My Reply to Dr. Korostoff's Defense of Phony Test Data at Isaac E. Young Middle School

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My Reply to Dr. Korostoff's Defense of Phony Test Data at Isaac E. Young Middle School

October 29, 2009 - 03:33

At last night's Board of Education meeting I took a few minutes to respond to Dr. Korostoff's remarks to the Board on October 6th in which he attempted to respond to our report on the North-South Divide in New Rochelle.

I was not able to reply as much as I would have liked in the limited time available so I expanded on these remarks in this post (below). I edited Dr. Korostoff's 14 minute speech to 7 very brief clips the related to my remarks. I would suggest watching the video first then reading the post.

There is not time to respond in full to Dr. Korostoff’s recent remarks to this board but as they were, in part, directed at me I will reply here briefly.

Dr. Korostoff offered three reasons why “observers from the community” might take issue with the work of the district.

1. “misconceptions” due to the “complexity of the teaching and learning processes and the method of student assessment.
2. The limitations of their own thinking and analysis
3. The transparency of their own agenda.

Apparently, Dr. Korostoff cannot imagine a world where criticism of the district could be warranted or where a parent might have a good question that deserves a thoughtful and honest answer.

Dr. Korostoff said he did not suggest there is no achievement gap in the district. He says it is to be expected in a district with high student mobility, poverty, a student's native language and whether or not a child enters school as a proficient English speaker.

This entirely missed the point of my criticism regarding test scores and, in fact, makes my point. The data he has been presenting for the past year clearly indicate that there is no achievement gap. Math scores at Isaac are about the same for each sub-group. ELA and Math scores are about the same between Isaac and Albert Leonard.

As I agree with Dr. Korostoff that we should expect to see low performance at Isaac I have to wonder why he is not as puzzled as I am that we do not see this at all. The correlation he says we should expect only exists on the New York State assessments that are not used to calculate AYP and whether the school is High Performing/Gap Closing. There did use to be an achievement gap in Math and ELA but there is not one but there is one in Science and Social Studies and, so far, we have no explanation OTHER THAN THE OBVIOUS at to why. Given the strange test scores at Isaac, will the Board consider having an outside agency administer the next round of state tests at Isaac?

Most of you will recall that last year I submitted a FOIL request seeking reports that compared the performance of students at the high school based on their school of origin. For those who read my recent report on the North-South divide you now know that despite repeated denials by school officials, such a report exists. Former Assistant Superintendent Dr. Fred Smith who had this to say produced it:

There are 2 New Rochelle's as far as achievement: I conducted a study looking at the achievement at the students that come from IEY vs those that come from ALMS and their performance at the high school and it was shocking.

[What ought to be shocking to the school board is that Mr. Organisciak filed a false statement to the New York State Committee on Open Government in his denial of my appeal for access to this record. Failing to turn over a public record in response to a FOIL request is a crime punishable by jail time and fines. Now, you can do what you like with the information that Mr. Organisciak has made a false statement under oath but I want a copy of that report.] Will the Board direct the administration to turn over to me a copy of the Smith report?

NOTE: my time expired on the word "shocking" so I had to skip the part in brackets above and go straight to the final question, asking for a copy of the report.

FURTHER RESPONSE TO KORSTOFF REMARKS OCTOBER 6, 2009 [Not delivered at the Board Meeting on October 27th]

Dr. Korostoff takes issue with the suggestion that it is not meaningful that New Rochelle has been recognized as a “High Performing/Gap Closing” school district and goes on to entirely misrepresent the meaning of this term. Setting aside that no one has been making such a suggestion or that having set up his own straw man he is unable to knock it down, it is simply not true that “High Performing/Gap Closing” is the “highest commendation given to school's annually by the New York State Education Department”. A commendation is, by definition, an award. To describe the classification of a school district based on criteria set out in the New York State implementation of the No Child Left Behind Act as if it were a prize won by the District is absurd.

Consider that “winners” of this “award” represent about 40% of school districts in New York are classified as “High Performing/Gap Closing” districts (288 of 731 in 2008). Further, that the designation is based on student performance on the New York State ELA and Math assessments and making Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) for two consecutive years. AYP, in turn, is based on student performance on the New York State ELA and Math assessments and AYP was achieved by about 93% of the school districts in New York State last year. In other words, this so-called “highest commendation” really means that New Rochelle is among the 40% of districts that were not in the bottom 7% of all New York State districts for the last two years.

