Leonie Haimson: Evidence grows we are entering a new era of mass delusion and test score inflation – including cut score manipulation

by , under Local Activism, Professional Issues

Leonie Haimson, Executive Director of Class Size Matters, explains that evidence is growing that 2016 state test scores may have been manipulated by NYSED.  This year’s celebrated test score

Leonie Haimson, of Manhattan, whose child attends PS 41, as New York City Public School students and parents board buses to take them to Albany, NY as part of the Department of Education's Annual Lobby Day. Original Filename: Education04.JPG

Leonie Haimson

gains in ELA is now in major question. Parents and teachers call on NYSED to provide the technical information so we may understand what happened.

Evidence grows we are entering a new era of mass delusion and test score inflation- including cut score manipulation

Update 8/5/16: Be sure to also check out today’s blog post on this issue, including links to Daily News and NY Post articles and today’s NYSAPE press release.

The results of the state exams were interesting, to say the least.  Statewide, the opt out rate grew with 25,000 fewer students taking these tests, and the non-participation rate statewide increased from 20% 22%.  Fully 95% of districts in the state did NOT make the threshold of 95% participation.  For more opt out stats, see the NYSAPE press release here.

As for the results, take out the champagne, celebrate along with Mayor de Blasio and Chancellor Farina; state and city proficiency rates were up!  “We have seen incredible improvement on these exams,” Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña said.  Incredible is right, in the literal meaning of the word. See the NY proficiency rates in English, showing jumps of  nearly 11 points in 3rd grade reading since last year and ten points in 4th grade reading?  These leaps just aren’t believable — and anyone who believes otherwise is really taking a leap of faith.  The increases in math were big too, if not quite as dramatic.


Only a few problems: the state tests this year were shorter, they were given untimed, and the translation from raw scores to proficiency levels radically eased. We have apparently entered a new era of  test score inflation.

See what happened in NYC schools between 2002-2009, with especially sharp gains in math scores between 2002 and 2009:

Similar to this year, the proficiency gains were also dramatic in ELA, from 51% of  NYC students proficient  in 2006 rising to 69% in 2009 ( though the DOE charts are no longer posted.)

Predictably, Bloomberg crowed and rode the wave to re-election and the renewal of mayoral control:

At a news conference at a school in the Bronx, Mr. Bloomberg trumpeted the results as evidence that mayoral control had produced revolutionary improvements and brought city students within spitting distance of state averages after years of mediocrity. “Our reforms are working,” Mr. Bloomberg said. “Our schools are heading in the right direction.” Even Randi Weingarten, the president of the teachers’ union, lavished praise on the mayor and his chancellor. “What we’ve seen in the last seven years is a cohesion and a stability and resources that we did not have beforehand,” she said.

Only as many of us knew then, and was eventually confirmed, the gains weren’t real.    The improvements were not matched by the results on the NAEP, the more reliable national exams, and the tests and the scoring were shown to be easier each year.

Erin Einhorn, then a reporter at the Daily News, did an eye-opening experiment  in 2007.  She gave the 2002 and 2005 4th grade math tests to a bunch of 4th and 5th graders taking summer school at Brooklyn College.  The kids did far better on the 2005 exams, with 24 out of 34 getting higher scores, and only eight students getting lower ones. The p-values, or percent of questions answered correctly on field tests, and thus easier to get right, also increased rapidly between 2002 and 2005.

The test score inflation continued up through 2009, with sharp increases in proficiency similar to this year due to more predictable and easier tests.   The scoring also got easier; Fred Smith, testing expert, and others discovered that random guesses would yield a Level 2 on the reading exam.

When the bubble finally burst in 2010, and the scores were re-calibrated, this is what occurred:

So how do we know we have entered another era of test score inflation?

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