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NY1's Lindsey Christ examines the legacy of outgoing New York City Schools Chancellor Joel Klein in this five-part series.

Testing His Legacy: Klein Hands Out Grades On Accountability, Progress

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In the third segment of NY1's series examining outgoing schools chancellor Joel Klein's legacy, education reporter Lindsey Christ looks at Klein's focus on accountability and test scores.

From the beginning, the buzz words were clear -- data, accountability, competition and choice.

The Bloomberg administration said they wanted to build a system where parents could shop for the best public education, where schools felt pressure to make themselves marketable, and everyone was held accountable for performance. That meant third graders wouldn't move to fourth without passing standardized tests. And when enough students failed, principals were fired and schools shut down.

"Accountability in knowing what the system is actually doing, how well your school is doing, how well your school is not doing," said Deputy Mayor for Education Dennis Walcott.

But some said their focus on numbers became an obsession.

"When the whole system became only about test accountability, everything shifted into test prep. In my opinion that was the biggest problem that he did as chancellor," said United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew.

"Certainly we've lost a lot of what most people believe makes schools better, which is focus on creative, inventive thinking, problem solving," said Leonie Haimson of Class Size Matters.

Lindsey Christ: Is one of the of the downsides of shifting to so much focus on accountability that it encourages, sometimes, cheating and score inflation and test preparation?

Joel Klein: Just because some people cheat on their taxes is no reason not to have a tax system and just because there are some people who will cheat on any system is no reason not to have an accountability system. I think it's important that our children know how to read a paragraph, read two paragraphs, answer questions about it. It's not the only thing in the world but do you know how many children couldn't do that when I got here? How many children can't do math? I mean people say test prep but you've got to know what the circumference of a circle is and the only way to prep for that is to learn how to calculate the circumference of a circle. That's not test prep, that's called instruction.

The question is whether that type of instruction has produced more learning. While graduation rates improved, the state admitted test results had become inflated. And it's working on developing new tests. Scores on a national test have generally gone up just slightly. So progress under Klein's tenure is unclear, even if results are measured only in numbers.

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