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Recycled State Tests & Lies About In Person Learning: NYC Schools Plot Or Incompetence?

In July of 2020, I wrote a post called, It’s Not a Plot, It’s Incompetence: Is the NYC Department of Ed Deliberately Undermining Some Schools?

After reviewing the conspiracy theories behind the disaster that was remote learning, the debacle that was Gifted & Talented, and the exit of several principles from top schools, I concluded:

Can those who, this past week, watched the Mayor and School Chancellor roll out a half-baked, detail-deficient, unwieldy plan for reopening schools (that immediately prompted NY Governor Cuomo to remind that the final word is his, not theirs) say with a straight face that this is a pair clever and devious enough to deliberately sabotage their own system in the interest of overturning it?…. I only wish our leaders were this clever. Then I could have some faith in them. (An evil genius is still a genius, after all!) What we’re all living through isn’t a plot. It’s incompetence. That our kids are paying for.

Cut to almost a year later: April 2021.

After saying that there would be no more opt-in periods for in-person learning, Mayor Bill De Blasio reversed himself and announced that parents who wished to have their children return to the classroom could sign up by April 7. Then he extended it to April 9. Because that’s just how the DOE rolls.

As an additional 51,000 students in grades 3K through high school expressed their desire for in-person learning, newly appointed School Chancellor Meisha Porter predicted, “We feel quite confident that with the team we have in place now, we can accommodate the families that have chosen opt-in. Our goal has been to get as many students back in as want to.”

She added, “None of this would be possible without our resilient principals, educators, staff and families, and I thank them for their tireless efforts to ensure every student who wants the opportunity to have an in-person learning experience has one.”

NYC parents, however, disputed the Chancellor’s claim.

An Upper West Side mother wrote me to report:

PS 166 is returning to 5 days a week on Monday, but it is doing so by preventing current remote kids from opting back in. Our family opted back in through the DOE survey well in advance of the deadline but somehow there is no record of it in the DOE system or at PS 166. We had no idea until we tried to confirm logistics at which point PS 166 told us there was no room to accommodate our child.

We have heard similar stories about families being denied the opportunity to opt back in. This is after they were told the school had no idea if it could go to 5 days a week, which it quickly reversed after the opt-in deadline had passed.

It seems to be a concerted effort to prevent remote families from opting back in in order to preserve the space required to return to 5 days a week.

One of the most upsetting parts of this—the school is also taking all the remaining remote kids out of their current classes and having them taught by someone random.

She wasn’t the only one feeling betrayed.

Another parent confirmed: I opted in for all four of my kids to go back. They attend a k-8. I have a K, 2nd, 3rd, and 8th grader. So far they have only accepted the 2nd and 3rd grader back. They started last Monday.

While another revealed: PS 150 in Queens just sent a note that 4/26 (return to school) date is canceled with no other info provided.

And this is happening at all school levels, according to an uptown Manhattan dad:

Our child goes to Columbia Secondary School, for middle school. We did not have a problem opting in this month. However, we just learned that she will be going to school for in-class instruction only ONE day per week, due to space constraints. The mayor and DOE continue to trumpet that “many students will be back in school five days per week.” Yes, that may be true. But what they do NOT trumpet, or even whisper, is that many students who have chosen ‘blended’ will be in school only ONE day per week. And many supposedly in-school classes will actually still be taught over a computer, by a teacher working from home. The administration has been consistently, willfully dishonest about the schools for over a year. It’s despicable.

On a related note, last week, I offered the pros and cons of opting into state tests, reasoning

We need objective data about what happened in the classroom this year more than any other…. (I)f this year scores are lower than usual, we’ll be able to see, school by school, district by distinct, where (fine, if) learning loss happened. Which should be helpful when it comes to where the $900 million dollars in federal stimulus money dedicated to be spent on “evidence-based” practices to combat “learning loss” should go. 

Except, NYC, we have a problem.

As Chalkbeat reports:

Students in third through eighth grade across New York City taking standardized tests this week found themselves reading familiar passages. Exams contained multiple texts from previous years’ tests, which were included in the state’s own publicly available prep materials…. The recycled questions cast doubt on the usefulness of this year’s results, and call into question the Biden administration’s rationale for giving the tests: to gauge how much ground students have lost in a school year profoundly disrupted by COVID-19

Cue the conspiracy theories:

This time around, I have to admit, I’m a bit more prone to believing them.

Why? Because since there has been such a concentrated push to insist that absolutely no learning loss happened over the past year, giving kids tests they’d already practiced effectively supports that.”

Add to that the fact that reusing old tests is considerably cheaper (follow the money and see where it goes is always a good way to get to the bottom of DOE malfeasance), and, yeah, while I still believe that  keeping families from in-person learning is incompetence, the recycled state tests do feel like a bit of a plot.

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