August 7, 2013

Sticking the boot into Bloomberg again

Over the years, I've given Michael Bloomberg a hard time. Why? Well, the billionaire New York City mayor who likes to claim that he has "the seventh-largest army in the world" seems like a worthy foe.

One of Bloomberg's boasts has been that, based on rising test scores, he had fixed the New York City public schools: a few years ago, 82% of NYC students scored proficient or advanced in math! 

This braggadocio contributed to his political foes in Albany deciding to toughen the tests, with predictable results. From the NYT:
At their peak, in 2009, 69 percent of city students were deemed proficient in English, and 82 percent in math, under less stringent exams. After concluding the tests had become too easy, the state made them harder to pass in 2010, resulting in score drops statewide. ... Last year, ... 47 percent of city students passed in English, and 60 percent in math.
This year, New York State revamped the tests even more radically. ... 
In New York City, 26 percent of students in third through eighth grade passed the state exams in English, and 30 percent passed in math, according to the New York State Education Department. 

Kevin Drum points out that on the federal NAEP test, NYC is down slightly relative to the average big city over the last few years.
Statewide, 16 percent of black students and 18 percent of Hispanic students passed English exams, compared with 40 percent of white students and 50 percent of Asians.

There must be something uniquely peculiar about New York since the test score hierarchy turned out to be Asian: white: Hispanic: black. Who has ever seen that ranking before?
The exams were some of the first in the nation to be aligned with a more rigorous set of standards known as Common Core, which emphasize deep analysis and creative problem-solving. ... 

By the way, does anybody have an informed opinion on Common Core tests, which are currently slated to go into operation in another 44 states?


Anonymous said...

I have a question about "Hispanics" in the Northeast (unlike those in the South and the West Coast).

Are the so-called "Hispanics" in NYC (which is the Northeast) from the Caribbean or something? Are they Afro-Black-Caribbean?

Anonymous said...

Asians are leading in English??

elvisd said...

I'll have some opinion on them in December, when several of the tests go live in my state. From the materials I've seen so far and the training I've done, it seems OK, and follows a lot of the philosophy of our school anyway, so it's no big shock where I teach. Translating high order thinking skills into a standardized test is a tall order. We'll see how it goes.

GMR said...

Lots of Dominicans and Puerto Ricans in NYC. In Danbury, Connecticut, many of the Hispanics are from Ecuador. There are also a lot of Brazilians, but I'm not sure if Brazilians are Hispanic.

Dystopia Max said...

Paging the Education Realist, Education Realist, please pick up the Dark courtesy phone.

Hepp said...

Well, according to the article, Common Core is the hard one.

Anonymous said...

There are also a lot of Brazilians, but I'm not sure if Brazilians are Hispanic."

A good question. Xuxa really mixes it up.

Anonymous said...

"Are the so-called "Hispanics" in NYC (which is the Northeast) from the Caribbean or something? Are they Afro-Black-Caribbean?"

For the most part yes. There is a growing Mexican population, but it's still a minority of Hispanics here.

Henry H. said...

"There must be something uniquely peculiar about New York since the test score hierarchy turned out to be Asian: white: Hispanic: black. Who has ever seen that ranking before?"

I think East coast Asians are more likely to be 2nd generation or longer here than West coasters.... that could explain why its this way in NYC but not in LA...

TheLRC said...

Hugh Hewitt's radio talk show last week featured a long series of interviews with education pundits, both pro and con, on the Common Core proposal.

HH boiled down the results here, and there are links to transcripts of all the interviews themselves.

The bottom line: there's plenty in a standards-based program like this for conservatives/traditionalists to like at first glance, but in the context of American education, no matter how well you build a policy battle tank to storm the fortress of mediocrity that is the American government school, it'll end up getting hijacked and used as a Trojan horse by liberals to further their agenda.

Anonymous said...

The new assessments will be a lot better than the old ones, with fewer recall-heavy multiple choice questions and more performance tasks. Hence, scores will be much lower.

Anonymous said...

CC demands more of better students in order to lower their gpa s while retaining the flexibility to accommodate the lower level students in order close the GAP. Parents of high ability kids need to be very aware of how this will negatively affect college applications.

notsaying said...

Here's an uninformed answer:

I saw two sample test questions, one for a lower grade than the other, a while back. Both questions were word questions of at least several sentences.

I was stunned. Frankly my recollection of SATs questions was that the Common Core was aimed at a higher education level -- when of course they are not. Both in the vocabulary used and the way it was use, it was way over the heads of 6th and 8th grader (not sure about that part)

Here's the word I want: intimidated. If I were a kid, I'd be so intimated by the tests that I would have trouble answering.

Was I overreacting? I wonder. I'd love to see more sample questions.

notsaying said...

Found the two questions. I didn't think I would or I would have tried before posting.

They are in an image format so I couldn't copy anything out.

I did write down one sentence within the essay writing instructions for "6th Grade Language Arts" to serve as a sample for everybody here:

"Explain the similarities or differences that exist in the ways determination played into the outcome of both texts."

