New York

80 percent of schools land top grades on DOE's progress reports

As early reports suggested they would, Mayor Bloomberg and Chancellor Klein announced today that more than half of all elementary and middle schools received higher progress report grades this year than last year, the first that the reports were issued. In all, 79 percent of schools earned As or Bs, more than 20 percentage points higher than last year. (High school reports will come out later this fall, after data about August graduation and Regents performance is taken into account.) "We're just as proud of the F student who became a C student as we are of the A student," Bloomberg said, contrasting the city's accountability system against the state's, which condemns low-performing schools even if they are on the upswing. The DOE's press release is filled with impressive statistics about schools' performance on the reports. The reports released today are meant to highlight student progress, as opposed to raw performance, which the state uses to judge schools. Sixty percent of a school's grade is based on "progress," or how much individual students improved or fell behind in the last year. Schools also get "extra credit" if students with special needs — such as disabilities, English language learner status, or poor performance in the past — do particularly well. Raw student performance does make up 25 percent of a school's grade, and the results of the Learning Environment Surveys that parents and teachers took this spring make up the remaining 15 percent of the score. On each measure, schools are compared both to all city schools and to schools in their "peer group," made up of schools that have similar demographics. Bloomberg said the reports, which are available online, make school performance transparent and help administrators and teachers to focus their attention and resources on the students who need it most. Finally, he said, the reports are the only measure where schools are held accountable for improving student performance — and accountability, he emphasized, breeds success, with schools earning higher marks this year even though progress report grades were issued last November for the first time, just two months before state English tests and four months before state math tests. The DOE's chief accountability officer, Jim Liebman, who spearheaded the progress report initiative, cited a recent paper by Columbia economist Jonah Rockoff that concludes that new accountability systems can produce real effects in a very short time. Administrators at PS 5, the Bedford-Stuyvesant elementary school where the press conference took place, said their progress report grade last year pushed them to help their students more.
New York

No change in science testing climate this year

Example question from ##http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&source=web&ct=res&cd=2&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.emsc.nysed.gov%2Fciai%2Fmst%2Fpub%2F1interscisam.pdf&ei=JEPQSOijB6HsvAWQ6pn0Dg&usg=AFQjCNGMdZSTuqFOUMzvJCG5kGOo1s-18w&sig2=MguDDgU8bufQjg_o71zviQ##NY Intermediate Level Science exam## sampler. This year, the city is rolling out new science materials for grades 5, 7, and 8, building on the curriculum introduced last year in grades 3, 4, and 6. Yet new tests based on the curriculum have been delayed for the second straight year, the Post reported yesterday. A 2004 report by the City Council Committee on Education stated, "The most striking aspect of science in elementary schools is how rarely it is taught. Students are fortunate to get 45 minutes of science once a week for half the year." The report made a number of recommendations for recruiting highly-qualified science teachers, increasing the profile of science education, and holding schools accountable for science. In response to this and other reports that accountability in reading and math was pushing aside science and social studies instruction, the city introduced its new scope and sequence for science, based on state standards. Schools across the city select from a kit-based approach, a textbook-based approach, or a "blended" model which combines the textbooks and kits, or they may use approved alternatives. Yearly testing based on the curriculum was supposed to push school administrators to increase time spent on science and support teachers' implementation of the new curriculum. The delay in introducing the new tests poses a catch-22 for teachers fighting for attention, time, and resources for science education, but hoping to avoid the pressures and pitfalls of yearly standardized testing. Although many educators and students are undoubtedly relieved to avoid adding another exam to the already-full assessment calendar, others see the test as necessary to raise the profile of science education. At an August 2007 professional development workshop related to the new curriculum, some science teachers reported that their principals said they'd increase time for science once science tests started to matter for school accountability. Many teachers are also waiting to see what the tests emphasize. Will they focus more on content, reasoning skills, or laboratory skills? The state science exams currently given in 4th and 8th grade include multiple choice, constructed response (short answer), and performance (lab-based) sections. What will the new tests look like?
New York

