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Cerf attacks Thompson for opposing mayor's promotion policies

Chris Cerf, the former Department of Education deputy chancellor turned senior education adviser to Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s re-election campaign, said today that the RAND report released this week on the mayor’s promotion policies “completely vindicates” those policies.

Flanked by former Congressman Herman Badillo, Cerf said that the mayor’s rival, Comptroller Bill Thompson, showed a lack of leadership for failing to support stricter retention policies during his tenure as president of the city’s Board of Education.

Badillo, who has also served as the chairman of the City College of New York and who endorsed Bloomberg in July, said that he urged the Board of Education to end social promotion throughout Thompson’s term to no avail.

“I have been against social promotion for decades,” he said.”In Puerto Rico, where I come from, if you do your work, you pass, and if you don’t, you don’t pass.”

Thompson’s campaign has pointed out that he voted for a measure in 1999 that required low-performing third through eighth grade students to repeat a grade of attend summer school. Cerf called that opposition to social promotion “halfhearted,” and countered that Thompson opposed Bloomberg’s efforts to introduce new promotion and retention standards in 2004.

The new standards, which only applied to third graders when they were introduced and have since been expanded to fifth, seventh and eighth grades, were hotly contested when Bloomberg first pushed for the policy, and Thompson was not alone in opposing them. The third grade promotion standards were approved by the citywide school board after the mayor removed several board members opposed to the policies and replaced them overnight with supporters.

The standards require that students score at a Level 2 or above on state exams to be promoted into the next grade. The RAND study Cerf referenced was released yesterday and reported that the standards had small but significant short-term benefits on low-performing fifth-graders held back or given extra academic help under the policy. It did not address how students held back fared after seventh grade.

Last year, less than half a percent of fifth-graders were held back under the policy, because so few failed to reach the Level 2 bar. The state exams on which the promotion standards are based have been widely criticized as being too easy.

Speaking to reporters, Cerf said that Mayor Bloomberg supports efforts to raise the standards on state tests. “He believes that we should have high standards that are national in scope,” Cerf said, adding that the tests could follow the standards of international exams such as the Program for International Student Assessment.

Cerf said that the current tests gauge only “a floor of proficiency,” adding that they judge only a minimum standard.

“Children who cannot perform at that floor will not be successful going forward in life,” he said.

But when asked why the city promotes students who receive a Level 2 score, indicating they have only a partial mastery of state standards, Cerf defended the promotional bar. He emphasized that students who failed to meet even that bar were in dire need of academic help. He also said that students are evaluated on a variety of measures. “It’s important not to over-read these tests,” he said.

Cerf and Badillo spoke to a smattering of reporters on the steps of City Hall. Also in attendance were several Thompson supporters and members of the political action committee NYC Kids PAC.

One of the NYC Kids PAC members attending, Eric Zerof, said that Bloomberg’s emphasis on his promotion policies showed that the mayor is out of touch with more pressing and relevant issues in the school system. “This is just another typical way where Bloomberg is trying to distract us from his inability to manage the schools properly,” Zerof said.

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