Chancellor Walcott on New Test Scores, Small Schools Study

Monday, August 26, 2013

Parents will get the results of their child's new common core standardized tests this week. NYC schools chancellor Dennis Walcott and chief academic officer Shael Polakow-Suransky talk about how to interpret the (probably lower) scores.  Plus, a new study from MRDC found gains in graduation rates from the "small schools" strategy favored by Mayor Bloomberg.


Shael Polakow-Suransky and Dennis Walcott

Comments [45]

Mr. Bad from NYC

I love how B. Lehrer gets that tone in his voice when he addresses an issue close to his heart... "But what about my little middle schooler, will he get to know the right people, will he test into the BEST middle school???"

Dude, the world is going to hell in a handbasket. Stop fugging around the edges and grow a pair when you get NAT SEC guests. Do some research or just stop having guests that our out of your depth....

Aug. 26 2013 09:18 PM

Wait a minute, Wait a minute, Wait a minute, ...

Ms. Lapham's comments motivated my search for the company that seems to be on the receiving end of the City's funds for this new testing regime, based on "core curriculum" (except it's not really about the tests and it apparently has no specified curriculum?)

Google variations for "Pearson Education" and "Edexcel"; my own quick read seems to indicate that "Pearson", now a multi-part conglomerate, has been involved in providing "educational testing" for fifty (50) years and has publishing subsidiaries that provide "reading program" materials to schools.


Is there a difference between "teaching to the test" and "teaching the materials on which the test is based"?

What are the financial interests in Pearson, or its various subsidiaries, held by the NYC and NYS officials, their families, and their business organizations, who have decided to do business with Pearson (I would find it too insulting if Messrs Walcott or Polakow-Suransky actually owned stock, but my guess is that Ms. Tisch's and Mr. Blumberg's financial empires, as well as those of lesser State and City employees and officials are below the oversight radar. Maybe a feature more appropriately done on "Marketplace"

(Hey Brian: at about 55+ seconds into your Aug. 15th interview of Merryl Tisch ( ) Ms. Tisch sends you greetings from "Billie Tisch" and you reply "We love Billie and all she's done for WNYC." Given that this issue seems to involve large financial resources from the City and large financial gains for private businesses and individuals, your show owes more "transparency" on the Tisch Family involvement with WNYC when members of the family appear to support one side of an issue, especially when they feel empowered to remind hosts of beloved "family members" and "all" they've done for WNYC.
I cannot find an "Ombudsman" for WNYC. Can you or someone on this thread assist?

Aug. 26 2013 03:52 PM

By the way, I took the Common Core 8th grade sample math test and out of 13 questions, I got 8 correct! 7 with full credit and 1 with partial credit. Not bad for someone who hasn't done this in 20 years. But I gotta admit I'm an accountant so numbers are my thing.

Aug. 26 2013 02:28 PM

"Katie Lapham from Brooklyn"'s thoughtful comment and her attached letter to Walcott ( )
exhibit a view of the unexamined issues of this puff-piece interview that deserves to get equal air-time after the apologists for Blumberg and Tisch have had their say.

Aug. 26 2013 01:45 PM
Katie Lapham from Brooklyn

Dear Chancellor Walcott and Shael Polakow-Suransky,

Re: ReadyGEN ELA Core Curriculum program

In Common Core PD, which, to my horror, is costing New York state a whopping $1 billion, we were told by Pearson trainers that we could not use our own texts in teaching the ReadyGEN ELA curriculum. Can you please confirm if this is correct? We were also told that we could not adapt or change Pearson's ReadyGEN ELA curriculum to meet the learning needs of individual students, specifically ELLs (English-language learners). Can you please confirm if this is correct?

Aside from being costly, the Common Core package is narrowing curriculum and, contrary to what Merryl Tisch stated last week on this show, is resulting in even more test prep. Your Core Curriculum programs are designed to teach kids how to take the Common Core tests. Scores will go up, but at the expense of meaningful, personalized learning that takes into account the whole child.

Chancellor Walcott, I never received a response from you regarding the letter I sent to you last month. Are you willing to dialogue with me about my concerns? Here's a link to my letter.

