Educational Standards Under Assault

The New York Times
June 17, 2005

Educational Standards Under Assault

New York moved to the forefront of the national standards movement in education during the 1990's when the State Board of Regents raised standards and required rigorous new tests for public school students. The policy is beginning to yield impressive results, especially in inner-city areas. But a bill in the State Legislature could strangle reforms by allowing some schools to evade rigorous state tests in favor of subjective evaluations that would make it impossible to judge student progress.

The bill, which has passed the Senate and is pending in the Assembly, would extend a temporary waiver that has allowed some schools to use so-called portfolio assessments - in which students are graded and evaluated based on papers, projects, book reports and other work performed over the course of the year. The bill would also require the State Department of Education to develop new portfolio systems that could be used by schools all over the state that wished to evade rigorous testing.

Before they jeopardize education reform, legislators should revisit a disturbing report issued a few years ago by a panel of education experts that evaluated the portfolio assessments used by the schools in the New York Performance Standard Consortium, a politically influential education group. The panel could find no evidence to support the claim that the consortium's schools were conforming to the state's learning standards or measuring student progress in any meaningful way.

Consortium supporters argue that the group's students are more likely to attend college, do better and so on. But the truth is that there are good alternative schools as well as dismal ones. There is still time for the consortium to demonstrate objectively that it is educating students up to the state standards and doing the kind of bang-up job that it claims. Meanwhile, the State Legislature should refrain from adopting an educational strategy that could well destroy the progress that New York has made.

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