A Short History of the New York Test-Score Bubble

By
Mayor Michael Bloomberg
Mayor Michael Bloomberg Photo: Amy Sussman/Getty Images

Today's Times features a 3,900-plus word reconstruction of the "fast rise and even faster fall of New York’s passing rates" that "resulted from the effect of policies, decisions and missed red flags that stretched back more than 10 years." The article lays out how the tests were flawed, and policymakers on both the city and state level ignored warnings by experts who wanted to fix, not eliminate the tests, which became increasingly easier to game over time.

Mayor Bloomberg and schools chancellor Joel Klein come across as skilled politicians stubbornly protective of their policies and their power. When faced with a legislative battle in Albany and a reelection campaign, they brushed away concerns about the limits of the tests and continued to use the results as a one-size-fits-all criteria for everything from closing schools to deciding teacher bonuses to holding students back. The story includes the detail that one member of the State Board of Regents wanted to hold back publishing the scores in 2009 because she knew they were too good to be true.

Howard Wolfson, the deputy mayor for communications, is tasked with defending Bloomberg, which leads to him saying things like, "Either you believe in standards or tests, or you don’t."

When it comes to school reform, the mayor's call for accountability has always served to lift him above the political fray, but this new report brings the debate down to a specific set of questions that can't be answered with a cursory jab at the teachers unions and a reference to Waiting for Superman: Is the mayor aware of problems with policy? Was he honest about its effects? How do they plan to fix the tests, and what will ensure they are not misused?

On New York School Tests, Warning Signs Ignored [NYT]