To mayor's chagrin, school governance panel recommends checks on his power

Earlier this month, a leading public commission charged with studying school governance in anticipation of the June 2009 sunset of the law granting control of the city's schools to the mayor released its final report, finding that the city should retain mayoral control but that "checks" on the mayor's power should be instituted and that public engagement before major decisions are made should be required. I'm a little late covering the report — from the Public Advocate's Commission on School Governance — but it remains timely. Today, Mayor Bloomberg rails against revisions to mayoral control in a letter to the editor of the Times. And tomorrow, an independent parent group studying mayoral control is holding an event about the history of school governance in New York City. The assembly has said it will begin holding public hearings on mayoral control in January. In a nearly yearlong process before making its recommendations, the 10-member commission solicited expert reports from a number of academics and heard testimony from more than 50 people, from Randi Weingarten to James Merriman of the New York Center for Charter School Excellence to Chancellor Klein himself. Ultimately, the commission identified a "general consensus" that mayoral control is superior to a decentralized system of school governance. But mayoral control in its current form, without any real checks on the mayor's authority, fails "to deliver on its promise of greater public accountability," the report concludes.
New York

Former NYC teachers aim to "revolutionize educational philanthropy"

Two former New York City schoolteachers have taken to heart Teach for America's intention to create innovators who maintain a commitment to educational equity even after they leave the classroom — they've started a nonprofit organization designed to facilitate individual giving to public schools. Jessica Rauch and Eli Savit, who now live in Michigan, recently won $10,000 in start-up funds in the August competition on IdeaBlob.com, which pits new business ideas against each other in public voting. Their initiative, The Generation Project, aims to "revolutionize educational philanthropy" by facilitating connections between schools and individuals who want to donate to them. From 2005 to 2007, Rauch taught English language learners at PS 86 in the Kingsbridge section of the Bronx; Savit taught 8th-grade social studies at IS 339 in the South Bronx. "As a new teacher, my time was very limited; between lesson planning, after-school tutoring, and graduate school, I didn't have as much time as I would have liked to find individualized opportunities for all of my students," wrote Rauch in an email to GothamSchools. "Although my administration was great and tried hard to expose students to various enrichment activities, I wished there was an easy way to further expand my students' horizons." For example, Rauch wrote, one of Savit's students who had developed an interest in domestic affairs could have attended a program in Washington, D.C., if Savit could easily have found a way to pay for it. Motivated by their own experiences, Rauch and Savit are working to create a database of prepaid gifts, "shaped by [funders'] own passions and priorities," that schools and teachers can apply to receive. This approach represents an inversion of the one taken by the popular website DonorsChoose.org, where potential donors browse funding requests from teachers who have identified particular needs for their classroom. "DonorsChoose is awesome, but it serves a different role for under-resourced schools than we propose," Rauch wrote.
New York

At PS 8, families cry foul on year's first progress report grade

With their schools' 2007-2008 progress report grades due out next week, principals are likely to spend their weekend planning either a victory celebration or damage control. PS 8 in Brooklyn Heights At PS 8 in Brooklyn Heights, families are trying to figure out what to think about their school's failing grade, especially because it earned a C last year and accolades this summer from Chancellor Klein, who held a conference at the school to announce that the school would expand to meet community demand, the Times reports today. Since the arrival of the current principal, Seth Phillips, in 2003, families in the zone have increasingly decided to stay put and enroll at PS 8 once their children reach school age. But according to the DOE's progress report formula, upper-grade students' test scores did not improve as much last year as they might have (and did at other schools), even though a majority of them scored at grade level or higher on state math and reading tests. Asked about the chancellor's July comments, DOE spokesman David Cantor told the Times, “Now that he has additional information about the school, his view has changed. The most important things about a school are student progress and performance, and in those areas this school isn’t measuring up.” Cantor also said parents and teachers noted "significant concerns" when responding to last year's Learning Environment Survey — but those concerns aren't apparent in the composite survey results, which put PS 8 in the top half of schools citywide in three of the four main categories and well above average on the fourth, "engagement."