Katie Lapham
NYC public school teacher

Aug. 26 2013 01:28 PM
eleniNYC from Jackson Heights

First of all: The Common Core Curriculum is really designed for portfolio assessment.
Everyone talks about Common Core Curriculum and the CC Standards and some of the rubrics attached to them as if they actually read them, ate them and digested them as I did for the last 2-3 yrs. as I did for holiday, weekend and semester long PDs for Gen. Ed and TESOL [ESL] Teachers in NYC Public High Schools. Common Core is really NOT designed for standardized testing. It is obvious no one knows what they are talking about especially when it come to Common Core Standards. Because unless one has experienced 3 yrs. of Common Core PD on every level of a "working" document [the CCS have changed a few times since ir was formally introduced in 2010] Standardized Testing would NEVER enter the conversation.

Because of the corporatization of education, we are now beholden to CEOs and their bottomline. Actually irrespective of the outcome they laugh all the way to the bank while we teachers bear the brunt of hostility by Bloomberg media who deflect the responsibility away from Pearson and McGraw-Hill

[2] NYS / NYC teachers [unlike our NJ counterparts] pay for our healthcare [yes we pay for our own helath insurance] , our Pensions TRS [stops after the first 10yrs are paid= being "vested"] & TDA fund, UFT dues,
We pay for our dental insruance courtesy of Cigna, we pay for our metrocards, ;and we pay into our welfare fund because after all those deductions, there is so little left one is looking to Welfare for relief.

[3] Q : is Bloomberg suffereing from a form of schizophrenia? because he closes all these nabe schools, then makes students travel longer distances to be in classrooms of over 35 bringing us back to the factory model from 150 years ago, but insists that students can learn, then talks about the the successes of small schools.

[4] I also think it's hilarious that the teachers in Charter Schools have been unionizing like crazy.

Aug. 26 2013 01:03 PM

@Edward -

First, you are comparing NYC to NJ which is a bad comparison. NJ has a different school funding system than NYC as NJ schools base their funding on property taxes. The NYC system is much more complex.

Second, the teacher in Jersey City is an ESL teacher. So she may be getting extra pay as a specialized instructor. Even with a Masters Degree, the starting pay for NYC teachers is still around $40K. My cousin does not have tenure. She hopes to make more money but currently cannot because the teachers haven't gotten a raise since 2009.

Third, she spends about $900 in classroom supplies and teaching aides. Luckily she has a class where parents are able pay for their children's necessities. I threw in the bit about healthcare because there's a myth going around the city that teachers don't contribute to healthcare/pension costs when they do.

Fourth, pensions are really not a luxury today. Many jobs, including my own(and I work for a private company) still have them. The disappearance of pensions really have to do with management's decision to pay their employees currently than hold the money aside for later. Companies with pensions usually pay their employees, including executives, slightly less. Private pensions are different from public pensions in that the private company MUST set aside money for the pension.

As for my cousin's pension, she will have to stay in the school system for AT LEAST 30 years if she wants to collect. At the rate of teacher turnover, most teachers will never collect a public pension. By the way, another pension reality: 80% of NYC pensions are due to police officers and firefighters who only have to be on the job 20 years.

Fifth, lesson planning changes every year. Why? First, she may not teach the same grade from year to year. Second, the NYC DOE keeps changing the curriculum requirements every year. Third, she may need to change her plan based on the type of kids she has in the class during each year. One year, she'll be lucky to have a bright, fast class and the next she'll have one that may struggle with the material. And then there's the endless test preparation where lesson sequences from the curriculum have to be skipped since there's not enough time.

Sixth, week long teacher conferences are mandated by the DOE, not the teachers. Some of them are helpful, but some of them are a waste of time. There's nothing the teachers can do about it.

Aug. 26 2013 01:02 PM
Leonie Haimson from NYC

Nancy Cauthen and the other critics are right: the tests were deeply flawed; even apart from the fact that they were too long and had confusing and ambiguous questions, they were full of distracting logos and commercial product placements, and contained reading passages taken directly from Pearson text books that some students in the state were assigned -- but not in NYC. For more on the problems w/ these faulty exams, see our blog at; for an explanation of why no parent should trust the results, see Brian -- you claim to present a balanced point of view; when are you going to allow critics to the DOE's policies time on your show?

