Highly Suspect Isaac Young Data Accounts for Most “Improvements” in New Rochelle Test Scores

Written By: Robert Cox

At last week’s school board meeting, Dr. Jeffrey Korostoff made another of his “data presentations” which, as usual, failed to provide the data within any sort of meaningful context, offered no in-depth analysis and glossed over any information that did not reflect favorably on the district. Members of the school board, for the most part, passively received the presentation with only one member, David Lacher, raising any sort of serious challenge to any aspect of the presentation but then failing to sustain his point.

Here is the introduction:


CONTEXT: missing from the report is any mention that in 2007 the Federal government did tests which showed that gains in New York State exam results did not manifest themselves on the federal test. A recent report on New York City schools showed that despite an increase in grades or performance in math on the New York state tests, New York City students were not performing better on the federal test. In other words, there is some evidence that the New York State tests were made easier. In fact, there are jumps in performance in the New York State and New Rochelle test scores between 2007 and 2008 which lend support to this criticism. However, at a previous BoE, Dr. Korostoff meeting disparaged such concerns expressing his view that “we can’t win”, Korostoff complained that critics of the public schools will claim that if the tests show poor results then the schools are not doing their job and if the test results go up then the tests are being made easier. Preaching to the same old BoE choir, Korostoff’s observation was received with knowing nods of heads all around.

The fact is that is not possible to draw any definite conclusions about what an increase in performance means. It could be, as the district claims, that the school district is doing a better job of teaching the students and that’s being reflected in the increased performance — more students performing at level three and four — it could also be that the increase is a function of giving the students easier tests. While there’s no way to know for sure the most likely answer is a little of both: the test have been made easier after the teachers union pressured New York State to make the tests easier AND the teachers have gotten more comfortable teaching the material AND as students are now taking tests every year they are more comfortable taking tests AND the students have learned various test taking strategies.

Whichever is the case, and many experts believe it is a combination of these and other factors, there’s no way to say with any certainty what exactly explains the increase in test scores. That the school district would attribute any good news to their effort alone and any bad news to some other force outside of their control, is a good illustration of why the district has such low credibility when it makes claims about student performance.

One thing not shown in this report is a breakout of how many students are testing at each level. Why not provide charts that display bar graphs showing 100% of all scores, with each bar broken into 4 distinct pieces so the percentage of students achieving a three or four can be clearly seen. Rest assured that if the District is only displaying data that lumps Level 3 and Level 4 together then the vast majority of students are at Level 3. The advantage of such a breakout is that you might be able to see trends such as how many students are going from Level Two (below standard) to Level Three (above standard). Why would the District not want to feature that data?


On page 5, Korostoff presented a three-year trend of the ELA performance for grades 3-8. Here is how that data looks on a longitudinal basis:

Grade 3/2007=75%
Grade 4/2008=82%
Grade 5/2009=88%

Grade 4/2007=84%
Grade 5/2008=85%
Grade 6/2009=87%

Grade 5/2007=76%
Grade 6/2008=69%
Grade 7=2009=82%

Grade 6/2007=62%
Grade 7/2008=69%
Grade 8=/2009=73%

The chart shows an increase from 2008 to 2009 due to rather large, across the board increases in performance. What is remarkable about this chart is both the significant decline in performance that has been occurring between elementary school and middle school and how that decline has suddenly been eliminated in one year. This is reminiscent of how racial gaps in math scores at Isaac Young suddenly disappeared last year. The single most remarkable statistic of all is the massive increase in ELA test scores between 2008 and 2009. Grade 6 scores jumped from 69% to 87%, a 26% increase in one year. Grade 7 scores jumped from 69% to 82%, a 19% increase in one year.


On Page 11 (above), Korostoff presented the three-year trend of math performance for grades 3-8 and once again the data directly contradicts the statements on Page 2 that performance continues to improve. This data shows mixed results. It was at this point that David Lacher asked about the longitudinal data in the chart (looking at a cohort over time such as we did above (Grade 3/2007, Grade 4/2008, Grade 5/2009).

Grade 3/2007=91%
Grade 4/2008=92%
Grade 5/2009=92%

Grade 4/2007=88%
Grade 5/2008=89%
Grade 6/2009=84%

Grade 5/2007=83%
Grade 6/2008=80%
Grade 7=2009=91%

Grade 6/2007=72%
Grade 7/2008=83%
Grade 8=/2009=84%

The results here are mixed with some improvement and some declines. As was pointed out by David Lacher, a good way to look at this chart is to look at the data across cohorts as we have done above. This is what the District should always be doing in these reports — showing longitudinal studies of student performance where you were roughly following a cohort of students over a three-year period. If you do that here, you can see how the results are mixed for different cohorts.