The very notion of considering these classifications an “award” is an utter perversion of the entire point behind the No Child Left Behind Law. The law is not called the No School District Left Behind Act or No School Board Left Behind Act or even No School Administrator Left Behind Act. It is called the No Child Left Behind Act because the purpose of the law is to protect children trapped in failing schools by giving them a way out if the school fails to meet certain minimum standards; to create options for parents when their children’s schools rank at the bottom of the barrel. It is a testament to the desperate need for validation of New Rochelle school officials that a law designed to protect children and punish failing schools is portrayed as if it were a system for distributing "awards" to schools that are not failing to meet minimum standards.

No matter how one feels about the rigors and benchmarks of these assessments it is difficult to deny that these two tests – ELA and Math – are central to how the New Rochelle school district is evaluated by the State government, the community and the media. In fact, these tests are central to the district’s self-identity. Talk about “high stakes” testing! In fact, these test scores form a large part of the basis on which both the school district and Isaac E. Young Middle School have received outside recognition (Business Week and Met Life, respectively).

It is precisely for this reason that Talk of the Sound published a report highlighting the rather odd test data coming out of Isaac E. Young Middle School, which clearly indicates serious, unexplained anomalies with the test results. Test score increases in Math and ELA at Isaac are 3 to 4 times greater than found elsewhere throughout the district. Even Dr. Korosotoff notes (correctly) that the New York State assessment exams in Social Studies are language-based. In fact, all of these tests are language-based even math which has a language-based component where students must read problems, understand and interpret them and then explain how they derived their answers.

Despite this Dr. Korostoff fails to offer an explanation as to why students at Isaac E. Young Middle School scored very well on the English Language Assessment (ELA) test but do so poorly on the other language-based assessments given by the State but not counted when evaluating AYP. The same holds true for the Science assessments, which are also language-based. In his remarks to the board Dr. Korostoff calls it "noteworthy" that 91% or more of elementary school social studies students met standard on the Social Studies Assessment "even with the many ELL (English Language Learners) children in our South End elementary schools who are required to take this language-based exam each of these buildings" but he does not find it noteworthy that while 76% of the students at Isaac Young got a 3 or 4 on the ELA just 52% for a 3 or 4 on the Social Studies test or why 85% got a 3 or 4 in Math but just 52% in Science. By any measure, these results make no sense unless you understand just how much the administration at Isaac Young and the District as a whole and the School Board have riding on the IEYMS ELA and Math test scores being legitimate scores. Yet, as our report makes clear, the ELA and Math test scores at Isaac are 20-30 points higher than they were 2 years ago and 20-30 points higher than the Social Studies and Science tests given in the same year and, so far, the district has failed to provide any rationale for the discrepancies.

The issue that this community observer -- known in other districts as a parent of children in the public school system – has the work of the school is that school officials are not content to recognize genuine achievement but seek to present results that mean little or perhaps should even be a source of embarrassment as something to boast about.

Some of things he told the board are untrue or are contradictory.

For example,

At New Rochelle High School, where there are also 66 accountability measures, students met the accountability standards in secondary level English Language Arts, secondary level Mathematics and for the high school graduation rate. The school achieved annual yearly progress both for the overall student cohort and each of the require subgroups.

Notice that Korostoff says “annual yearly progress”.. This is not a slip of the tongue (remember that Korostoff is reading a prepared statement) but a bastardization of the term “adequate yearly progress” which is commonly used by school officials to convince people that AYP means the term refers to their making progress rather than their progress being adequate.

Another example, Dr. Korostoff told the board:

…this past year, we had larger numbers of children qualify for the district modified Kaleidoscope Programs than ever before and since performance on the New York State assessments is a large part of this selection process this would indicate our most academically-able children continue to perform at the highest levels.