Aug. 26 2013 12:59 PM
Edward from Washington Heights AKA pretentious Hudson Heights


I know someone who is an ESL teacher in Jersey City. She has been teaching there for about 10+ years. Last time I asked, she is making over $80K. She also got her Masters which gave her a bump in her salary.

$50K is an OK salary. Does she have tenure? Can she expect to make more in later years? Don't other workers have to pay for their Medical too?

> After taxes, housing costs (even with a roommate) and her own classroom spending there's little left.

Taxes, housing, a common burden. How much does she spend on her classroom?

> By the way, the teachers contribute to the pensions & healthcare costs.

Pensions are a luxury today. Sharing the cost of healthcare is too. Her pension will be a burden for the taxpayers for a long time. Her $50K will turn into a lifetime pension. A good deal for her.

Time spent on lesson planning. Do thing really change that much? Can't the previous years plan be used, updated? Doesn't the State/City mandate what should be taught?

Why are week long Teachers conferences held during the school year - creating a week off for students? That's what happens in New Jersey, and I'm guessing that something similar happens in NYC.

Aug. 26 2013 12:10 PM
diana zavala from Manhattan

Brian, your guests indicated that with the new tests --that guaranteed the ability to assess critical thinking through the essay writing portion--- students are being taught to write essays comparing two texts and argue a position. While this is an important college writing skill, I question whether it is developmentally appropriate and whether young students age 8 and 9 will actually learn to "critically think" or will they just learn (through a scripted formulaic way) to write that type of essay, but not be able to understand the process and apply to different tasks. Isn't a child-centered, language rich, hands-on learning, experiential, inquiry driven education both more appropriate and effective in achieving critical thinking than expecting children to perform a college level task early in their learning, stunting their cognitive development for the purpose of improving their score on a test?

Aug. 26 2013 11:53 AM

@Edward from Washington Heights

Q: "Please provide links which prove that resources for children have decreased."

"But this year, the New York City Council hacked the [Teachers Choice Fund] back to just $9.2 million, down almost 30% from last year's allocation."

NYC Teachers will be reimbursed $57 for classroom supplies

Lessons in Austerity

Q: "And what is a fair pay for a teacher - factor in benefits and holidays, vacation, off time for "conferences"?

A: As a former NYC public student and a cousin to a current public school teacher, teachers are paid much less than and have less time off than what you think. First, the top paid teachers have been on the job for at least 20 years, but they make up a minority of the teaching pool. My cousin has taught for five years and currently earns about $50K a year. After taxes, housing costs (even with a roommate) and her own classroom spending there's little left. By the way, the teachers contribute to the pensions & healthcare costs. Second, much of a teachers' "free time", including holidays, is spent lesson planning, grading papers, making parent calls, etc. And most teacher conferences are held and mandated by the school districts and/or DOE. Seminars that aren't organized by the DOE are paid for by the teacher. So these aren't corporate junkets.

Aug. 26 2013 11:42 AM

Will there be any repercussions to the current over-lords if (heaven forbid) the same tests yield lower student scores next time?

(or is the "education" industry more like the "financial" industry?)

Aug. 26 2013 11:35 AM

@high school teacher:

Spoken like a true "warder".
It's good to see that the people in charge have such close ties to the "oppressed".

Aug. 26 2013 11:29 AM
Edward from Washington Heights AKA pretentious Hudson Heights

> high school teacher

> This line about school being prison is merely a rhetorical devise


I hope you aren't an English teacher.

I like the line in the Woody Allen's "Annie Hall".

"those who can't do teach, and those who can't teach, teach gym."

Aug. 26 2013 11:27 AM
Risa from Brooklyn

Finally it's revealed that our students have gotten worse under the Bloomberg administration when they are given a real test and not a dumbed down one!

Aug. 26 2013 11:23 AM
Edward from Washington Heights AKA pretentious Hudson Heights

Google "common core sample questions grade 8"

The math questions are hard for me too.

Aug. 26 2013 11:22 AM
high school teacher

This line about school being prison is merely a rhetorical devise to lead to the end of public education. Look up the people that are publishing on this: hard core, true to Ayn Rand libertarians that seek no government.

Who will benefit from this system? The elite, who will always have funds to send their children to private schools.

