Thursday, January 15, 2015

The 65% Passing Rate Bulge.

Back in 2011 the Wall Street Journal published a report that showed there was a significant 65% bulge in Regents scores throughout New York State and for all subjects.  In New York City the 65% Regents bulge was even greater.  For instance, the 2009 English Regents passing grade with a 65% was over five times higher than those who received a 64%.  More importantly in Social Studies the Regents passing grade of 65% was an astounding fourteen times higher than those who ended up with a 64%.  The uproar over the 65% bulge resulted in the State recommending that the Regents scoring be done by teachers who don't teach their students while the City decided to go one step further by requiring that Regents scoring be held outside the school entirely.  The first results from the City showed a 50% reduction in the 65% passing Regents bulge the year after some schools were required to follow the new procedures and an additional 50% drop the next year when all New York City public schools were required to follow the new rules.  Interestingly, the Bloomberg Administration exempted charter schools from the new requirements and the De Blasio Administration has not changed the policy that allows charter school teachers to score their own students Regents.

That brings me to the 65% passing bulge for the final school grade and the grading policy of the schools that pressures teachers to pass students that don't deserve to pass so that the school can show an artificially high graduation rate and grade on their progress reports. Teacher after teacher tells me their stories about the administration demanding a 80% to 90% passing rate for their classes, including students who are on the class roster but have stopped attending the class.  Moreover, many schools refuse to allow teachers to give the student lower than 50% as a grade, despite these students seldom showing up or fails to bother to do any work whatsoever.  Some schools limit the failing grade to 55% and then allow many of these otherwise failing students to take "credit recovery" courses or alternate projects to pass the class, usually over the objections of the teacher.  I suspect the more a school struggles academically, the bigger the 65% passing bulge is for that school.

One teacher, whistle blower Philip Noblie has championed for an in-depth investigation of the 65% passing bulge, similar to his complaint in the infamous Cobble Hill Regents cheating scandal that found, or not found the school administration guilty of a massive coverup, depending on the investigator and the politics played in the investigations that might have gone up as far as the District Superintendent, yes, the now Chancellor, Carmen Farina.  Will the DOE actually look at the 65% passing bulge?  Highly unlikely, if you ask me.  Why question the ever increasing graduation rates that, on further inspection, would show that many of these high school graduates can't even fill out a job application, posses appropriate work skills, or make it in college after wasting a year taking remedial courses for no credits?

I personally have little doubt that there is a significant 65% bulge as schools are incentivized to pass as many students they can to improve the school's standing at the expense of the academic reputation of the school when these graduates are unable to function in the adult world.  But then again, the DOE only cares about the graduation statistics and not whether the student was truly academically proficient to function in the real world.


Anonymous said...

Important to note that during the years when the most scrubbing and grade-inflation was happening, schools that participated in these shenanigans were rewarded, while schools that upheld NYSED grading policies were punished. A strange justice that punishes honesty and rewards cheaters.

Philip Nobile said...

Regarding the crime of falsifying course grades, I sent the email below to Gov. Cuomo last Monday (Jan. 12) and copied it to Chancellors Tisch and Farina and 30 additional NYSED, DOE, and UFT bigwigs who could care less. As for the cold OSI-substantiated Cobble Hill Regents tampering and cover-up case that was corruptly "overturned" by the shady Commissioner of Special Investigation Richard Condon with the help of Farina's secret and probably perjured testimony--I know she lied to OSI but not under oath--there will be bloody resignations.

To: Governor Andrew Cuomo From: Philip Nobile, NYC/DOE teacher Re: The Corruption of Pass Quotas in NYC Schools

Herewith below is a Dec. 27 blogpost on the Chaz School Daze website containing disturbing evidence of routine cheating by untold principals and teachers.
The cheating involves pass quotas set by principals that strong arm teachers, especially the untenured, into passing failing students, which happens to be a crime. (N.Y. EDN. LAW § 225 : NY Code - Section 225).

As you will read, the posted claims and confessions in the “comments” thread paint a shocking picture of system-wide, top to bottom corruption reminiscent of the once dirty little secret of Regents tampering, also a crime. (see above)

I do not recommend that the usual city and state agencies investigate pass quotas because they have averted their gaze from cheating in the past. For example, the Regents, NYSED, DOE, and even the UFT did nothing to stamp out widely winked at Regents “scrubbing” until a 2011 report in the Wall Street Journal blew the lid off the “65 bulge,” referring to the statistically unlikely clustering of Regents scores around the passing grade of 65 and just above:

"A Wall Street Journal analysis of high-school Regents test scores shows that a disproportionate percentage of New York City students barely got the passing score they needed to receive a diploma in the past two years, while very few received scores just below passing." (“Students' Regents Test Scores Bulge at 65,” Feb. 2)

Oddly, the then recently retired Schools Chancellor Joel Klein refused comment on the paper’s devastating exposé disputing the integrity of rising graduation rates under his management. The Mayor and new Chancellor Dennis Walcott were likewise unheard on this uncontested revelation of the DOE’s institutional corruption.

