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DOE priorities seen in fresh tweaks to progress report formula

In an education department that’s driven by data, what gets measured is a clear expression of values.

So this year’s elementary and middle school progress reports signal that the city is serious about integrating disabled students into regular classes, helping minority boys, and quickly getting immigrant students learning in English.

The broad contours of what we’ll see later today when the Department of Education releases the newest progress reports, based on the last school year, have been clear for months. Back in the spring, the DOE told principals that it would not insulate schools against steep score drops as it did last year, so we know that more schools will get failing grades that put them at risk of closure.

In fact, the department set a fixed distribution of scores: 25 percent of schools will get As, 35 percent Bs, 30 percent Cs, 7 percent Ds, and 3 percent Fs. Last year, just 5 percent of schools were awarded D or F grades.

We also know each school’s state test scores, announced last month. While high or low average scores don’t always equate to high or low progress report grades, because the reports are based mostly on the test scores, they often do. (The department is also guaranteeing that schools with test scores in the top third citywide get no lower than a C; last year, only schools in the top quarter got that promise.) Also, because fewer schools registered large test score gains or losses this year, progress report grades are likely to be relatively stable.

That means that the biggest changes could come as the result of the department’s annual tinkering with the reports’ formula. This year, schools will for the first time get extra credit for moving students with disabilities to less-restrictive environments, for example from a self-contained class to one that has general education and special education students together — the major goal of a special education overhaul that is mid-rollout.

Extra credit is also being awarded to schools whose low-performing black and Hispanic male students posted significant test score gains. The change comes as the city launches a new Young Men’s Initiative to help a population seen as disadvantaged across the board.

And the city is also treating students who were considered English language learners or who were in restrictive special education settings within the last four years as though they still are. The tweak means that schools can push new immigrants and disabled students into regular classroom settings without taking a hit to their grades. “The new rule recognizes that students who make these gains still have significant needs,” according to the guide to this year’s progress report changes.

Other data will appear for the first time on this year’s middle school progress reports but not count toward their score. That includes information about students’ pass rates in their core courses, similar to the “credit accumulation” metric on high school progress reports, and the percentage of eighth-graders who have passed a Regents exam. One goal of the city’s 2007 middle school reforms, which quickly lost steam but got new attention after Chancellor Dennis Walcott announced a middle school overhaul this week, was to expand high school-level coursework in middle schools.

More tinkering is likely during the next year, when the coursework metrics are set to factor into middle schools’ progress report grades. The department’s guide to the reports says principals are worried how they would fare when compared to schools with softer grading policies. Other changes are also being considered, according to the guide.

weekend update

How the education world is reacting to racist violence in Charlottesville — and to Trump’s muted response

PHOTO: Andrew Dallos/Flickr
A rally against hate in Tarrytown, New York, responds to the violence in Charlottesville.

For educators across the country, this weekend’s eruption of racism and violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, offered yet another painful opportunity to communicate their values to families, colleagues, and community members.

Many decried the white supremacists who convened in the college town and clashed with protesters who had come to oppose their message. Some used social media to outline ideas about how to turn the distressing news into a teaching moment.

And others took issue with President Donald Trump’s statement criticizing violence “on many sides,” largely interpreted as an unwillingness to condemn white supremacists.

One leading education official, U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, followed Trump’s approach, criticizing what happened but not placing blame on anyone in particular:

DeVos’s two most recent predecessors were unequivocal, both about what unfolded in Charlottesville and whom to blame:

Leaders of the nation’s two largest teachers unions responded directly to Trump:

The American Federation of Teachers, Weingarten’s union, is supporting vigils across the country Sunday night organized by chapters of Indivisible, a coalition that emerged to resist the Trump administration. The union also promoted resources from Share My Lesson, its lesson-plan site, that deal with civil rights and related issues.

“As educators, we will continue to fulfill our responsibility to make sure our students feel safe and protected and valued for who they are,” Weingarten said in a statement with other AFT officials.

Local education officials took stands as well, often emotionally. Here’s what the superintendent in Memphis, which is engaged in the same debate about whether Confederate memorials should continue to stand that drew white supremacists to Charlottesville, said on Twitter:

Teachers in Hopson’s district return for the second week of classes on Monday. They’ve helped students process difficult moments before, such as a spate of police killings of black men in 2016; here’s advice they shared then and advice that teachers across the country offered up.

We want to hear from educators who are tackling this tough moment in their classrooms. Share your experiences and ideas here or in the form below. 

Betsy DeVos

‘Underperformer,’ ‘bully,’ and a ‘mermaid with legs’: NYMag story slams Betsy DeVos

PHOTO: New York Magazine
A drawing of DeVos commissioned by an 8-year-old starts the New York Magazine article.

A new article detailing Betsy DeVos’s first six months as U.S. education secretary concludes that she’s “a mermaid with legs: clumsy, conspicuous, and unable to move forward.”

That’s just one of several brutal critiques of DeVos’s leadership and effectiveness in the New York Magazine story, by Lisa Miller, who has previously covered efforts to overhaul high schools, New York City’s pre-kindergarten push, and the apocalypse. Here are some highlights:

  • Bipartisan befuddlement: The story summarizes the left’s well known opposition to DeVos’s school choice agenda. But her political allies also say she’s making unnecessary mistakes: “Most mystifying to those invested in her success is why DeVos hasn’t found herself some better help.”
  • A friend’s defense: DeVos is “muzzled” by the Trump administration, said her friend and frequent defender Kevin Chavous, a school choice activist.
  • The department reacts: “More often than not press statements are being written by career staff,” a spokesperson told Miller, rejecting claims that politics are trumping policy concerns.
  • D.C. colleagues speak: “When you talk to her, it’s a blank stare,” said Charles Doolittle, who quit the Department of Education in June. A current education department employee says: “It’s not clear that the secretary is making decisions or really capable of understanding the elements of a good decision.”
  • Kids critique: The magazine commissioned six portraits of DeVos drawn by grade-schoolers.
  • Special Olympics flip-flop: DeVos started out saying she was proud to partner with the athletics competition for people with disabilities — and quickly turned to defending a budget that cuts the program’s funding.
  • In conclusion: DeVos is an underperformer,” a “bully” and “ineffective,” Miller found based on her reporting.

Updated (July 31, 2017): A U.S. Education Department spokesperson responded to our request for comment, calling the New York Magazine story “nothing more than a hit piece.” Said Liz Hill: “The magazine clearly displayed its agenda by writing a story based on largely disputed claims and then leaving out of the article the many voices of those who are excited by the Secretary’s leadership and determination to improve education in America.”