Who the Sam Hill is Kate Taylor: Who the Sam Hill is Kate Taylor?
The analysts came to us with that question very early this morning. They'd read Taylor's news report about public school students across the state of New York.
Taylor's report appears in today's New York Times.
Understandably, the analysts were offended by the report—offended and puzzled. "If not for bad explanations," one of the youngsters cried, "we'd have no explanations at all!"
Who the Hill is Taylor? Briskly, we gathered the data:
Taylor graduated from Harvard in 2001 with a BA in literature. By 2007, Slate was describing her as "the arts reporter at the New York Sun and the editor of an anthology of essays about anorexia, Going Hungry, which will be published next spring."
The anthology was published, then was reviewed in the Times. In 2010, Taylor spent six weeks at the Wall Street Journal before being stolen away by the Times in the course of a hiring war.
Five years later, Taylor is writing about public schools for our allegedly smartest newspaper. In her new report, she displays the chaos a Harvard degree can provide, aided by fourteen years of experience.
"If not for bad explanations, we'd have no explanations at all?" Is it possible that our disillusioned young analyst was right?
Let's take a look at the record!
In hard copy, Taylor's report appears on the first page of today's "New York" section. She begins in an entertaining way, as entertainment values require.
Taylor writes about statewide algebra scores. Hard-copy headlines included:
TAYLOR (12/1/15): Algebra Scores Spur Regents To Reconsider State Exam / Panel Studying if the Bar To Pass Was Set Too HighEntertainingly, the Harvard grad spoofed the stereotypical algebra question! She also seemed to have cited a couple of facts:
Here is the thorny math problem facing New York State education officials: If the percentage of students passing the Algebra I exam falls to 63 percent from 72 percent, and the passing grade is scheduled to increase by 14 points in coming years, should the test be made easier?
Last year, 72 percent of students in New York State passed some sort of Algebra I exam. This year, only 63 percent passed.
Meanwhile, the passing grade on the exam "is scheduled to increase by 14 points in coming years." That said, it sounds like officials may decide to make the test "easier" in some unspecified way.
So far, no bones had been broken. New York Times readers might even have known that Taylor was writing about the Regents Exam, which high school students have to pass to attain their diplomas (or something).
So far, we'd been allowed to enjoy some good solid fun. The confusion began when the Harvard grad tried to offer a real explanation about the changing scores on the algebra test.
We read these next paragraphs quite a few times. Because they appeared in the New York Times, they were clear as mud:
TAYLOR (continuing directly): In 2013, concerned that high school graduates were not prepared for college, the State Board of Regents revamped the exams students must pass to graduate, starting with the English and Algebra I tests. The board decided that, where previously students needed a score of only 65 on a 100-point scale to pass, in coming years they would have to score at a “college- and career-ready” level, which this year was deemed to be a 79 in English, and a 74 in Algebra.As the angry analysts watched, we read that passage again and again. Soon enough, we were fighting back tears!
The result: On the 2015 Algebra I exam, which was supposed to align with the new Common Core curriculum, the percentage of students passing fell to 63 percent, down nine points from the old exam last year. And less than a quarter of students scored at the college-ready level. In New York City, which has a concentration of poor and minority students, only 52 percent of students passed the 2015 exam, down from 65 percent the previous year on the old exam. Just 16 percent reached the “college-ready” level.
After reading that passage several times, we struggled to answer some basic questions. Frankly, Taylor's work struck us as a mess:
Questions we struggled to answerTry as we might, we couldn't quite answer those questions. Did students across the state of New York know less algebra this year? Or were they simply taking a test with harder questions?
Was the 2015 Algebra I exam the same as the 2014 Algebra I exam? That is to say, were the questions the same? (It sounded like the questions had been changed, but we weren't thoroughly sure.)
What score did students need to pass the test this year? Was it the same as last year's passing score?
According to Taylor, fewer than a quarter of students "scored at the college-ready level" this year. It sounded like they needed a minimum score of 74.
That said, 63 percent of students passed the test this year. What minimum score did they attain? Doesn't the article seem to say that they needed a 74?
Is it possible that the algebra test was the same, but students were required to get a higher score? After struggling to comprehend, we still couldn't answer for sure.
Here at THE HOWLER, we're actually curious about such questions. At the New York Times, they typically seem to pretend. Did Mother and Father send Taylor to Harvard to churn out confusing dreck of this type? Does anyone care about public schools, or is it all just a sham?
Eventually, in paragraph 8, we may have received a hint about the state of play in New York. The highlighted passages seem to make one point clear:
TAYLOR: Passing the old algebra Regents was already a struggle for many students. An analysis by the Center for New York City Affairs at the New School found that, among students who entered city high schools in 2010, three in 10 failed the exam on their first try. Students who failed the first time had to retake it an average of twice more to graduate. To help those students, schools had to devote more resources to teaching remedial algebra, rather than other, higher level math courses.Based upon those highlighted passages, it seems fairly clear that a new, amended algebra test has replaced the original test. And not only that! According to Taylor, state education officials had "intended to set the grading so the same number of students passed as had before."
Before the new exam was given, the Regents had said they intended to set the grading so the same number of students passed as had before, but that did not happen.
As Taylor notes, that didn't happen. Here's the question that came to our heads when we read that passage:
What did state officials do as they tried to make the new exam equivalent to the old exam? (As they tried to make it match the old exam in its difficulty level?) Competent test developers can create equivalent tests through the pre-testing of test items. Our question:
Did the Regents engage in such skilled behavior? Or did the Regents just guess?
It didn't seem to occur to our Harvard grad to ask that basic question. As the fifty different states keep churning out different testing programs, competency questions ought to be very basic. But our Harvard grad doesn't seem to know squat about testing, and she seems to care less. Five years ago, the New York Times fought a hiring war for this journalistic star!
Who the Sam Hill is Kate Taylor? you ask. We're going to ask a different question.
Who the Sam Hill is Taylor's editor? Who permits such incompetent work to appear in our brainiest newspaper? Or is that newspaper just a fraud, devoted to bad explanation?
In fairness, Taylor's first paragraph did provide good solid fun. When it comes to public school topics, that—and the promotion of elite script—seems to be what the Times is there for.
Alas! Some students may have failed Algebra I, but Taylor failed her writing test! The difference is, they're high school kids—and the New York Times promotes itself as our brainiest big major very-smart newspaper.