Page 15 (above) seeks to sum up the charts by claiming steady incremental progress is evident in Math and ELA test scores. The exact opposite is the case. There has been some progress in some areas but in other areas there has been a decline in performance. More importantly, the increases are anything but steady. In fact, the vast majority of the performance increases come from a single source — Isaac E. Young Middle School — which shows a gigantic, unsustainable increase.


The most worrisome chart in Dr. Korostoff’s presentation is Page 17 (above) which indicates an increase in ELA test scores that is, at best, implausible. After two years (and likely more) of performance in the 50-59% range, the ELA scores at Isaac Young jumped to 76% — a 28% increase. This is by far and away the single largest jump in test scores between 2008 and 2009 and matched only by the equally unlikely increases in math scores reported last fall where the administration at Isaac Young claimed that math scores for black students went up 54% in two years and went up for hispanic students by 44% over the same two year period.

To put this in some context, there are NO SCHOOLS in New Rochelle that have posted any similar increases in performance for ANY subset of the student population or for an entire school population.

We have received numerous anecdotal reports that the increase in test scores at Isaac E. Young Middle School has very little to do with actual performance increases and everything to do with wholesale fraud and cheating. The surest indicator — a major red flag — is the incredible increases in test score performance in the past couple of years. From a school that was labeled underperforming by New York State and put on their equivalent of “double-secret probation” just a few short years ago, we are now supposed to believe that this school is producing performance increases unrivaled anywhere else in New Rochelle and, for that matter, in the entire State of New York.

The problem when you inflate test scores by cheating is two-fold: (1) to maintain the illusion you have to keep on cheating; (2) eventually those students move on to other schools which do not cheat and the actual performance reveals the fraud. If they have nothing to hide, the District should be willing to compare the performance of students at New Rochelle High School based on elementary and middle school of origin. As Talk of the Sound knows, and the District will not admin, they have done such a study. The results were not pretty.

7 thoughts on “Highly Suspect Isaac Young Data Accounts for Most “Improvements” in New Rochelle Test Scores”

  1. i read it carefully and also am aware of comparable results
    we are carrying on a debate that gets us nowhere. the conclusion that must be factually drawn and would be drawn by any court is that there is absolutely no grounds to accuse bongo or anyone else of improper conduct. are there other factors contributing to a 28% gain; maybe but there is not even circumstantial evidence to prove the point.

    one clarification — meryl tisch is the Regents Head for the State with high endorsements from ultra conservative think tanks and mike bloomberg and there is hope there. another clarification is that i am painfully aware of some of the machinations that have gone on elsewhere and not all of the increased gains were attributed to misconduct or malfeasance.

    here are the two most important points and everything else is not as important as these.

    1. the state scores were, as i described, due in 2009 for the most part to test changes where, now get this, THE MULTIPLE CHOICE QUESTIONS WERE SUCH THAT YOU COULD PRETTY MUCH BE GUARANTEED A PASSING GRADE THROUGHOUT THE ENTIRE TEST BASED ON THEIR CONSTRUCTION. I have learned that the Daily News yesterday ran a brief column on all this that validated what I learned and I will try to get a copy of same.

    2. Lets look at what is the second most important matter here — I would not care if the change in scores was 50% or more, there is plenty of evidence; incontrovertable, non-hearsay, non-circumstantial in part, that suggests that Anthony Bongo is incompetent and should be replaced period! You have done a masterful job in pointing some of these reasons out. In fact, the school district would be well advised to set policies against hiring of patronage people and, even more important, place their most skilled managers and admininstrators in the schools requiring our best and brightest.

    3. you have also brought up the fact that David Lacher is “getting it” and perhaps some of the other newer trustees are beginning to see the light. that said, from what I can gather, Jeffrey K has not done a service to the community by soft pedaling the results and I assume he did not put any emphasis or stress on the trending or comparative data. Now I hear you saying that he did concede some issues with the test. All this puts his presentation in question.

    4. Lets focus on yet another area of strong agreement. There is ample evidence to demand the non-renewal of Richard Organisciak’s contract which I beleive is up this month and which, please God, I hope was not extended as of this writing. I think he should be dismissed, a professional educator/business inclined, highly community oriented replacement found and I would strongly recommend that key players: curricula heads, HR and Finance be replaced and perhaps by more energetic people with lower annual salary rates.