[continued in next comment]

Philip Nobile said...

A personal note: I was a rookie permanent sub at Washington Irving High School in the second semester of 2001-2002. While making out a first ever report card, my house supervisor Vicki Wojcik told me to pass 80 percent of my Latin students--after I explained that 80 percent were flunking. When I righteously complained to a fellow teacher, a wise, old ironist type, he said to me, “Didn’t you see the sign above the entrance to the school? Abandon all ethics, you who enter here?’”

The same sign hung over my next stop at the Cobble Hill School of American Studies in Brooklyn where I taught Social Studies. In the month before my inaugural experience with Regents exams in June 2002, Assistant Principal Theresa Capra premeditated the tampering on subjective essay scores in an indiscreet email to me: “Let's try to focus on getting these kids a 65 … . In a pinch they can get points from writing any old garbage down, you are going to love grading time.”

Flashing forward, like Eric Chasanoff , the author of the Chaz School Daze blog, I have spoken to several high school teachers along the ATR trail—him in Queens, me in Brooklyn—who bemoan quotas that turn them into cynics and lawbreakers. Sometimes the directive is in writing. For example, I came across a chilling, unsigned administration handout at John Dewey High School in Coney Island that began:

Objective: Participants will be able to:
Optimize their grading and assessment policies to achieve 85% passing rates in all classes. …
3. 95% of Cohort R, S, T receive sufficient credits for the year. …
4. Regents passing rates are 85 percent and above in every subject.

[continued in next comment]

Philip Nobile said...

Pass quotas appear to be the bad fruit of the common sense Campbell’s Law:

"the more any quantitative social indicator is used for social decision-making, the more subject it will be to corruption pressures and the more apt it will be to distort and corrupt the social processes it was intended to monitor."

Translation: in the age of heightened accountability and simpler and easier methods of firing teachers, principals hold all the cards. If they establish quotas, implicitly or explicitly, teachers are bound to comply in great numbers when their careers are at stake. And so in accord with Campbell’s Law the system cruelly promotes the neediest students to lives of less fulfillment.

I hope that you will act against the interest of education officials who look away from pass quotas today as they earlier looked away from Regents tampering and credit recovery cons. What is the best way to proceed? When Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue faced a cheating scandal in Atlanta, he took the highroad by appointing two independent former prosecutors to dig up the dirt, which they did in abundance leading to multiple resignations and indictments of teachers and administrators including former Atlanta Superintendent Beverly Hall.

UFT President Michael Mulgrew has proposed a Truth Commission, which might provide a swifter and less disruptive solution to quota crimes. Mulgrew has a contractual incentive to eliminate quotas as Article 8D of the Contract reads: "The teacher’s judgment in grading students is to be respected."

Pending further investigation which could take months, I urge you to employ the pulpit of your office sooner rather than later to turn off the heat on teachers to falsify grades, specifically, to appeal to Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch and NYC Schools Chancellor Carmen Farina to declare their contempt for pass quotas and to warn principals against direct or indirect pressure to break the law for the sake of accountability; and if principals don’t get the message, teachers would be invited to register complaints, anonymous if preferred, to a special investigator. Teachers are counting on you.

Thanks for your consideration.

Anonymous said...

Love it. I pass over 90% of my students. You'd basically have to be a "no show" to fail my classes. I'm passing every kid and could care less. About 50% minimum deserve to fail but that would never be the case with me. Keep everyone happy, keep the administration smiling, keep that 6 figure salary pumping, and most of all, another year almost down and closer to 55. This is a simple game to play.

Anonymous said...

"In a way, fraud in business [education] is no different from infidelity in marriage or plagiarism in scholarly work. Even people committed to high moral standards succumb." - Miroslav Volf

Anonymous said...

@ 4:53, I am a large # of my close colleagues and friends have succumb. Trust me, I'm not joking. We are laughing straight to the bank! It's not a million dollars per year, but $100K+ is fine by me with summers off. I am passing EVERYONE!!!!!!!!!!!

Bronx ATR said...

To 4:53,
You can't have high morals standards and succumb to fraud, infidelity or plagiarism. All of that is a deliberate choice. Most teachers when faced with a loss of career will pass every student on register. Educators shouldn't try to rationalize their behavior- if you don't stand for anything, you will fall for everything. Most teachers own this fact. It makes a teacher's career and teaching meaningless. This is what the DOE does and what the UFT allows. The graduates can't get or hold a job, don't have the basic skills to pass one college class and end up on public assistance or worse. People are starting to realize that the DOE's prime objective is to graduate, not educate. It will ultimately allow charter schools to take over the entire system.

Anonymous said...

@4:53 , one more thing, I have a cool magic that gets them thru the Regents. Me and the science boys do it. Just 10 more years I'll be in my yacht! Sippping champagne. Looking at the Bermuda sun. Countin my cash. Stop whining Chaz, play the game with us and collect our 100K+ (plus pension plus secret bonus wink wink ) and live the good life. PAAARRRTTTYY. Just pass EVERYONE!!! I am not even a teacher! Livin' large in mommy's basement. Love postin' here!