Lessons in the proper use of numbers and politics as usual

Letter to the Editor
The Daily News, NY
(Not published)

By Elizabeth Carson

To the editor:

NAEP and state test score comparisons are appropriate. In fact, NCLB calls for the State NAEP to be used as one check for state test integrity and the potential for grade inflation.

If "someone is misusing the numbers" in NAEP you'll have to include NYC officials. NAEP scores were deemed totally appropriate as an indication of instructional success when Chancellor Klein and then Deputy Chancellor Diana Lam referred to the results from the 2003 NAEP Trial Urban District Assessment ( TUDA) for NYC as a clear indication their reforms were working. They clearly did not see NAEP as an irrelevant measure of the success of regional instruction, even given as your editorial states: "the questions are based largely on what experts think kids of a certain age should know - not necessarily on what a particular state teaches in a particular grade." ( The fact that the new reforms hadn't yet been instituted when the NAEP TUDA was administered, was no cause for pause on the part of Klein or Lam either)

Even without the immediate availability of the most recent NAEP scores for NYC alone, given the huge disparity between New York student achievement on the most recent State NAEP and on the state's own tests, it is a more than fair estimation to suspect the state exams are too easy. Therefore, it is a more than fair estimation to suspect NYC scores on the state exams are inflated.

Huge numbers of NY students are not "doing terrifically."

33% of New York 8th grade students passed the NAEP reading exam , scoring "proficient" or "advanced." 31% of New York 8th grade students passed the NAEP math exam, scoring "proficient" or "advanced.".

For comparison purposes, these are the proper percentages with which to place against NY State passing scores on its own tests.NAEP's "proficient" and "advanced" indicate meeting or exceeding standards, and are equivalent levels to NY state 's Levels 3 & 4. Your editorial uses NAEP percentages ( "75% of the eighth-graders tested competent in reading and 70% in math") that include large numbers of scores that are actually failing scores - scores at NAEP's " basic" level.

NAEP's official definition of "basic" is: "partial mastery of prerequisite knowledge and skills that are fundamental for proficient work at each grade."

On the state's tests, 48% of 8th graders scored in Levels 3 & 4 in English and 55% in math.

That's quite a difference from the NAEP passing scores of 33% and 31% respectively

The disparity between NAEP and NYS results is even larger in 4th grade for both reading and math. In math only 36% of NY students scored proficient or advanced on the NAEP, while 84.8% met or exceeded standards on the state's own test.

Your editorial reported that 69% of NY 4th graders tested "competent" in reading on the NAEP, a percentage which includes scores in the "basic" level.

Partial mastery is not passing and is certainly not an indication of competence. Only 33% of NY 4th grade students truly met standards on the NAEP reading exam.

Meanwhile, NY state reported 70% of 4th grade students meeting or exceeded standards on their own test.

That's grade inflation.

Seems to me some of those involved in playing "politics by the numbers" in this town, were uncounted in your editorial

Elizabeth Carson

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