The public is realizing that poverty is the unaddressed elephant in the room. We by far have the greatest disparity of income among all industrialized nations. Yet, we are expected to compete on the same level as the top performers --which have done much to address social needs. Google, Stephen Krashen: Poverty is the problem that must be solved... Our Schools Are Not Broken...

Aug. 26 2013 11:17 AM
Liz from Forest Hills

When that sixth grader from the Bronx said that they weren't learning new things, just taking the same tests over and over, why wasn't it pointed out that this is not even education?
Why is it that you're never confrontational when it comes to Bloomberg's disastrous record on our public schools?

Aug. 26 2013 11:11 AM
Bill from NYC

Brian- Why didn't you bring up any of the questions on this board?
Your interview made this huge failure look like a success, because you didn't ask any tough questions.
Do you call that responsible journalism?
You had 40 minutes with them, yet you refused to be confrontational with them. One has to ask oneself why?
Could it be that Bloomberg has made certain donations to WNYC?

Aug. 26 2013 11:03 AM

Sorry to have overlooked the attribution for the opening quite.

Aug. 26 2013 11:02 AM
Edward from Washington Heights AKA pretentious Hudson Heights


>Spending went up 64%, but it never went to the classroom. Teachers pay didn't increase and the resources for children decreased.

Please provide links which prove that resources for children have decreased.

And what is a fair pay for a teacher - factor in benefits and holidays, vacation, off time for "conferences"?

Aug. 26 2013 11:00 AM

"School is a prison — and damaging our kids"

" . . . . This amazing drive and capacity to learn does not turn itself off when children turn 5 or 6. We turn it off with our coercive system of schooling. The biggest, most enduring lesson of our system of schooling is that learning is work, to be avoided when possible. . . . "

Even work on a personal goal or project is never so onerous as when it is in the service of monetizing the efforts of others.

I am surprised that con-men and political hacks such as today's guests find WNYC to be such a comfortable forum. I suppose that might lessen if their "critical thinking" patter has any substance.

Aug. 26 2013 10:59 AM
Jason McDonald from Riverdale

"Tests are a means to determine whether the student understands the course work. If the student does not pass the test, the student does not understand the material and needs more time and help to master it."

^^This only means something is the curriculum covers the coursework necessary for mastering the exam. First, one of the biggest problems with the testing this year was that most schools' curriculum wasn't changed to reflect the Common Core standards. Second, because of NCLB, so many schools are too busy with test preparation instead of covering necessary coursework.

Also understand why South Korea ranks #1 in education - because their entire society is based on academic achievement. Unfortunately US society revolves around consumerism and celebrity worship.

Aug. 26 2013 10:59 AM
Edward from Washington Heights AKA pretentious Hudson Heights

Tests are a means to determine whether the student understands the course work.

If the student does not pass the test, the student does not understand the material and needs more time and help to master it.

Index of cognitive skills and educational attainment - by country

South Korea ranks #1.

Why is the US in 21st place even though the US spends the most on education?

Aug. 26 2013 10:50 AM

@edward from washington heights:

Spending went up 64%, but it never went to the classroom. Teachers pay didn't increase and the resources for children decreased. Why? Because education "reformers" (i.e. Bloomberg, Obama, Rhee, etc) spend more money on administrators than actual instruction. Do you understand how much larger the D.O.E. has gotten under Bloomberg? They won't hire teachers, but they'll hire plenty of Coordinators & Directors.

Aug. 26 2013 10:47 AM
john from office

Edward, that is the dirty little secret. No one asked the parents to take charge of their kids. 15% black reading rate is shameful. But, we get lots and lots of Jargon.

Aug. 26 2013 10:46 AM
Truth & Beauty from Brooklyn

Ironic, is it not, that New York is the greatest city in the world, yet has such a questionable school system?

Aug. 26 2013 10:46 AM

"As if the goal in life is to get to college and read books"...

If you go to one of Eva Moskowitz' charter schools, this is EXACTLY what is being preached.

Aug. 26 2013 10:41 AM

Ask the Chancellor if they just wanted to inflate the city's graduation rates
with a dumbed down test before, why they have to defend the fact that 74% of the students aren't proficient at English when they take a test that is not dumbed down?

