How Well Did Ending Social Promotion Work Out in New York City?—Some Further Thoughts

One always learns from readers’ blog comments, even if one disagrees.

In commenting on my recent blog post on New York City’s ending of social promotion, Fred Smith points out that those third-graders held back in 2004 would not have shown up in 8th grade.  He’s right, but of course, the biggest impact of the policy was probably on the many, many more students who worked that much harder to make sure they would not be held back.  All of those students would have appeared in the 8th grade results in 2009.  I should have made that point in the first place.

And Melody is right to point out that New York City did not get much for all the additional monies the schools received.  I am not one to think that we solve problems by throwing money at them, but it was not only in New York City that schools received big funding increases.  Yet achievement gains nationwide trailed those in New York City, especially at the 4th grade level.

Diane Ravitch is correct to point out that the gains in 8th grade simply reverse the declines suffered in the three preceding years prior to the arrival of the class of 2004 in 8th grade.  But Diane, in her other writings, has insisted that any trend occurring immediately after the initiation of a new policy must be compared to the one immediately preceding that policy. Applying that methodology to the situation at hand, the impact of ending social promotion comes to 6 points, as the 3-point decline in 8th grade in the years just before the class of 2004 arrived in 8th grade was reversed by ending social promotion , after which NYC’s 8th graders posted a 3-point increase between 2007 and 2009.  Only attorneys alter their methodological stance in the middle of a stream.

Dee Alpert says that New York City, like other big cities, provides test accommodations to a higher percentage of students than do schools across the nation.  But that affects the validity of my analysis only if the NAEP test accommodation policy for New York City changed over the course of the time period we are discussing.

The most important point, however, is the one I made originally.  Mayor Bloomberg should be pleased with the NAEP report on his schools, but the results should nonetheless be interpreted with caution.

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