    I have been looking lately at a lot of blog entries by people where committed people for change have actually spent too much time debating each other over means and not end states. this heartens the plants and the trolls who look for opportunties to divide.

    i think you, wagner, others whose tags escape me at this moment should find common end states — change the board, fire district seniors, force collective bargaining, increase transparency, enrollment and associated expenses, etc….. you know, focus is vital; too many topics is like Peter and the Wolf and there is plenty of resistance as is — but Bob, paraphrasing you today and looking at my own analyses of transactional matters from the board, there are chinks in the armor.

    finally if there is anything you have on hand that you can share me with re: his presentation, I would appreciate it. I am still actively involved with Regents Chancellor who, I am guessing, would love to fill Mills shoes upon his retirement. I suppose that poor fool approved of changes in testing to build a non-existing legacy of accomplishment; not hard to force this into the system given what is happening on the federal level.

    these are my last words on this topic although I think some new board personnel (and Lacher) should be educated on what really has happened in test year 09

    warren gross

    1. Test scores just a tip..,
      …of a large iceberg.

      I know for a fact that the district has engaged in numerous efforts to manipulate test results. I have several sources telling me about cheating at Isaac. Since I cannot prove what I have been told I do not publish any specifics. I have no hesitation, however, to say point blank that there are people at Isaac engaged in fraud, wholesale cheating on tests. The point I have been making about the test scores is that they are grounds for taking a closer look by even the most complacent board member.

      You should care if the increases are 28% or 50%. I wll show you Korostoff’s report next week and you can see for yourself that the Isaac scores are significant outliers.

      The district is infested with criminals. Supporting children, parents, teachers and the HONEST staff means rooting them out not putting a happy face on whole sordid mess as our ELECTED school board would like.

  2. as i thought the tests are suspect
    as i promised, i continue to look into this as it is so beyond any rational explanation that it is the right thing to do to check carefully into what the contributing factor or factors to such inflated scores statewide represent. it turns out that my suspicions are well founded — the tests appeared to have been “dumbed down’ considerably.

    A spokesperson for the State Regents Chancellor, Meryl Tisch has indicated that there are issues around reliability of the test scores this time around and they need to be addressed. This is the polite way of saying that there appears to have been some motivation in the State Education Department to raise scores across the board likely in response to policy and funding available from the federal Department of Education.

    The stress was placed more on the middle school grades than elsewhere. In fact it is alleged that a student can literally guess on the multiple choice questions, leave the rest of the test blank, and still get a high enough score to achieve a Level 2 and receive what would be a social promotion. perhaps simply writing in your name legitably would get a student a Level 3 grade.

    the percentage of kids in the 6th grade who scored at the level 1 (bottom of the barrel) improved from a high of 10% of test takers in 2006 to slightly less than 2% in 2009. Nothing else but messing with the test scoring, degree of difficulty of the question, mix between multiple choice and other types of question, absurd choices among the 4 or 5 offered in a multiple choice question, can explain the difference. there seems to be little evidence of misbehavior on the part of faculty or even too much teaching to the test. There was no need to do this based on my information — the State did it for you and a good clue was the dramatic rise statewide in results.

    Korsakoff surely knows this as an educator and I would not have been overly proud to present a series of results that literally mean that the kids lose in the end — more so than even the taxpayer in this case. He might have been more transparent and open in his presentation, but he did the politically expedient thing. He should go!

    Tony Bongo gets a pass on this, but certainly is not the person to bring the performance levels of Isaac Young to where they need to be to justify the enormous tax burden on our shoulders. He bears only part of the burden, though, we know the rest of the story.

    I think that a source in the Manhattan Institute put it best — the State Education Department is totally without credibility at this point as these results are clearly indefensible. I do know that Meryl Tisch has an excellent reputation in the university community and maybe she can turn this debacle around.

    warren gross

    1. your research does NOT explain the Isaac scores

      You certainly are an optimist!

      I am glad you did some research but what you have reported here about statements by Meryl Tisch does not lead to the conclusion that you have made — “Anthony Bongo gets a pass on this”. Unless there is more to what you wrote above I would encourage you to back and look at my original post. Further, I will make available to you the full report by Korostoff.

      As you will see, I have already stated previously that scores were up across the state and up throughout New Rochelle.

      The problem Warren is that the scores in NR went up between 5 and 10% at every other school in New Rochelle including the other Middle School. If you look at the NYS increases you will see similar increases.

