In Rochester, Almost Half of 7th and 8th Graders Fail Exam -- Even When Given Some of the Answers

Given how much grief charter schools and other creative initiatives get from the government-school establishment if they don't instantly turn at risk kids into Einsteins, along with the hounding of homeschoolers that seems to be on the rise, this story shouldn't be allowed to fall through the cracks, or remain confined to its local area.

Last Sunday's Rochester Democrat and Chronicle story (HT One News Now), which really should be read in full, would be humorous ("Kids Get Answers, Still Can't Pass") if it weren't for the fact that real children are clearly not getting educated. This systemic failure will affect them, and, to at least a slight degree, everyone reading this, for years to come (bolds are mine):

Rochester students get peek at exam questions

Thousands of city school students got a sneak peek at dozens of questions on two exams last month — a scenario that has baffled testing experts, outraged local officials and raised concerns about the validity of the exams and the Rochester School District's method of test preparation.

The multiple-choice questions appeared in review materials produced by the district and issued to teachers to prep seventh- and eighth-graders for their final social-studies exams, one of four required district exams.

..... District officials could not say how many of the 4,329 students who took the exams had also participated in the review sessions or received copies of the materials. But those who did so were drilled on multiple-choice questions and answers that were identical to and presented in the same sequence as those on the tests.

..... Each of the exams totaled 100 points, and the multiple-choice questions were each worth one point. The exams, in turn, accounted for 25 percent of the final grade in each course.

..... District officials defended studying actual exam questions in advance of a test as a legitimate method of preparation and expressed little concern about the potential impact that repeated questions might have on the validity of the exam's results.

They noted that the final social-studies exams, unlike those for math and English, have no bearing on whether a student is promoted to the next grade.

Connie Leech, the district's supervisor for secondary schools, said the fact that the questions and their answers appeared in the same order on the review as the exam was "probably not in the best judgment" but added that she doubted any student could commit the order of so many questions to memory.

"I'm not concerned that it's a cheat," Leech said. "What we were doing is giving kids a better sense of the knowledge that they needed for the test. It's like giving them an open-book test. This isn't a Regents exam."

..... Exactly half of the seventh-graders passed their exam, an increase of 6 percentage points over last year, according to the district. The passing rate in the eighth grade was 56 percent, compared with 51 percent a year earlier

In my opinion, the newspaper's headline and text characterizations of the students' exposure to answers as "peeks" represent a deliberate attempt to understate the seriousness of what is being described. The district is acknowledging that at least some students "received copies of the materials." Some "peek."

Reporter Dave Andreatta appeared not to ask if any disciplinary actions would be taken; based on Ms. Leech's defense, it would appear not. Andreatta also used what happened as a jumping-off point to air teacher grievances over having to "teach to the test" -- as if any of that is relevant to what really should be seen as an obvious case of cheating. Finally, even though the mulitple-choice questions were only a part of the exam, he seemed oddly indifferent to the appalling failure rate, even given the artificial help.

You can explore the paper's pages over the week that has since transpired to gauge reader reaction, which you will see ranges from understandable calls for get-tough measures to inexcusable excuse-making.

This story is a more glaring example of what I believe is a common local media tendency to cut underperforming public schools -- especially urban public schools -- breaks they don't deserve. Meanwhile, as noted earlier, media sympathies usually are not with ideas designed to help parents looking for better alternatives that will enable them to break away from the public school monopoly, or with those who choose to take on the serious responsibility of educating their children themselves, and tend to perform that task fairly well.

Why is that?

Cross-posted at BizzyBlog.com.

Tom Blumer
Tom Blumer
Tom Blumer is a contributing editor for NewsBusters.