Stop And Frisk These Test Scores

Jose VilsonJose9 Comments

Mayor Michael Bloomberg and NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly

Mayor Michael Bloomberg and NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly

I’d rather have a tall glass of “innocent until proven guilty,” whether it’s about my standing as a citizen in NYC or my students’ test scores.

This month has been rather unsuccessful for Mayor Bloomberg and two of his political postures: his stance on stop-and-frisk and his direction in education reform. Despite what comes out of his office, everyone ought to recognize it as a major fail, and a blow to an already tarnished third term.

I can’t tell you how quickly my jaw dropped when I saw my school’s test scores. I didn’t get a glimpse of them, but when I heard only ~30% of students “passed” the English or Math test, AND that the scales were aligned to the NAEP, I knew NYC would be in some trouble. I sighed, and hoped none of my students took the drop personally. Only a handful of eight graders at my school got a 4, the highest level possible.

I can’t understand the games some adults play with their lives, especially when they tie these scores to all types of notions, including their scholarships, honors classes, and their actual ability as students.

Then I read this by Diane Ravitch and almost flung my phone at someone:

The state didn’t just “raise the bar.” It aligned its passing mark to a completely inappropriate model.

The state scores have four levels: level 4 is the highest, level 1 is the lowest. In the present scoring scheme, students who do not reach level 3 and 4 have “failed.”

NAEP has three levels: “Advanced” is the highest (only about 3-8% of students reach this level). “Proficient” is defined by the National Assessment Governing Board as “solid academic performance for each grade assessed. This is a very high level of academic achievement.”). “Basic” is “partial mastery” of the skills and knowledge needed at each grade tested.

“Proficient” on NAEP is what most people would consider to be the equivalent of an A. When I was a member of the NAEP governing board, we certainly considered proficient to be very high level achievement.

New York’s city and state officials have decided that NAEP’s “proficiency” level should be the passing mark.

They don’t understand that a student who is proficient on NAEP has attained “a very high level of academic achievement.”

And then it hit me. The fact that we can’t even compare any one year with other years for the last decade speaks volumes about the sorts of education policy we’ve encountered in NYC. To bewilder, anger, and frustrate parents, students, and educators across the city looks less like collaborative learning and more like a shakedown.

Speaking of which, a judge ruled today that “stop-and-frisk,” questioning or otherwise, is unconstitutional. I wish Bloomberg, Ray Kelly, and the NYPD would have stopped this nonsense back when we deemed it inappropriate. Despite 57% of white residents of NYC approving of stop-and-frisk, it rarely affected them. 86% of those affected were Black or Latino, and at a 12% success rate, it did more to agitate relationships between certain communities and the Giuliani-inspired police state.

In both instances, it’s very easy to blame the system for its inefficiencies, or the people who lead these systems as some politicians do. It’s more appropriate to hold the right people accountable for the direction NYC has gone in for the last decade. That’s why mayoral control ought to mean.

We can’t say the teachers didn’t teach when scores go badly and take the credit when scores get inflated. We can’t take pride in stopping and frisking Black and Latino youth, yet continually tell these communities that it’s what’s best for them. The citizens of NYC demand respect, as parents, as citizens, as people seeking a better way.

As a person affected by both of these initiatives, I thought to myself, “What if we stopped frisking my students and stopped and frisked education reformers with quick fix disaster plans coming into our public schools? What if we created environments that cared for our most disenfranchised?”

In the meantime, I implore all of you reading to stop and frisk those test scores. You might find, as Bloomberg did, nothing at all.



p.s. – photo courtesy of

Comments 9

  1. I’m getting my classroom ready for the first day next Tuesday. I feel so, well I don’t even know what to call it. It is not burn out or depression but my heart is heavy. My students depend on me and I take this very seriously. I want the best for them and I put in countless hours trying to find or create the best for them. So why do I feel this….heaviness? I realize you have just expressed how I feel. No matter what I do, someone higher up will have a better idea and force me to sit through countless meetings, trainings, instead of focusing on my real job (mission). I look back over the last 10 -15 years and I can’t count how many “cures” I’ve participated in. They come and go, come and go with new names but the same ideas repackaged. Thanks for a very thoughtful piece and for helping me say what I feel.
    Also, this stop and frisk policy is appalling!!!

  2. All of what you have written about is so true. It is disheartening that focus is only on the numbers and the test scores. The CCLS have only been implemented a short time in NYC and NYS schools where I am a middle school teacher – in fact, we only implemented the CCLS school wide last September. Thus, a revised and revamped test seven months later with little information about the test and professional development is setting teachers and students up (to fail in many cases). There needs to be more effective communication and relevant and adequate professional development. Too many great teachers and students are being looked down upon because of low numbers. Our students and our children are more than a number and test score — that is the message we need to continue to communicate.

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  4. I agree with most of what you say, and see that Diane Ravitch has no understanding of NAEP. “Proficient” is supposed to be solid understand of the material, not excellence: a grade of “B” in the pre-grade-inflated world. “Basic” is passing, a “C” in the pre-grade-inflated world. Of course, with many schools now having average grades of A, and needing all kinds of tricks to get their top students to have 5.0 averages in a 4.0 scale, grade inflation is assumed by all politicians.

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      Are you saying one of the leading education researchers in the world doesn’t understand an exam she’s been studying since its inception? I mean, I’d like to get a look at it myself, but even with the scales you described, it still sounds absurd anyways.

  5. Jose, I think I’m glad you read e-mail on your phone. If you read it on a desktop and you were moved to throw THAT at someone, people could get seriously hurt. However, since I read e-mail on my desktop, I can vouch for the satisfaction of yelling at the screen (like yelling at a TV, which I do pretty often, which makes my husband laugh at me).

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