Test Company Apologizes For N.Y.C. Summer School Mixup

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One week into the school year, chagrined administrators in New York City have announced that a testing company's errors led some 8,700 students to be mistakenly assigned to summer school.

Rudolph F. Crew

The district said about 3,500 of those students were "unfairly" held back this school year.

David Taggart, the president of CTB/McGraw-Hill, disclosed the error to Schools Chancellor Rudolph F. Crew, Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, and the city school board last week. He apologized to "everyone affected."

Mr. Taggart explained that some items used in the 1999 Citywide Tests were incorrectly calibrated, which skewed the translation of New York students' raw scores to the national rankings.

"The test itself remains a valid measure of student performance ... The raw scores are accurate," Mr. Taggart said. "The problem existed solely in translating those scores to national rankings."

Because of that error, students who had actually scored slightly above the bar set by the district were categorized as having scored at or below it. Students scoring at or below the bottom 15 percent of their peers were required to attend summer school.

City officials scrambled to put the best face on the mixup.

After the meeting, Mayor Giuliani, a strong supporter of the city's strict new summer school policy, said that the students who were mistakenly sent to summer school scored "at the lowest end" and were in need of remedial help anyway.

"If I were a parent of one of the children, I would say, 'Thank you for having the child in summer school' because the child got more education,' " The New York Times quoted him as saying.

Margie Feinberg, a district spokeswoman, characterized Mr. Crew as more contrite, saying the chancellor was "extremely distressed" that the miscalculations weren't detected earlier. She said Mr. Crew was calling for an independent audit of the quality-control measures at CTB/McGraw-Hill.

The Monterey, Calif.-based company, which has been in the testing business for more than 70 years, scores more than 20 million tests each year.

William Jordan, a company spokesman, said the same calibration problem may have affected the results of New York state's 4th grade exam in English/language arts, as well as scores from "a handful" of other states and school districts.

But he emphasized that because the New York City tests determine student promotion, that was where the error had the greatest impact.

He would not name the other school systems that were affected by the miscalculations. But he said the districts were aware of the problems and were looking into how to deal with them.

3,500 Mistakenly Retained

In New York City, the problems seemed likely to cause hard feelings, finger pointing, and disruption.

Some 8,668 3rd and 6th graders were mistakenly sent to the mandatory summer school program, which provided remedial classes in reading and math. Of those, 5,176 attended the program, passed the second test administered at the end of the five-week session, and were promoted to the next grade.

But 3,492 students were unfairly held back: 1,168 of the students who attended the program and took the test failed; another 2,324 of them either did not attend the program or did not show up for the test.

According to Ms. Feinberg, Mr. Crew will send letters of apology to parents of the students mistakenly assigned to summer school and, after students, parents, and teachers meet for a conference, will give those students the option of moving to the next grade.

Jill Chaifetz, the executive director of Advocates for Children, a non-profit legal-services organization, said that wasn't nearly enough. "To me, it's absurd to use a high-stakes test as the main indicator for promotion," she said.

Her organization is suing the city school board on behalf of more than a dozen parents who contend that its promotion policy violates state law and school board policy.

Vol. 19, Issue 3, Page 8

Published in Print: September 22, 1999, as Test Company Apologizes For N.Y.C. Summer School Mixup
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