This is intended to convey that he is making a logical argument (a syllogism where A + B = C). The problem is that “C” (the conclusion) is true by definition; the smartest kids do well on tests. The conclusion is axiomatic not derived from the two conditions that precede it. The second condition is merely a statement of fact; that the criteria used to determine eligibility for the modified Kaleidoscope Program is based on state tests.

It is in the first condition is where Korostoff exhibits the art of the lie so often demonstrated in his presentations to the board. He says “we had larger numbers of children qualify”. What he does not say is that he is the person who sets the criteria that determine eligibility for the Kaleidoscope program from year to year. The size of the program is determined by the size of available classrooms, the number of teachers and the desired student-teacher ratio in each class. If more students meet criteria than can be fit into the classes, Dr. Korostoff adjust the criteria. In fact, the criteria are routinely adjusted from year to year to accommodate space constraints in the program. To say that more children meeting a flexible criteria that can and is changed to accommodate various localized constraints is meaningless and more so when the conclusion drawn from that is true in and of itself.

At one point he says:

On the ELA and Math Assessments administered in Grades 6 through 8, both middle schools exhibited an improved achievement in virtually all grade levels consistent with State trends.

Virtually? There are only three grade levels involved if not all three exhibited an improved achievement but some did that means either one or two did which means either one-third or two-thirds of the grades showed improvement. So, at best 67% of the grades showed improvement and that is not the same as 100% or even “virtually 100%”.

Talking about the high school, Dr. Korostoff referenced Mr. Organisciak’s remarks at the previous board meeting that supposedly showed an increase in minority enrollment at the high school reported by Mr. Conettta. Organisciak said there were something like 1,600 or 1,700 students enrolled in AP/Honors classes at New Rochelle High School. Does this even make the remotest possible sense? There are about 2,800 students at the high school. Are we supposed to believe that 60% of the students at the high school are taking AP/Honors classes when far less than that earn a Regents Diploma upon graduation? They are obviously counting every student in AP/Honors courses over and over again in order to bulk up the numbers to an absurd level. What we do not hear is how many actual human beings are taking at least one AP/Honors class this year at the high school and, more to the point of our report on the North-South Divide, how many of those students came from Isaac E. Young Middle School v. Albert Leonard Middle School.

There are 3 Comments

It has been reported that this year's state tests were easier than previus years and can not be compared to previous years. While that makes many of the statements made by the school administration a bit confusing, there is no metnion of the drop-out rate and the number of years it takes students to complete high school. What is the present drop-out rate, and what is the average length of time high school students attend high school before graduating? This is another statistic that needs to be broken down separatly with the students who come from the two middle schools. Diane Ravitch said it best, when it comes to reporting student achievement, "we are lying to our children."

what is at issue to me are serious questions around selectivity of report data, failure to define terms properly and defenses predicated upon flawed comparative data as well as chosen baseline results. surely it might have benefitted all parents and taxpayers to hear one of our ranking professionals cite real issues with current year ela and math tests; seemingly to me an attempt to outgoing chairs to portray some sense of legacy regarding their work re no child left behind and their overall stewardship. even a cursory analysis of available data and district results must suggest that 2008/09 were, at best an anolomy and not representative of district progress. it is not hard to speculate that districts throughout the state are doing much of the same thing; masking achievement against flawed tests and expectations. this is not speculation, but fact and not the fault of our district. what i would expect is a core or cadre of professionals that would acknowledge these shortcomings and report to the community that both ms. tisch (regents) and her peer in education department (mr. steiner) see throught the masquerade and pledged to tighten the reins and strengthen performance standards and district accountability. It would have been helpful to hear Dr Korostoff cite that federal testsd results --- selectively admininstered nation-wide every two years for selected grades paint quite a different portrait.

it troubles me to read about mr conetta's remarks about "honors classes" and yet, as cox points out, offers numbers and percentages that cry out for challenge. it just doesn't make sense. it belittles the taxpayer, and likely damages student performance if some contrivance is put in play that misleads or misrepreents students who, as we all know or should know, are compteing in a very dicey global education envirnoment and, alas, it looks now as we have fell even behind Kazakhastan. maybe Borat was brighter than he sounded or looked.

