Flat Earth Society

This article is from the archive of The New York Sun before the launch of its new website in 2022. The Sun has neither altered nor updated such articles but will seek to correct any errors, mis-categorizations or other problems introduced during transfer.

The New York Sun

No sooner did the Daily News lambast critics of Mayor Bloomberg’s educational program as “flat earth” adherents than the federal NAEP math test released its results, which undermine the mayor’s claims for academic improvements on his watch.

It seems that New York’s NAEP scores have been stagnating, despite the fact that scores on the state tests, on which the mayor bases his claims, have been soaring. It’s surprising to see the editors of the New York’s Picture Newspaper miss this frame of reference, as they did, in an editorial on Sunday October 18.

They opine that the NAEP results are for the state, not the city. Aside from the fact that the city makes up a big part of the state, they miss one critical point. The disparity between the state test results and NAEP is so wide as to cast doubt on the state testing program in every corner of the Empire State from Buffalo to Montauk as well as in our five boroughs.

To base any evaluation of our schools on bogus testing — and even pay bonuses (with your tax dollars) on the basis of the state scores — is nonsensical. The education expert Diane Ravitch suggests that the new leadership at the State Education Department fire those responsible. I would urge a full investigation of who knew what and when about the creation and management of the state testing program, which has millions of young victims.

The NAEP results are certainly bad news for the Bloomberg campaign. If the state scores are bogus, now increasingly accepted as fact, then the Bloomberg education legend is exposed as mythology.

Christopher Cerf, the former deputy chancellor at the Department of Education, was furiously spinning this disastrous news in his new temporary post working in the Bloomberg reelection effort. Mr. Cerf, according to the New York Times, “said that when the New York City numbers become public, they could show that city students outperformed their peers in the rest of the state.” The Gray Lady quoted him as saying: “It would be impossible to draw any conclusions about New York City’s progress at this point.”

Mr. Cerf has a history in spinning NAEP results, which have never been particularly kind to Tweed. Last year, replying to Sol Stern in an online debate published on the blog Eduwonk, Mr. Cerf proclaimed, “While the NAEP is important evidence of progress, it is not ‘high stakes,’ not based on state standards, and given to a comparatively small sample. At minimum, the significance of the NAEP needs to be considered in the larger context of state tests, which are high-stakes and are taken by all.”

Parent activist Leonie Haimson pointed out in a comment on Mr. Cerf’s posting at the time that the fact that the NAEP is not “high stakes” makes the results all the more reliable.

Mr. Cerf was merely reprising the comments of the former state education commissioner, Richard Mills, which I reported in the New York Sun nearly two years ago on December, 21, 2007. “Given that NAEP and state tests, as well as the related standards, are prepared separately, it’s inevitable that national and state results will be different. In some states the difference is large, while it’s small in others. This presents an obvious question for the public and policy makers: which results are correct?”

I went on to state that “Mr. Mills believes that the lower standards exhibited by the New York state/NAEP gap, among the widest gaps in the nation, are more accurate and goes on to give a list of reasons. These include the remarkable claim that ‘teachers and students perceive that stakes are high for performance on the New York tests and students are encouraged to do their best. There are no consequences to a school or a student from NAEP.’”

Given the similarity in the points of view of Messrs. Mills and Cerf, it might well be appropriate to thank those Regents who rebuffed the effort to make Mr. Cerf state education commissioner. Surely the pupils in the state are better off with Commissioner David Steiner’s commitment to high standards and real reform.

If the children of New York State, and those here in the city, are to get the education they deserve — and NAEP tells us they are not getting it — we need real reform, not smoke and mirrors. For if the earth is as flat as the Daily News says, we are currently sailing for the edge.


The New York Sun

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