      So, none of what you wrote about explains the TWENTY-EIGHT PERCENT increase at Isaac. Further that 28% increase in ELA scores has to be seen in the context of the massive increases claimed in math scores last year – 54% for black students and 44% for hispanic students in a 2 year period. If you do some further research you will find schools with large “at risk” populations in Illinois, North Carolina, and New Jersey where similarly massive increases were reported. The pattern is always the same — a school with a large minority population, a high percentage of “at risk” children, a new administrator, a sudden surge in performance on state tests, an investigation, a finding of cheating and fraud, administrator fired or removed. In North Carolina, the state government is pursuing criminal charges.

      And how were these cheaters caught? Simple, when the kids moved on to another school they could not read, write or do basic math yet at supposedly scored at or above required proficiency levels.

      So, Warren, you are not going to find the answer to your questions by calling NYSED. You are going to find the answers by evaluating how these students do on other comparable tests, how they do on tests not scored by people who work in the same building or work for the school district. You are going to find it on things like SAT exams and AP exams, either based on scored or based on how many of these kids are taking those tests. You are gong to find it based on how many of these kids graduate from high school on time, how many earned so-called “local diplomas”, how many go on to earn a college degree.

      If Dr. Korostoff or Organisciak or any member of the school board were actually interested in any of this they would be producing detailed longitudinal studies and using performance measurements that were not scored by the same people who are being evaluated by those performance measurements.

      As for Korostoff, again go back and read my post. He did address your very point; that critics complain when scores are low and then when scores up they say the tests were made easier. He is DEFENDING the test results as an indication of programs put in place by the school district and the work of the teachers and administrators and NOT attributing it to any other cause (i.e. a dumbing down of the test).

      I do not give ANYONE a pass on any of this. I am not sure why you are so anxious to do so but believe your conclusions are unfounded.

      1. You’re finished when the scores are backed up..
        You have no credibility and you will be destroyed after this is found to be another false story.

  3. well done if so, but lets look at county overall for similarity
    It does seem to stretch credulity, but there may be a number of reasons to either celebrate or be concerned. I am going to see if the county results mirror New Rochelle. Jeffrey has presented data from the district only that, seems to be rather atypical of past trending. David Lacher asked a good question and Bob raises interesting points. I am reserving judgment and hoping that the actual results mirror the claims. I have spot checked New Roc scores for 08 and 09 and they seem ok.

    we know the tests have been dumbed down, it is likely that range expectations may have changed as well. There also is a hue and cry in the educational community about faculty grading tests, but I do not know if our schools are affected.

    My suspicions are that something internal skewed these results and whether it was a lowering of expectations on State part to earn more funding, a lowering of expectations, poor administration, or some other allowable procedural change, I congratulate the “teaching to the test” philosophy that likely led to this. Maybe such even translates over to actual learning taking place. I do not think the people I have known in the system (in most of the schools would resort to any dishonesty).

    Let me see what is going on in the state and county and I will get back to you via the blog.

    warren gross

    1. the issue is Isaac in particular

      Test scores are up across the board across the state and in New Rochelle. That is not the issue at all.

      I did not publish the entire presentation (if someone wants to scan it and post it let me know) but I checked the other schools in New Rochelle and they are all up about between 5-10% which mirrors the State results.

      There is not a single school in the district anywhere close to the 28% increase in ELA scores at Isaac. This was the same for the massive increase in math scores at Isaac reported last fall – 54% in 2 years for black students and 44% for in 2 years for hispanic students.

      So, you tell me. Do you believe that after decades of low performance, Anthony Bongo was able to come in and in two years magically transform Isaac Young into a school with test scores comparable to Albert Leonard? All I can say is if you believe that I have a bridge to sell you.

      I was there last fall when Bongo and Gulland presented their “miraculous” test data. They dramatically understated the growth in their presentation, misreading their own data. In fact they expressed disappointment that the increase was not larger. They actually said that although the increase was not large at least it was “steady and sustainable”. As I noted at the time, the increases were massive, sudden and, by the laws of mathematics, unsustainable. Now we have the same thing this year with the ELA scores.

      Isn’t it obvious?

      The district is engaged in an effort to artificially inflate the scores at Isaac which has been, for many years, the weak link in the chain. I have been told already many times about cheating going on at Isaac. This data showing massive ELA and Math performance improvements over the past two years is a big red flag. Unfortunately, our school board sits idly by and never once stops ask how it can be possible that ANY school could show such dramatic change in such a short period of time.

      The proof is in the pudding. These kids will go onto to high school and take other state exams (where cheating also occurs) but eventually they have to graduate. Based on these statistics we should see a very large increase in the percentage of minority students graduating on time at NRHS. Don’t bet on it.

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