I have had a few weeks to reflect on my thoughts, feelings and statements. I would have preferred to be more positive and more facilitative. I desperately want this District to succeed and Dr. Korostoff seems like a decent and intelligent human being with a strong enough skills base to make a difference. I would prefer to hear less about our issues around poverty level, esl issues, and other sociological or nurture issues and instead of trotting these out as excuses, look to some of the great work currently being done in parts of the Greater New York City area in areas with far greater poverty levels than ours and likely with similar, perhaps even less ESL issues as we bring out.

Look it is no secret to blog readers that I don't have faith in Richard Organisiciak, He doesn't represent to me the "higher hurdle" achiever than we deserve. I also have some real issues with other senior admininstrators and principals; not all but some. And, I am equally distressed at the lack of focus and attention given to a strong commitment to oversight from the board and especially, realistic and important linkaage with the council and admininstration. frankly something as trivial as co-investing or sharing a modest $25,000 or so technology award is, well, disappointing in a district crying out for solid infrastructure changes; be it denovo, organiic or some combination therein. Jeffrey Korostoff is not one of the individuals that I would like to see replaced; although I wish we could reconsider Kaleidoscope and put more reaources to a similar program that identifies and abstracts out lower performer children. From what I have personally experienced, most homeroom and subjedt matter teachers can handle the bright children as part of normal classroom management and training and we ought to put more emphasis on the level 2 child. As an ex platoon sergeant, I was more interested in bringing up my low performers to the next levels and doing it in such a way as not to weaken the growth and development of the better recruit. We can do tht here for students using a different paradigm, as well.

My resolution going into the coming new tax year is to try to be more positive and more facilitative. I share bob cox's concerns with the presentation as originally offered and with most of the taped rejoinder. the district can do better, Jeffrey Korostoff knows better as an experienced educator, and Arne Dunccan will demand better.

I plan to be particularly alert to 2010+ results on ela and math and hope to see how we respond to expected fall out in results. please dr. korostoff, 2008/09 were not "watershed" years for the district and you know that. they were representative years of state performance based on flawed tests and methodology. and, tell your boss, that our students need to be able to compete with neighboring districts such as mamaroneck, bronxwille, pelham, etal and help him find ways to overcome any nurture problems standing in the way of making this happen. I don't know you at all, but I am sure you dont' suggest we have a "nature" issue meaning that our so-called "poverty" or non-white, asian demographies cannot perform at a minimum level 3. they certainly can and we need to find ways to help them reach that potential and not report on district findings by pointing out that esl and poor kids "pull down" district results. well, sir change that -- it transcends basic curricula changes, but you seem capable of such as challenge.

finally board members, get over the critic aversion; not all crtics are invested or interested in your failing or lack of oversight or policy applicaation. I am not for one, and if i can help or support in any way, just reach out. And, although, bob cox can speak for himself, we are fortunate to have him and irritating as he might be to all of you at times. he is truly committed to his family and community, rough around the edges as i tend to be, but someone who just wants to ensure we do well as well as act well.

waren gross

The article below talks about the achievement gap and how it's mostly the blame of poor-parenting. But one paragraph talks about how to practically work on improving the academic experience of children with parents that are not involved in their schooling and with not much success in school themselves. I think in charter schools they overcome the obstacles of environment and uneducated parents.

Fudging test results or charting district scores doesn't help the kids get ahead in life. Maybe the answer is having teachers available after school each day informally for homework help in the cafeteria or library. I have heard that kids that participate in sports do better at school, simply because they are in the school longer, interact with teachers and coaches and find purpose.

Maybe somebody in city hall can do some research on this topic for our kids.

Here is the clip from the article --

Yvette Jackson, the chief executive of the National Urban Alliance, made it clear that the lip service and labels Alexandria is putting forward are not going to help children who are what she calls "school-dependent learners." These are students from low-income backgrounds who need school to give them the basic knowledge that other kids get from their families -- knowledge that schools expect students to have when they start classes. To her, the gap everyone is talking about is not a question of black and white but of the "difference between children's potential and their performance."

"No matter how poor they are, when little kids start school, they are excited; they believe they are going to learn," Jackson said. "But unless schools give them the background knowledge . . . so they can connect with what they study and feel confident, they begin to feel that school is a foreign place, and they give up."

Here is the article: