Making the grade

For first time in years, high schools net more A's and fewer F's

For the first time in years, more New York City high schools are making the grade, at least according to one of the Department of Education’s assessments.

After four years during which the city doled out fewer and fewer top letter grades to high schools on annual progress reports, the department announced today that more high schools received A’s and B’s — and fewer had received failing grades.

In 2008, the percentage of high schools that received top letter grades topped out at 83 percent. In subsequent years, as the city sought to close many of its large comprehensive high schools and replace them with smaller ones, that rate has fallen — to 75 percent in 2009, 70 percent in 2010, and 65 percent in 2011.

This year, the rate of top-graded schools bounced back up to 72 percent. The proportion of schools that received failing grades fell from 12 percent to 7 percent.

The reversal comes at a time when city and state officials have said that high schools are, by and large, not preparing students for college. In fact, the city even added new data points to the progress reports designed to reward schools that produce college-ready graduates, and penalize those that do not.

The boost in high schools’ city grades also comes at a time when more middle and elementary schools got grades so low that they face closure.

Schools that receive an F, D, or three consecutive C’s or worse can be closed, according to the city’s rules. Earlier this year, the city announced that 217 elementary and middle schools fell into that category, an 80 percent increase over last year. The city is targeting 36 of those schools for possible closure, nearly twice as many as it did in 2011.

Mayor Bloomberg has said that closing failing middle schools and replacing them with new schools would be a major initiative of the last year of his mayoral term.

But the number of high schools that the department might target for closure this years decreased. Sixty high schools met the closure standards, and the department is considering closing 24 of them.

Progress reports have been released annually since 2007 as a way to measure how schools are performing. The city also uses the reports to justify decisions about school closures. The reports factor in more than two dozen data points, including graduation rates, scores on state Regents exams, course completion, attendance, and results from surveys of parents, students, and teachers.

Principals and education officials said the reason so many high schools got top scores for the first time in years was the city’s heightened emphasis on preparing students for college. New college-readiness metrics accounted for 10 percent of each school’s overall score.

“Our high schools are rising to the challenge of more rigorous standards and diploma requirements,” Chief Academic Officer Shael Polakow-Suransky said in a statement.

“It really highlighted some of our deficiencies,” Darryl White, principal of Bronx Collegiate Academy, said of the new metrics. Two percent of White’s students from the Class of 2011 were labeled “college ready,” according to the city’s standards, and the school received a B last year. So this fall,White said he introduced Advanced Placement courses to the school for the first time. This year Bronx Collegiate received an A.

“What I do appreciate is that it informs your of what your focus should be in the next year,” White said about the city’s strategy for grading schools.

In a press release, the department touted this year’s results as “generally stable.” Ninety-five percent of schools either maintained the same grade or changed by one grade from 2011.

Still, some schools saw a more precipitous decline.

Three schools fell from a C to a F, including Choir Academy of Harlem. Earlier this year, the Choir Academy’s middle school also tumbled significantly — from a B to a F. The school had been under investigation for cheating fraud and its former principal was abruptly fired in the middle of the last school year. The two other schools that saw similar declines were Bronx Regional High School and the Academy for Social Action.

Two high schools improved by three letter grades, from an F to a B: Gotham Professional Arts Academy and EBC High School for Public Service in Bushwick.

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”

 

Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”

 

Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”

 

Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”

 

Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”

 

Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”

moving forward

After Confederate flag dispute at Colorado football game, schools pledge to bring students together

PHOTO: Marc Piscotty
Manual High students.

Acknowledging “we may never have a conclusive picture of what happened,” two Colorado school districts sought to move past a controversy over whether a Confederate flag was displayed at a football game and open a conversation between the two school communities.

The principal of Manual High, Nick Dawkins, wrote in a community letter over the weekend that the visiting Weld Central High School team “displayed a Confederate flag during the first quarter of the (Friday night) game, offending many members of the Manual community.”

Officials from Denver Public Schools and Weld County School District Re-3J released a joint letter Tuesday saying that based “on what we have learned to date, however, the Weld Central team did not display the Confederate flag.” At the same time, it said, multiple Manual eyewitnesses “reported seeing spectators who attempted to bring a Confederate flag into the game and clothing with flag images.”

Going forward, students from the two schools — one rural and one urban — will participate in a student leadership exchange that has student leaders visit each other’s schools and communities to “share ideas and perspectives,” the letter says.

“At a time in our country when so many are divided, we want our students instead to come together, share ideas and learn together,” says the letter, which is signed by the principals of both schools and the superintendents of both school districts.

The alleged incident took place at a time when issues of race, social injustice, politics and sports are colliding in the United States, making for tough conversations, including in classrooms.

Weld Central’s mascot is a Rebel. Manual, whose mascot is the Thunderbolts, is located in one of Denver’s historically African-American neighborhoods.

Dawkins in his initial community letter also said “the tension created by the flag led to conflict on and off the playing field,” and that three Manual players were injured, including one who went to the hospital with a leg injury. He also said some Manual players reported that Weld Central players “taunted them with racial slurs.”

Weld Central officials vehemently denied that their team displayed the flag. In addition, they said in their own community letter they had “no evidence at this point that any of our student athletes displayed racially motivated inappropriate behavior.”

They said district officials “do not condone any form of racism,” including the Confederate flag.

Weld Central fans told the Greeley Tribune that they didn’t see any Confederate flag.

Read the full text below.