TheLRC said...

Oh, Lord, that 6th-grade question makes me sad.

From the redundancy of 'that exist', to the edu-speak vagueness of 'played into', to the disagreement between the singular 'outcome' and 'both texts' -- what an illiterate travesty.

Education Realist said...

By the way, does anybody have an informed opinion on Common Core tests, which are currently slated to go into operation in another 44 states?

I do, as it happens, even though I don’t write about common core.

Standards are a waste. Do them, don't do them, it won't matter. That’s not the point. The tests are the problem.

Go here to take the smarter balanced test questions. I took the grade 11 assessment, which is ridiculously difficult, and checked out the others. They are intimidating, difficult--and, in my view, not significantly different from multiple choice tests.

What are the zeroes of x^2-5x-14? Rather than have these be multiple choice options, the student clicks yes or no on -2, -7, 2, and 7. Nothing that can't be achieved with multiple choice.

Or it gives a complex exponent simplification problem, but instead of having a multiple choice answer, the kid has to enter it in. Hell, if you want free response, the SAT has been doing that with paper based tests for years.

They haven't really rethought tests. They are still looking for specific answers, and somehow think that getting that specific answer in a whizzier bang techie way is a whole new thing.

And this format makes it more likely the kids will blow off the tests. I give state tests every year. It is insanely depressing how many kids rip through the tests in 20 minutes and then sleep. A couple years ago, hundreds of kids were tweeting pictures of their scantrons with YOLO bubbled in; I remember several education reporters observing with a real sense of discovery that hey, maybe grading teachers on test scores isn't such a good idea if this is how seriously the kids take the tests. Next year, the security on tweeting was quintupled--fewer tweetings, and no one is concerned about validity anymore.

But as bad as it is now, many kids do at least think about some of the questions. They try until the questions stop making sense, and then they stop. The harder the tests, the less they will try. And these tests are hard.

Then there’s quality. Developing tests is hard. The GRE and the GMAT, which only changed scoring and interface methods, were in pilot mode for 3 years or more.

These tests are changing everything--standards, method, content, interface *and* unlike the GRE and GMAT, unmotivated testers. The early adopters--New York, Oklahoma, Indiana--had tons of bugs.

But the big issue? The money. Simply developing the tests—the first round of tests, which don’t really work, is costing billions.

Then the states have to commit to buy computers for all students—hundreds of students per school, when most of them have effective tests now, in order to take tests that everyone *knows* their kids won't understand.

So we'll spend a ton of money, the test scores will drop, the advocates will get maybe two years promising that yes, they are dropping, but once kids understand the great standards we'll see amazing achievement! except we won't, and so we will take these fabu tests and drop the cut scores dramatically and within five years we'll be where we are now, with some New New thing on the horizon, except we will have wasted a larger than usual chunk of money on this effort.

Common Core proponents are busy sneering at the progressive teachers, the "wacko" Tea partiers, (both left and right oppose the standards) but cost will be harder for them to fight.

If you are neutral on common core, you should not be neutral on the tests. You should be writing your congressman, agitating for pilots, demanding your state pull out or at least delay until the state can prove that it's not wasting money.

Cite the Indiana, Oklahoma and New York experiences--NOT the drop in scores, they'll give you crap about "necessary baselines", but the obscene number of implementation problems. Why should anyone pay for this?

Anonymous said...

Asians are leading in English??

That seems like a pretty unremarkable result. Unlike Europeans, Asian schoolkids were mainly FOB's until recently. As they become increasingly American-born, you'd expect Asian scores to skyrocket. For Asian FOB's, language issues have historically posed no barrier to superior math scores. Now that most of them aren't FOB's, I'd expect both the English and math gaps to widen.

Education Realist said...

As for Asians, I've been writing about their overperformance for a while. For instance, I teach rising sophomores each summer who got Advanced on their state tests, yet have a sixth grade vocabulary and incredibly weak writing skills.

Just yesterday, I was talking to my kids about retaining information, and picked a kid at random saying "for example, what's a log?" Kid thought for a minute, said he'd forgotten. He was entering pre-calc as a sophomore at one of the highest rated high schools in the country (due to its Asian population), had scored a perfect Advanced on his state test in Algebra II, yet without a test to take could not tell me that a logarithm was the inverse of an exponent.

Anonymous said...

What groups are white in NYC?

Do traditional whites go to private schools?


Anonymous said...

So that's the reason left isn't screaming mad even though the focus is on higher standards.

Anonymous said...


public schools like hunter college are about 40% white.

I don't know if its the same at BX Science and Stuy.

countenance said...

A commenter on AR noticed that the pattern of 50% whites that passed compared to 19% of Hispanics and 15% of blacks that passed in this new tougher New York test matches roughly with the percentage of each race's population that has IQs over 100, meaning this new tough test is basically an acid test of whether you have a triple digit IQ or not.