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New York

Bloomberg says lower grad rate reflects improved performance

New York

City alters Regents grading, credit recovery policies after audit

The Department of Education is cracking down on graduation rate inflation, following an internal audit that uncovered errors and possible evidence of cheating at 60 high schools. The audits, conducted by the department's internal auditor, scrutinized data at 60 high schools that had posted unusual or striking results. Of the 9,582 students who graduated from the schools in 2010, the audit found that 292 did not have the exam grades or course credits required under state regulations. At one school, Landmark High School, 35 students had graduated without earning all of the academic credits required for graduation. At another, Pablo Neruda Academy for Architecture and World Studies, 19 students had gotten credits through "credit recovery" that the school could not prove complied with state requirements. At two schools, Fort Hamilton High School and Hillcrest High School, an examination of Regents exams uncovered problems in the scoring of multiple students' tests. Department officials said they had asked Special Commissioner of Investigation Richard Condon to launch inquiries at nine schools based on issues raised during the audits. (Schools where investigations were already underway were excluded from the audit.) Students who graduated without sufficient credits won't have their diplomas revoked, officials said. And schools won't have their graduation rates revised to reflect the audited numbers, either, except potentially where the city found schools had purged students from their rolls without confirming that they had enrolled elsewhere. Instead, department officials are cracking down on loopholes in city and state regulations about how to graduate students. Among the major policy changes are revisions to Regents exam scoring procedures, new limitations on "credit recovery" options for students who fail courses, and an alteration to the way schools determine whether a student has met graduation requirements. The changes reflect a new understanding of the degree to which principals had become confused with — or, in some cases, ignorant of — graduation policies. They also reflect an unusual acknowledgment from the Department of Education that its strategies for delivering support to schools and holding them accountable are not always successful.
New York

IBO: Schools up for closure tonight enroll very needy students

A slide from the IBO's report about schools up for closure. For the third year in a row, the city's data watchdog has concluded that the schools the city is trying to close serve especially needy students. In 2010 and 2011, the Independent Budget Office put together longer reports about the city's school closure proposals on the request of Robert Jackson, chair of the City Council's education committee. But this year, the office, which has a special mandate to scrutinize the Department of Education's facts and figures, compiled details about the demographics, performance, and funding of schools on the chopping block on its own. Then it released the statistics in an easy-to-read, stand-alone format. Among the many people who are receiving the IBO's 13-slide presentation by email today are the members of the Panel for Educational Policy, who are set to vote on the closure proposals tonight, according to spokesman Doug Turetsky. "It's an accessible format so people can see the stats and come to their own conclusions," he said. UPDATE: Department of Education officials disputed some of the data in the slides and said the budget office had not given them as much time to review the report before publication as an agreement between the two offices requires. They urged the IBO not to release the report and then to retract it once it was published because data on at least one slide did not match information the city had provided. The budget office retracted one slide that showed change over time in the number of students with special needs at the schools. But other slides showed that the schools up for closure enroll more than the average proportion of students who have disabilities, are overage, or are considered English language learners, confirming analyses published elsewhere.
New York

Report finds lasting graduation rate gains at city's small schools

The Bloomberg administration has long touted the small high schools it created as outperforming large schools closed to make way for them. But a new report finds, for the second time, that the schools also post higher graduation rates than other city schools that stayed open. Being randomly selected to attend small high schools opened under the Bloomberg administration made students significantly more likely to graduate, even as the schools got older, according to the report, conducted by researchers at the nonprofit firm MDRC. The researchers updated a 2010 study that examined "small schools of choice" that opened between 2002 and 2008 and did not select students based on their academic performance. Of the 123 schools that fit that bill, 105 had so many applicants that the schools selected among them randomly, through a lottery. The lottery process enabled the researchers to compare what happened to two groups of students that started out statistically identical: those who were admitted to the small schools and those who lost the lotteries and wound up in older, larger schools. That type of comparison is considered the "gold standard" in education research. The original study found that the small high schools had positive effects on their students — but it looked only at the schools' very first enrollees. The new report looks at those students in the fifth year after they enrolled and also at the second set of students who enrolled at the schools. It finds that the higher graduation rate — 67.9 percent, compared to 59.3 percent for students who were not admitted — continued for the second group of students who enrolled and cut across all groups of students, regardless of their race, gender, family income, or academic skills upon enrollment. Students at the small schools were also more likely to meet the state's college readiness standards in English, though not in math. "Small schools for a variety of reasons, I always felt, were going to succeed in certain ways," said Richard Kahan, the head of Urban Assembly, a nonprofit that started a handful of schools included in the study. "But I would not have predicted the impact."
New York

At Grady, transformation funds change school's look and feel

New York

Grad rate gains at some set-to-close schools outpace city's

The 14 high schools the city is trying to close this year posted lower-than-average graduation rates — but they are not all the city's worst. Now, teachers union officials are drawing attention to three other high schools approved for closure that posted graduation rate increases two times or more than the city's overall 2 percent gain. In the Bronx, Christopher Columbus High School's 4-year graduation rate rose by 5.7 percentage points, to 41.6 percent. Norman Thomas High School, in Manhattan, saw its 4-year rate go from 37 percent to 47.8 percent. Brooklyn's Paul Robeson High School saw a similar leap, to 50 percent from 40.4 percent last year. "We knew that we had increased our graduation rate last year by 10 percent and have been saying that since November but no one pays any attention," said Stefanie Siegel, a Robeson teacher who has been active in protests against the school's planned closure. "When our spirits were high after we won the court case last year, we made great gains in a short period of time," she said. That court case was the lawsuit the teachers union won to stop the city from closing 19 low-performing schools. Performance boosts at three of the high schools kept them off the chopping block this year. Two of the schools got higher progress report grades, 85 percent of which depend on graduation rates and students' progress toward graduation. The city said it was confident in a leadership change at the third school. The schools with oversized gains this year still lag well behind the citywide average 4-year graduation rate of 61 percent. And many of the other schools slated for closure continued to post dismal graduation figures.
New York

