New York Test Scores Are In!

Brain_full

by Julie G.

The NYT reported today that New York City's school test scores are up, adding some fuel to continue the mayoral control over schools. Bloomberg has taken control of school admin, sharpening the focus on testing and scores.

In the era of No Child Left Behind, it is fashionable to be skeptical about the testing culture, the concerns about creating curriculum to conform to the tests, the loss of attention to "lesser" subjects, and the stressful effects of the tests on students. With politicians and others crowing about the growing accountability associated with testing, skeptics question the validity of the tests, wondering if they actually measure knowledge rather than test-taking skills.

Some things that bother me:

  • The privatization of the process: the tests are constructed by private firms, which package them as a commercial good. This diffuses the mission of academic accountability, I suspect with some cost in outcome. I wonder what that cost is.
  • The time spent on testing. I know, I know, it's a stale complaint. BUT. The article states, regarding NYC schools, "schools are judged not just on how their
    students perform on the tests, but also on how effectively their
    teachers tailor instruction based on the results of the annual exams
    and eight interim tests each student must take every year." EIGHT interim tests. I can barely find room in the subject matter for my semester-long courses for ONE mid-term, much less 9 tests.
  • And finally. Curriculum. Emphasis on math and language arts over other topics (like, ahem, the social sciences). The article quotes one administrator who is pleased with the test score increases in her school. Generally, art is only taught in the spring, after the academic year's tests. Perhaps they can teach it earlier next year.

My kid is 2, so her curriculum is limited to sounds the lion makes. (Her parents being political scientists, she could answer "Obama" for "Who is the president" in January and has now mastered "Biden" for "Who is the V.P.?" Clearly a genius in the making.)

Those of you with school-aged kids, I'm particularly interested in your experiences/thoughts.

*Click on the cartoon for a non-fuzzy image

** Am figuring out the excerpting function. Sorry to be so longwinded. Will correct.

*** Author: Julie G.

6 thoughts on “New York Test Scores Are In!

  1. I’d say that reading and math are foundational skills, skills that need to be practiced and mastered. It’s important for kids to learn about social sciences and the hard sciences and other topics, but those involve retaining and repeating information. To some degree math and reading involve retaining and repeating info, but that’s because the faster and more easily kids can do that, the better they are at the skills of comprehension, writing, computation, and reasoning.

  2. No art??? Are you serious?
    I’m a political scientist too, sans enfants, and I worry about social science and geography–but it seems that we should be able to integrate the learning of social sciences as we teach reading. No?
    That said, I think the test scores are very interesting especially in NYC but the question remains, are children doing better? Ok, so the test scores improved, but what does this mean? If teachers are simply teaching to test, then does this actually result in anything more than better test scores?

  3. Macaroni — problem is, without testing it’s hard to know if students are “doing better.” Even more political is what it means to “do better.”

  4. I’ve beaten this horse before, but I’ll say it again: test scores are stand-ins for more accurate ways of evaluating teacher quality and effectiveness. Problems with NCLB are about a lack of accurate quality indicators, not about test scores per se. Nobody can agree on what makes a good teacher, and even fewer people are willing to pay for the support structure that would be required to ensure good, consistent teacher quality. (Let’s not even start on the “good teacher for my kid but not every kid” line of reasoning.)
    And so we all fall back on the old stand-bys. In tighter-knit communities we rely upon word of mouth among parents and the power of a good principal (whose reputation is based on, you guessed it, word of mouth among parents). Chicago, with all its tight-knit neighborhoods, follows this model to a large degree. Failing that, we look to test scores. In places where people know the school buildings and teachers well, nobody bothers with test scores. It’s only when people are trying to evaluate strangers or on a grand scale (which is basically saying, comparing their known teachers/students to strangers) that the test scores become important.
    I ignore test scores because I can: based on my network of fellow parents, we found a very good school with teachers of long tenure. I really feel for people who are forced to pay attention to the test scores. It’s like when you can’t find a reference for an auto mechanic and you’re forced to pick out of the phone book. It’s more of a risk.

  5. But Jen, when you say you don’t pay attention to test scores, you’re really saying you don’t pay attention to variability when they’re generally good, no?
    I would say I don’t pay attention to test scores, because I think that when comparing schools, they are largely a proxy for the characteristics of the student/parent population. The test score results in NYC might mean something (because they’re not comparing schools, but comparing populations within schools/trying to account for SES characteristics). But, for comparing schools in an urban district they tell you nearly nothing more than the characteristics of the school population (which may be relevant, but don’t tell you about whether the teacher is good or not). When I last checked I think the correlation between reading pass rates & free lunch percents had r^2 of about 0.8 in our urban school district.
    I still vaguely think we need testing, as a tool, but don’t think it means a lot for judging the individual differences between schools and classrooms.

  6. Since my kids go to a parochial school, they are largely untested. (One test in 3rd grade, I think, and one in 7th.) I have no idea what the most recent test scores might have been at the school.
    If something was up at the school quality-wise I would hear about it well before test scores reflected it. The parents are super involved, volunteering in the classroom, and we would hear immediately if things were not going well. I don’t mean to imply there’s a ton of helicopter parenting going on, because I don’t think that’s the case. What I am saying is that I have lots of primary source data on teaching quality in the classrooms and therefore I am not as hungry for test score data.
    FWIW, I do pay a lot of attention to what schools the 8th graders go into upon graduation.

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