The case of the early test scores and resulting confusion

When the New York Post ran a story last week praising a Harlem charter school network’s test scores, a few principals wondered why their own schools’ scores hadn’t arrived.

State and city officials were also puzzled. City students sat for the science and social studies exams only weeks ago and the state won’t release the results for months, so how did Harlem Village Academies have their scores?

Harlem Village Academies Chief of Staff Matt Scott explained that because the network grades its own tests and the state publishes scoring guides online, it was able to figure out how its students fared in advance of the state’s official release. According to the network, all of its eighth grade students passed the state’s science and social studies exams this year.

“We do not release test scores for Science or Social Studies until the school report cards for 2009/2010,” said SED spokesman Tom Dunn. “They are not scheduled for release until next winter. The charter school promoted their own performance.”

The early release highlights the different ways that charter and district schools grade their students’ state tests.

Charter schools can grade their own students’ exams because in the eyes of the State Education Department, each charter school is treated as its own school district, or “local education agency.”

New York City’s district schools grade their tests collectively, as they’re all part of the same local education agency. Every year, the city pulls teachers out of their classrooms to grade state tests — these could belong to their school or other schools — but in most cases charter schools grade their own.

The exception is the math and English exams. Most of the city’s charter schools grade these tests together as part of a consortium run by the New York City Charter School Center. Similar to district schools, each charter school that participates sends teachers to grade for several days, though the Center uses software to ensure that teachers do not grade their own schools’ exams, said Charter Center head James Merriman. But the grading consortium is optional and charter schools must pay for the service, so some schools choose not to.

Source: Anna Phillips