Schools call new discharge reporting requirements burdensome

An audit by the state comptroller found that the city might have underreported its dropout rate by reclassifying dropouts as "discharges," or students who have moved out of the district. But new procedures actually make it extremely burdensome for schools to classify students as discharged, school officials say. Until this year, high schools could classify a student as discharged to another state or city as long as the student provided proof of address that was confirmed by two people. That meant the student was removed from his original school's roster without hurting its graduation rate. But now the city requires city schools to prove that a school elsewhere requested transcripts of students they say are discharges, not dropouts. School administrators say this requirement presents a mountain of new paperwork for overworked personnel and, sometimes, real difficulty, as transfer students often encounter complications enrolling in new schools. Students might take a long time to find a school in their new home. They might have a hard time navigating an interstate paperwork shuffle. Their new school might not require a transcript. Or they might be kept out of out-of-state schools altogether because of their disciplinary records or language needs, according to Rhonda Hugel, assistant principal at Lower East Side Preparatory High School, which serves a large Chinese immigrant population. “Who knows if these states have the resources for the kids,” she said. The stakes are high. If schools don't get sufficient documentation from a student's new school within 20 days, he could be counted as a dropout, and the school's graduation rate could fall.
New York

Fernandez: More city grads lacked basic skills under Bloomberg

Dolores Fernandez, the Bronx's appointee to the re-formed Board of Education, appearing on BronxTalk. Graduates of the city's public high schools are falling so behind in reading and math that a community college remediation program doubled in size between 1998 and 2008, the college's former president said this week. Dolores Fernandez, who resigned from Hostos Community College last year is now serving as the Bronx borough president's appointee to the re-formed Board of Education, made the remarks in an interview on a Bronx television news program, BronxTalk. "I would have loved for the New York City public schools to put my remediation programs out of business, because that would mean that every kid graduating out of the schools could read, write, and do math," Fernandez said. Fernandez said that a hiking up of standards at CUNY's four-year colleges played some part in the growth of Hostos's remediation program. "But then you still have the regular group of kids who just are coming to us in need of a GED diploma, because they haven't graduated from the public schools, and when we get them, we're basically teaching them reading, writing, and math — I mean, basic levels," she said. The gloomy picture challenges Bloomberg's own claims about the public schools, which state figures show now graduate far more students since 2002. But Fernandez said she does not trust these figures as a fair picture of what is really happening, especially for the poor Latino community she served at Hostos Community College. You can watch the interview in the full two parts below. UPDATE: Department of Education spokesman Andrew Jacob points out in the comments section that a growing remediation program does not mean that more city students are struggling. His argument: the size of the program doesn’t tell you anything about the percentage of graduates who required remediation, because the number of public school graduates enrolling at CUNY community colleges has risen dramatically in recent years–70% between 2002 and 2008. Among Hispanic public school graduates, enrollment doubled over that same time period. With this many more students enrolling, of course the remediation program would expand, even if the percentage of graduates needing remediation fell. And, in fact, that percentage has fallen across all CUNY community colleges, from 82 percent in 2002 to 74 percent in 2008. Among all CUNY colleges, the remediation rate for public school graduates has fallen from 58% to 51%.
New York

Klein: Small high schools still succeeding, and more are coming

New York

Saying discharges are up, report demands grad rate audit

Six years after Schools Chancellor Joel Klein vowed to crack down on a bureaucratic loophole that allowed principals to hide students' failure to graduate high school, a new report (PDF) suggests that the loophole remains open and may be growing wider. The report calls for closer study of the students classified as "discharges" — departures from the system, but not dropouts — through steps including a state audit. The report says that 21 percent of students who entered high school in 2003 both never graduated and were never counted as dropouts, instead falling into a category known as "discharges." The percentage was up from 17.5 percent among the Class of 2000. The rate is especially high among special education students, and includes a remarkable jump in 2005, when the special education discharge rate shot up to 36 percent from 23 percent in a single year. Students classified as discharges can include those who left the school system for legitimate reasons, such as moving to another state, deciding to enroll in an outside G.E.D. program, or death. But some advocates have argued that principals can also misuse the discharge code, entering students who simply dropped out in order to inflate their graduation rate artificially. A recent audit of 12 high schools in New York State by the state comptroller, Thomas DiNapoli, found that high schools classified students as G.E.D. discharges who did not actually enroll in a G.E.D. program. "As a result," DiNapoli's audit concluded, "the report cards understated the number and percentage of dropouts and overstated the percentage of graduates for some of the schools we reviewed." The audit did not probe any New York City high schools. Two persistent critics of the Bloomberg administration compiled the report: the executive director of Class Size Matters, Leonie Haimson, and a Ph.D. candidate at Columbia University, Jennifer Jennings. Jennings was the author of the now-defunct Eduwonkette blog, whose analysis of New York City education data became (as I reported) a thorn in the Bloomberg administration's side. The report is being released at a press conference this morning held by a third critic, the city's public advocate, Betsy Gotbaum. City school officials were already disputing the report's claims yesterday, before it had been released.
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