard is 48 inches long gets half-credit for adding 24 and 24 instead of the correct 12 plus 12.

I can tell you that would, in my professional estimation, be an accurate depiction of what a scoring guide would typically tell a scorer.

Commenters to the article are using this opportunity to blast the UFT for putting tenure and teachers ahead of students. These people miss the point entirely. The very basic fact, as all teachers know, is that tests are dumbed down. If it’s not because of the questions, it’s because of the answers. This isn’t news to those of us on the inside who are genuinely angered by the reliance on these tests that, you see, measure very little. As the Brooklyn source says,

“The kids who really need the help are just being shuffled along to the next grade without the basic skills to have true success. They are given a hollow success — that’s the crime of it. The state DOE is doing a disservice to its children.”
Uh, gee, ya think?
I’ve never scored the tests officially, but what the Post reports is not an isolated incident. Let me share some of what I heard from my own colleagues who scored tests this year and in previous ones.
  • In one scorer’s room this year, there was a class set of ELA tests where one of the written responses was the same in every answer booklet. It seemed clear to my colleague and the other scorers that the teacher/proctor modeled the response and either dictated it or had students copy it. The set was flagged and removed from the room.
  • Colleagues of mine were told that, on the ELA, even if a kid’s written response makes no sense, partial credit would be given for as little as one sentence.

Believe me, these things infuriate us as teachers. Here, I’m not talking about my oft-repeated stance that it’s unfair to the children to force them to take high-stakes tests that determine their worth on the basis of two days out of the year. What I’m saying is something I’ve felt since the beginning of my career, but have never really brought up in this forum. These tests, which are so obviously watered down for the purpose of inflating scores, do not at all indicate a student’s readiness for the next grade. I’m sorry: many are not ready. Yet, off they go.

Something we often talk about at work, and not in a joking manner, is how interesting it will be to see what our world is like when this generation is in charge. They have been rewarded for substandard work, don’t learn grammar or spelling, and in many cases, loathe reading. This is not the fault of teachers, or of students, or even parents. It’s the fault of a system that just is not working.

What flummoxes and scares me more than anything is who is winning the PR battle with parents on this issue. It’s the city, far and away. Parents are led to believe that test scores mean everything. A colleague told me parents of one of her students threatened to send the student back to her original country if she didn’t pass the tests. A school that crows about their improvement and success on test scores is lauded for being a great school. Sorry: no.

The reality, as I’ve written before, is that these scores are meaningless. No one’s course in life will be determined by how they fare on a 3rd grade test.

We continue to head down a troublesome path. We, the professionals, know it, but our opinions are not of any importance to people concerned only with bottom lines (no matter how poorly they indicate reality).

For the city, I guess 2+2 really does equal 5.

Update: 12:00 PM

I was remiss not to mention this in the original post. I knew it, of course, but Ms. Flecha reminded me. We will not have raw scores (the three digit ones) until July. School ends June 28. Another indicator of how meaningless these tests really are – the kids will be gone by the time we even know how they did. So, what’s the point?


3 responses to “NY Post: 2+2=5?

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention NY Post: 2+2=5? « From the Desk of Mr. Foteah -- Topsy.com

  2. Here,here! We often have the exact same conversations at our school! We also become worried about how our administration loves to spout how we do NOT promote students socially, but rather on a combination of things? Really? Then why must we promote students who are clearly failing, but since they have all ready been retained once in the primary grades and again in the intermediate ones, we are told they must be promoted? How about a little help for these students falling further and further behind? What are we to do with them when they come to us all ready 2 or 3 yrs. behind? Could we get a little help here? Plus, the absolute insane comment made by a nearby superintendant, who responded when asked about what would happen to class size when they had let so many teachers go, said, Oh, I really don’t see that larger class sizes will have any impact on our quality of education! Really? We are really worried about our future! All this emphasis on test scores and little else keeps us from preparing our students for the future. We shake our heads as we shake in our boots, and wonder how can we change this absurd direction education has taken!

  3. Last year, I was sent by my school to score the 3rd-5th grade ELA exams. I was a second-year teacher, and I taught second grade. I had never taught third, fourth or fifth grade.

    From my experience, I can tell you that scoring is (a) incredibly disorganized; (b) rife with tension among teachers who don’t want to be there, teachers who do want to be there but only so they can gossip and not be at their own schools and organizers who speak to teachers as though they’re children; and (c) overflowing with misinformation and disagreements about the proper way to score.

    For me, the saddest part about the actual scoring of the test was that grammar, spelling, punctuation and overall writing SKILL play little to no part in the grade a student receives on the essay-writing portion. In fact, students can pretty much copy directly from the passage they’ve just read and if they happen to copy the section of the passage that contains the correct answer, they’ll get credit. I’m pretty sure there are teachers who encourage their students to copy from the passage to have a better chance at getting credit.


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