If you can't improve results, make the test easier
The difficulty of a reading test used to judge students across New York State dropped by as many as six grade levels between 2004 and 2005, according to an internal study by the New York City teachers union obtained by The New York Sun.
The study, written in March 2006, found that passages in the 2005 test hovered around third- and fourth-grade reading levels, down from a ninth-grade level in 2004. It also found that the 2004 test was characterized by longer passages, smaller print, crammed text, and more complex questions, such as asking a student to make an inference versus asking the main idea. Despite this apparent drop in difficulty, however, the number of correct answers needed to pass -- known as the "cut score" -- was just slightly higher in 2005 than in 2004.
Many states have reduced the difficulty of their assessments in order to post better results without actually improving - see here for more on that. But the boldness of what was done in New York - whether it's reducing reading difficulty by six grade levels or five - is simply unbelievable.
Update: It's not just reading, either.