Our Kids' Progress Should Be Encouraged, Not Disparaged

Former Assistant Sec. of Education Diane Ravitch has made it her mission to attack Mike Bloomberg and Schools Chancellor Joel Klein. It is easy to hurl insults from the sidelines. It's much harder to change the status quo.
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For the past week, former Assistant Secretary of Education Diane Ravitch has made it her mission to attack Mayor Mike Bloomberg and Schools Chancellor Joel Klein based on what she views as a revelation -- that when the New York State Department of Education made how they grade students tougher, fewer New York City students qualified as "proficient" under the higher bar.

The news, which was tough for anyone who cares about our students to hear, was in no way mind-blowing. But that didn't stop Ms. Ravitch and others who oppose testing and accountability systems from falling all over themselves to trumpet our kids' lower scores.

But this is nothing new from Ms. Ravitch. Three years ago she wrote in the New York Sun that we need to look at why so many of our kids are "slackers."

It is easy to hurl insults from the sidelines. It's much harder to change the status quo.

Over the past eight years, Mayor Bloomberg and Chancellor Klein have attempted to better prepare our kids for the rigor and demands of a 21st century economy. One of the ways we are able to measure that progress is with tests, however imperfect a science.

But if Ms. Ravitch had her way, she'd probably do away with tests all together -- she doesn't believe in a system of accountability because, in her words "children arrive in school with poor attitudes toward learning" and even the best teachers are "not going to make them learn."

Have our students made enough progress? No. But under our critics' logic, the State's decision to make it harder to achieve a grade of "proficient" means all of the progress City students have made over the years is bogus.

That's like saying Phil Mickelson is a bad golfer if they make the 8th hole at Pebble Beach 50 yards longer, change it from a Par 4 to a Par 3, and he only scores a 4. Oh, and no one told him they were changing it until after he finished his swing, so he's stuck with his Bogey and the label of sub-par.

Crazy, right? But that is exactly what Ms. Ravitch is trying to say about New York City students and consequentially, the leadership of the Mayor and Chancellor.

But the facts don't lie: If we applied the new, higher cut scores to our students' raw results for the last 5 years, it would show that in Math, our students went from 31.9% proficient in 2006 to 54.0% proficient in 2010. In English, our students went from 36% proficient in 2006 to 42.4% proficient in 2010.

Is Ms. Ravitch really saying that a 6 point increase in English and a whopping 22 point increase in Math isn't a gain? If so, she is the one who should have been held back in school.

It's also worth noting that when you compare New York City to the State's four other biggest school districts -- Rochester, Buffalo, Yonkers and Albany, you see that City students fared much better than their peers under the higher standards, as they have since 2002.

Ms. Ravitch also dismisses the City's gains on the highly respected National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) as "garden-variety." This is in contrast to last year, when she told the New York Times that the NAEP scores showed "schools long-term have made significant progress."

The truth is that New York City students have made substantial gains -- up 11 points in fourth-grade reading, 11 points in fourth-grade math, and 7 points in eighth-grade math.

We can argue over the numbers all day, and Ms. Ravitch has a right to her opinion. But it is unfortunate that, as someone who claims to value what happens to our children, she continually chooses to disparage their accomplishments.

The tests aren't perfect, but they are a measure of the progress made, and we aren't going to throw the baby out with the bathwater. It's one thing to tell a kid that they are going to have to work harder to make it in the world. It's another to say that everything they have accomplished thus far is meaningless.

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