Aug. 26 2013 10:41 AM
Edward from Washington Heights AKA pretentious Hudson Heights

Strange that some people blame the chancellor, blame the Mayor, but NOT the parents who a crucial part of their children's education.

An uneducated home produces uneducated children.

Aug. 26 2013 10:40 AM
Nancy Cauthen from Manhattan

Brian, your guests contend -- and the media continues to repeat -- that the reason this year's test scores are so low is that the exams were "harder" because they were aligned to "more rigourous" standards. But the truth is that the texts, whether harder or not, were horribly flawed. Teachers and students reported a variety of troubling problems with this year’s April exams. Teachers and students alike have reported that instructions were confusing, some questions had more than one answer (teachers couldn't agree among themselves), and the tests were much longer than in years past and many children -- even excellent students -- did not finish. Teachers who scored the exams reported a wide range of problems. The DOE has yet to address ANY of these criticisms, yet these types of flaws most definitely affected children's scores.

The State Ed Dept has been warning of lower scores since below the tests were given. This was planned failure to rationalize a range of untested reforms. There is absolutely NO acceptable reason for setting children up for failure. As a public school parent, I am furious -- and I know many others are as well. Test-based accountability has failed -- not our children.

Aug. 26 2013 10:39 AM

I find the 4th grade test scores being discussed as normative indicators of their future graduation level – high school or college – other worldly. My child is 9 years old and should not be labeled at this age. To have a test like this track her into middle school and ultimately feed what high school she goes to is utterly depressing. I am a product of public education and a major champion for it, but do not agree with the NYC DOE middle school admission practice – it shifts focus from teaching to testing at the age where subjects really start to grab kids and shape their interests and passion for education.

Aug. 26 2013 10:38 AM
Brian from Bergen County

As a teacher of English in New Jersey with 32 years experience, I would encourage everyone to really listen to the comments of young Maya, who called in and complained about how her class had done so much repetitive practice of things they already knew. This is an honest, sincere voice who is speaking directly about the reality of the classroom. The media devote far too much attention to standardized test scores, thereby giving them far more importance in the minds of the public.

The reality of standardized testing is that it takes away from learning; precious class time for which we are all paying is wasted and the curriculum is actually diminished. And as an English teacher who has for years taught juniors taking the state HSPA, I know that most standardized tests cover only a small slice of what is learned in the classroom. Furthermore, whenever there's a test, teachers are compelled to teach to it, so that test scores don't really fully reflect what's going on in the classroom.

Words like "testing" and "professional development" are thrown around as if they are standard commodities. Chancellor Walcott, like most school administrators, talks about professional development as if it's a cure all, something to be administered to each teacher like a foolproof vaccine. But what does it actually consist of? Is it effective? Is it sufficient? No one is asking that question. In the same way, politicians talk about testing and test scores as a predictable commodity, something that can be purchased and reliably implemented, without examining the quality and validity of the tests. As an experienced teacher, I know there are good tests and bad tests, but the public debate doesn't really examine that. The reality is that what goes on in a classroom is complex and nuanced and individual, a fact that is inconvenient for political debate.

I'm not saying don't test, and I'm not saying the Core Curriculum is a bad thing. Just calm down. This standardized testing is not the be-all and end-all. It's one small piece of the education puzzle. Don't blow it up into something bigger.

Aug. 26 2013 10:35 AM

What I saw in most of these small schools was very poor science education. For instance, one so-called "science" school had very mediocre offerings for their science classes and chem labs that lacked fume hoods. Another school offered a pathetic "project-based" science curriculum that was not nearly as sophisticated as what my son had in middle school. Science sometimes requires laboratories that need sufficient economies of scale that can only be achieved in larger schools. Did this study specifically look at science skills?

Aug. 26 2013 10:33 AM
ivan obregon from nyc

Without a core knowledge curriculum- a content-based criteria, not just a measurement of "skill assessment" as the common core standards are presently set-up- no true testing of any true learning will occur. This is just another empty "reform" aimed at prioritizing testing without any real information being taught or learned in....the classroom.

Aug. 26 2013 10:32 AM

Ask the Chancellor why my principal ordered us to pass over 80% of our students, whether or not they passed, studied or even showed up?

