### Intellectual paralysis may look like this!

MONDAY, AUGUST 5, 2013

Test scores are going to drop in New York thanks to New York's harder tests: The New York Times is very big and very famous.

It runs a lot of TV ads in which bright-looking, attractive young adults tell us which section they prefer to peruse on Sunday mornings.

In part for these reasons, it’s very hard to see how dumb this newspaper often is. This morning, even we had to marvel.

Javier Hernandez did a news report about the new test scores which will be released in New York City this week. Even we had to marvel at the jumbled logic of these opening paragraphs:
HERNANDEZ (8/5/13): Michael R. Bloomberg has staked much of his reputation as the mayor of New York City on improving students’ test scores, and has trumpeted gains in math and reading as validation of his 12-year effort to remake the city’s schools.

But the mayor’s telling of history is poised to receive one of its most vigorous challenges yet on Wednesday, when New York State is expected to report drastic drops in student performance across the state because of a new set of tougher exams.

In New York City, the proportion of students deemed proficient in math and reading could decrease by as many as 30 percentage points, city officials said, threatening to hand Mr. Bloomberg a public relations problem five months before he is set to leave office.
Does that presentation make any sense? Unless we’re grading on a very generous curve, actually no, it does not.

Guess what, citizens! If you give students “tougher exams,” their “performance” is going to drop! Almost surely, the percentage who “pass” the tougher exams won’t match the percentage who passed the easier tests!

The percentage will be smaller! Depending on how much tougher the new tests are, the percentage may drop a lot!

(Example: Suppose you give all twelfth graders a standard test of Algebra 1. If you then give them a standard test of Advanced Calculus, the odds are just extremely good that a smaller percentage will pass!)

It’s basically true by definition: If New York State has instituted tougher statewide exams, a smaller percentage of students are going to pass them. It’s hard to see how this rather obvious fact could reflect on any mayor’s efforts to improve his city’s schools.

And yet, the New York Times—our smartest newspaper!—starts its report by advancing a major piece of confusion. As Hernandez continues, it’s left to a Bloomberg aide to state the world’s most obvious bit of logic:
HERNANDEZ (continuing directly): Already, many of Mr. Bloomberg’s rivals—the teachers’ union, parent groups, and several of the Democratic candidates vying to succeed him—have begun to use the prospect of a steep drop in scores to call into question the mayor’s record on education.

The United Federation of Teachers on Friday released a 1,000-word memo, in part blaming Mr. Bloomberg for poor test results, saying he had not done enough to train teachers for the new standards, known as Common Core.

But City Hall has dismissed those claims, and on Sunday the schools chancellor, Dennis M. Walcott, fired back. He said that a decline in scores was inevitable as part of a switch to more rigorous standards, and that it would take several years before students performed at high levels.
Duh! It’s left to Walcott to make the world’s most obvious point, which the Times has transformed into a partisan claim. Only at the end of this lengthy piece does a non-partisan figure announce that the sky is blue, that up isn’t down and that 2 plus 2 still equals 4:
HERNANDEZ: Aaron M. Pallas, a professor of sociology and education at Columbia University, said the changing standards would make it difficult for the public to judge how schools were performing.

“The fear is that the lower scores are going to lead to the perception that all of a sudden our schools are doing worse, our teachers are less effective,” he said. “Neither of those is true. This is just a much higher bar being set for judging whether students are on track for college and career readiness.”
At the Times, it took a professor of sociology and education to make the world’s most obvious point. When he did, his point was relegated to the very end of a long, absurd report

This type of logical blundering is hardly unique to the Times. Last week, the DC schools announced new test scores; passing rates were higher this year than they were last year. Over the weekend, the Washington Post published an editorialm and a glowing report by an alleged expert, exulting in the improved passing rates.

But were this year’s tests in DC as difficult as last year’s tests? Neither the editors, nor the expert, bothered to ask, even though this obvious question has lay at the heart of bungled reports from other cities and states in recent years.

The answer to that question may be yes. There may even be some way to know this. But in recent years, the Post has played cheerleader for all gains in scores and has tried to wish away all problems. Each year, it needs to address two obvious questions: Has cheating been kept under control? And were this year’s tests as difficult as last year’s?

Back to Gotham:

Test scores are going to drop in New York thanks to the state of New York’s harder tests! We are an extremely dumb people, at least at our brightest and best-known national newspapers.

At such well-advertised locales, our nation’s capacity for paralysis seems to know few bounds.