"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Commissioner Schundler Spins As Thousands of High Schoolers in NJ Left Without Diplomas

More crimes against the poor and the brown in New Jersey.  From Stan Karp at the High School Redesign website (get info here to subscribe):
Between two and three thousand seniors will be denied diplomas this month according to new estimates presented by Department of Education officials to the State Board of Education at its June 16 meeting. While the number is down from the nearly 10,000 students who were told early April that they did not pass the state’s new Alternative High School Assessment, it still represents an unprecedented number of “diploma penalties” imposed on NJ seniors who would otherwise have graduated this June after completing all their course credit and local requirements.

Despite having given a two-year $1.1 million contract to Measurement, Inc, a commercial testing vendor, to manage scoring and data for the new test, the Department did not release complete results or disaggregated data for student subgroups. There was, however, plenty of spin.

Commissioner Schundler claimed that the “process has produced very positive results” and that passing rates increased from January to April because of “an increased focus on instruction.” In fact, January AHSA results were returned to schools just a few days before the April test was given and had no impact on instruction. Passing rates were significantly higher in April (though still under 50%) because public and legislative pressure led the Department to significantly revise the scoring process and modify Measurement, Inc’s role in deciding who passed.  As a result, passing rates on the language arts section of the test rose from 10% in January to 35% in April and from 34% to 47% on the math.

Under pressure, the Department also rescored thousands of January tests and created a patchwork “appeals process” to reduce the numbers at risk of not graduating. According to Deputy Commissioner Willa Spicer the Department has processed about 800 appeals and has a hundred or more pending. Spicer indicated that, so far, about 75% of the appeals were approved, although ELC has received numerous reports of inconsistencies. Many districts were confused about the criteria, process and deadlines for the appeals process, which was revised 4 times in the two weeks after it was first announced in mid-May. ELC is continuing to gather information on the appeals process and explore legal options for students whose appeals were denied or who were not informed about the process.

Despite the spin, everything the Department reported to the Board today confirmed the Department’s mishandling of the new assessment. (For details see NJDOE Flunks AHSA Test, But Thousands Of Seniors Will Pay)

The bottom line is that two to three thousand of the state’s most vulnerable students will be denied diplomas on the basis of a flawed and dubious test. If ELC hadn’t released the initial results back in April, when the Department wanted to keep them under wraps, the numbers would no doubt be much higher.

Students who do not graduate this month will have another chance to take the AHSA in August. The Department says it will make available an “online instructional program,” but access to summer programs is particularly uncertain given this year’s budget crises.

ELC will also press for revisions of the AHSA process for the 2010-11 school year.

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