As you may recall, last week brought news that??math scores were up across the great state of New York.??I responded warily, expressing concern that this development probably was the result of teachers and students getting used to the tests, not that "the kiddos are learning more math."

Joel Klein's folks weren't happy with this take, and??Andy didn't like it either:

NYC just reported significant gains on the measures they're held accountable for: state reading and math scores. Maybe I'm naive, but that seems like more reason for encouragement than cynicism.

I wish Andy were right (I really do!) but check out this??New York Daily News article from yesterday. The headline says it all: "Math exam scores have risen--but it's because tests have gotten easier." Give this a read:

It's the state exam version of grade inflation. Soaring scores on the state math test don't necessarily add up to better schools or smarter kids. That's because it has gotten easier to teach to the test as the questions have gotten easier to predict, a Daily News analysis revealed. And, the tests may also be easier.

"It's the lesson of the financial crisis, and it's the lesson here--you can't just trust the numbers, you have to look at what the numbers mean," said??Columbia University sociology doctorate student??Jennifer Jennings [aka Eduwonkette]. "If you can always make pretty good guesses about what's going to be on the state tests, teachers aren't stupid and we're putting them under a whole lot of pressure, so basically they're strategic about what they teach."

Only a fraction of the simple arithmetic, algebra and statistics that kids should learn every year has been tested, Jennings found, looking back to 2006, when the state rejiggered the test. Nearly identical questions have even appeared each year, Jennings found. In 2009, at least 14 of the 30 multiple choice questions on the seventh-grade exam, for example, had appeared in similar form in previous years, she said. Only 54.7% of the specific math skills the state requires seventh-graders to learn were ever tested in the four years the exam has been given.

That's pretty compelling. (And not just because I happen to think Eduwonkette is generally brilliant. Is she the first person to ever make her way up the media food chain, from blogger to official newspaper analyst?) Yes, there are other explanations, including that kids know more math. But this starts to explain the "Buffalo Miracle"--the phenomenon whereby the "City of Light" made the same amount of progress as the Big Apple on the latest math test. You know, Buffalo, that hotbed of reform.

Andy, are you hyper-skeptical yet, too?

Photo credit: colleeninhawaii
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