Home > Uncategorized > NYTimes Reporting on Tests Gets a “D”… the Lowest Passing Grade Possible

NYTimes Reporting on Tests Gets a “D”… the Lowest Passing Grade Possible

September 28, 2018

NYTimes reporter Eliza Shapiro’s article on the release of last year’s test results gets a passing grade because it is factually accurate, but it gets a “D” because of what it fails to report. It factually recounts the reasons why last year’s results cannot be compared to previous year’s tests. It also factually reports on the opt out movement data and accurately contrasts the Mayor Bloomberg’s overemphasis on test results as compared to his successor, Bill de Blasio. But here are the points Ms. Shapiro missed:

  • Ms. Shapiro writes: “Just five years ago, it seemed the state was poised to have some of the toughest teacher evaluations in the nation, based on some of the most intensive exams.” The “tough evaluations” Mr. Bloomberg championed were based on VAM, a statistically invalid and discredited method of evaluation– not discredited by teachers unions, but by statisticians!
  •  Ms. Shapiro writes: “This year’s scores are the latest confusing data points in a long history of zigzagging test results in New York, but what they do tell us is how much the political pendulum has swung on standardized testing.” One VERY possible reason for the “zig-zag” in test scores, as any education writer should realize, is the fact that the definition of a “passing score” is not based on how students perform compared to a fixed set of standards: it is based on a cut score that can be set arbitrarily by those who designed the test… and, surprise… cut scores have proved to be a function of political variances and not a function of teaching variances. That is, political forces swing the pendulum on test scores and parents, teachers, and many voters are beginning to realize that reality. Ms. Shapiro’s article makes no mention of this, leading an innocent reader to believe that performance, not the cut score, zig-zagged. This only adds to the public’s confusion about the data points.
  • Ms. Shapiro oversells the differences in test scores… even after she wrote in one of the opening paragraphs that “…the (State education) department cautioned that the exams cannot be measured against previous tests and should be considered a new baseline.” What Ms. Shapiro fails to realize is that if they can’t be measured against a previous baseline, they can’t be analyzed by comparing how one group of schools did as opposed to another set. Despite this reality, Ms. Shapiro compares the performance of charter schools to regular public schools and regular charter schools to “Renewal schools” and draws a long series of faulty conclusions as a result.
  • Ms. Shapiro downplays the bottom line: all of the “reforms” in NY have made no difference whatsoever. She writes: “Although state exam results have fluctuated wildly in the past 10 years, the National Assessment of Educational Progress, considered the gold-standard measure of academic growth, found that New York City’s students did not make progress in English or math between 2015 and 2017.” 
  • And last, but not least, Ms. Shapiro concludes her article with this: “This year’s results will no doubt influence fresh questions about education policy in New York, including the state Board of Regents’ decision about whether to use exam results in teacher evaluations.

So Ms. Shapiro got the facts right… but she got the conclusions all wrong… and the public, as a result, is getting the message that reforms advocated by the billionaires are doing well (i.e. charters “outperform” public schools) but the reforms advocated by progressives like the Mayor are not making a difference (i.e. the renewal school scores are flat) and that VAM is still a viable means of evaluating teachers. Ugh!

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