City Public Schools Should Stop Celebrating Bad Math

New Yorkers have become accustomed to good news from the city’s public schools in recent years. Now, however, there is concern that some of the warm-and-fuzzy headlines about improving test scores and graduation rates were based on some dubious math.

A suspiciously high number of students have received the minimum passing grade on the state’s Regents exams in recent years, prompting city education officials to implement more rigorous auditing of test results and other indices of educational progress. It’s unfortunate that such measures are necessary, but it would be even worse if the city continued to celebrate bogus achievements.

Education officials say they do not believe teachers and principals have engaged in widespread cheating, which if true is a relief. But even small-scale cheating or manipulation must be rooted out, because phony achievements, in the end, will be exposed when students enter the workforce or attempt college-level work.

That said, the audits, while necessary, should not become a witch hunt. Teachers are allowed a certain amount of latitude in scoring Regents exams, especially those that involve essays. It’s hard not to sympathize with teachers who might be inclined to bump up a student by a point or two based on a competent essay in English or history.

City Hall has relied on hard data for a generation now in successive efforts to fight crime and improve the city’s schools. Captains and principals are under pressure to produce measurable results, and they in turn put pressure on beat cops and teachers to make sure the numbers look good. This is called accountability, and it works.

But data must be real, and achievements genuine. Otherwise, it’s all just public relations.

editorial@observer.com