Growing Up

School report cards stabilize after years of unpredictability

After years of volatility, letter grades on progress reports for the city’s elementary and middle schools are the most stable and accurate they’ve ever been, according to Department of Education officials.

Queens schools had the highest grades on this year’s city progress reports, which were released today, and charter schools received higher scores, on average, than schools across the city. Of the 1,219 schools to receive grades in this year’s reports, 298 schools received an A, 411 received a B, 354 received a C, 79 received a D and 32 received an F.

The city graded schools on a curve, so that 60 percent scored either an A or a B; 30 percent received C’s; and 10 percent received D’s or F’s – twice as many as last year.

That means new additions to the city’s list of schools that it will consider closing. Schools that received a D or F, or three consecutive years of C or lower, are automatically added to the list of potential closures. Last year, 62 schools fell into that group, but this year, the total was 116.

It is the fifth year that the city has issued the reports, which assess schools based heavily on students’ state test scores and their improvement since last year, as well as attendance rates, and feedback from parents, students, and teachers. Schools also earn extra credit for progress made by students with disabilities and English language learners. For the first time this year, schools whose low-performing black and Latino boys made gains also got extra credit.

“By acknowledging progress in schools that help struggling students, we can keep more students on track during elementary and middle school,” Chancellor Dennis Walcott said in a statement.

Changing standards on state tests over the past two years had thrown the DOE’s progress reports into a cycle of unpredictability. Inflated test scores in 2009 resulted in just two schools receiving F’s, while 84 percent earned A’s. Last year, after state tests became harder to pass, almost 70 percent of schools saw their grades drop and a third of schools saw their grades swing – mostly downward – by two or more letters.

This year, the department touted adjustments to the reports and pointed to the fact that most schools’ letter grades didn’t change much: 88 percent of schools received the same rating as last year or rose or fell by just one letter grade.

In a briefing with reporters this morning, Chief Academic Officer Shael Polakow-Suransky said the formula changes — which he said were made after consulting with principals — have led to the most accurate portrayal yet of what the city wants to see from its schools.

“We met with networks to make sure we got it right and we’re hearing from principals that it makes a lot of sense this year,” Polakow-Suransky said.

United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew criticized the reports for their heavy emphasis on test scores and said that they offer all information and no instruction for improvement.

“It’s like 20 doctors standing around telling you what’s wrong, but nobody’s lifting a finger to help,” he said. “I would rather have a report that diagnoses a school’s problem and came up with recommendations to rectify them.”

Here’s a link to all of this year’s progress reports, but we threw in some other highlights below:

A few other highlights:

  • The highest school went to a middle school, Staten Island School of Leadership with a 97.2. The lowest was P.S. 377, with an overall score 4.6
  • Charter schools operated by management organizations scored significantly higher than the citywide average, while independent charter schools actually performed worse, particularly at the middle school level. Charter schools operated by Success Charter Network, Achievement First and Uncommon all had four schools each that earned A’s.
  • One “mom and pop” charter schools, Future Leaders Institute, was one of the 10 lowest-scoring schools in the city.
  • For more detailed breakdown on the charter school results, check out the NYC Charter School Center’s interactive graph here.
  • The actual report cards also received a re-design, featuring more information about the school’s performance over time, as well as how the school is graded based on other measures, such as the city’s Quality Review and the state’s accountability.
  • Charter schools opened since 2004, when DOE began taking a more active role in supporting the schools, have earned a higher percentage of As (38 percent) than before, when just 19 percent earned As. NYC Charter School Center CEO James Merriman called it “another sign” that charter schools are making progress “with some of the City’s most disadvantaged students.”
  • For the second straight year, District 26 in Queens was the highest performing district.
  • One school – P.S. 60 Woodhaven in Queens – did the best job at narrowing the achievement gap for both students with disabilities and for academically struggling black and Latino boys.
  • Charter schools that were co-located in DOE building outperformed charter schools located in private space.

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.”