Aug. 26 2013 10:30 AM
Liz Tingley from Manhattan

The student from PS 24 raised the key issue which was Not addressed by the chancellor. High stakes testing prep take away utterly And absolutely from real education time. In addition. This new common core makes some sense but it is a 180 degree turn from the kind of crazy insistence on dull skill drills that turn kids off from learning. Also look carefully at prior years test score data. There was very little change. The data was manipulated in a smoke and mirrors manner. The school under Bloomberg have gone to the dogs

Aug. 26 2013 10:29 AM
John from office

Wow, this is putting me to sleep. Especially the bed room voice!

Aug. 26 2013 10:23 AM

Nice to hear that kid understands the futility of rote teaching

Aug. 26 2013 10:19 AM
jgarbuz from Queens

Your guests are the problem, not the solution. As one said to the young girl, "..and eventually to college." As if the goal in life is to get to college and read books. That is what life is all about, to go to college and read books. Oh, and write books, and teach other people to read and write books. This mentality is why this country is tottering. Why we are deindustrializing. WORK is the purpose of life, aside from reproduction. To produce and to reproduce are the only two reasons why we are here on this earth.

Aug. 26 2013 10:19 AM

Please ask Mr. Walcott when the DoE is going to do a thorough search for a new schools chancellor. He moved into his position because of the absurd Cathie Black appointment, but he himself was not appointed. We need a schools leader who is very well prepared for the position, not an interim chancellor who has become de facto the chancellor.

Aug. 26 2013 10:19 AM
Ldenise from Brooklyn

I think the white elephant in the room is that many parents prepped their kids and that many schools like NEST were able to pay for prep booklets. So, no, it is not normative. My daughter who received a 4 in English and a 3 in Math (last year: 4 and 4) without prep will not be compared to kids whose kids dipped in scores if the parents had the money to prep their kids. No, schools are not treated the same. Your common core library was ludicrous, and you did not "roll out" the program well. The fact that you continue to use Pearson and other testing companies is silly. Acknowledge, please, that testing companies are grabbing for the K to 12 market, and our kids are focus groups. I am all for rigor. But not the testing companies racing to the top.

Aug. 26 2013 10:17 AM
jgarbuz from Queens

K-12 should be about training workers for employment, not petty academics for college. Anyone who reads lots and lots of books can be a good test-taker. Those kids who hardly read any books, and don't want to read books, are never going to score well on those "academic" tests.
School should not be about more school.Should be training most kids to go to work after 12 years of taxpayer education.

Aug. 26 2013 10:12 AM
Edward from Washington Heights AKA pretentious Hudson Heights

2011 - Education Spending Up 64% Under No Child Left Behind But Test Scores Improve Little

Eliminate Tenure for teachers. They should be subject to market forces and fair evaluation like any other worker.

Aug. 26 2013 09:21 AM
Susan from Upper West Side

Not sure how to interpret the scores because there is a raw number labeled Scale Score which looks like it is about half of the raw numbers from years past. Since the raw number score doesn't also give the maximum possible score -- it is hard to put those numbers in context.

There is also the standard 1 through 4 numbers labeled Prof. Rgt that are usually used for the statewide tests accompanied by green boxes. According to the 1 through 4 numbers he did about the same as he always does.

Then there is the Domain Scores where they do give you the Maximum scores in specific skill categories for both math and science -- so I calculated percentages for each specific skill against the maximum and these are only somewhat lower than what he typically gets on most standardized tests.

So, in looking at my son's results (admittedly a sample size of 1), it seems that those who score on the higher end may be less affected by the new tests than those who score on the lower end of the scale. Is that what is happening generally? That more of the depression in scores occurs among those who generally score in the lower ranges?

And where does that get us in terms of strategy except to realize that there still is a huge disparity in education? that perhaps might be better solved by addressing the problem much much sooner by poverty alleviation, parenting programs, and early childhood education? Or will we continue to lie to ourselves about "school choice" being anything other than a mechanism to weed out the "undesirables" from the "choice" schools as I've seen happening throughout my son's education. Can anyone really claim that having to prepare your children for more and more assessments (including letters of recommendation, portfolios, interviews, and essays) is really helping low income students with overworked parents to help their kids into better schools?

Aug. 26 2013 08:43 AM

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