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November 26, 2012
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.
November 26, 2012
For first time, college readiness factors into high school grades
When the Department of Education releases a new set of letter grades for high schools today, some schools could see their scores change substantially. That's because the latest progress reports, which the city uses in part to decide which schools to close, are the first to incorporate data about how well schools have prepared graduates for college. The shifting metrics reflect the department's growing recognition that a high school diploma does not guarantee college success. The new data look at the percentage of students who passed college-level exams or courses; met City University of New York proficiency standards; or entered college, the military, or a work training program, and together they make up 10 percent of each school's score. Most of the information appeared on last year's progress reports but did not factor into schools' grades. For the most part, the new data points do not work in schools' favor. For the last two years, the city has boasted a four-year graduation rate over 60 percent. But city and state assessments of students' college-readiness during the same period found that only about a quarter of students were ready for college four years after entering high school. The wide discrepancy means that the new metrics could easily depress some schools' overall scores, particularly because the department reduced the weight on graduation rates and credit accumulation to free up the points.
October 16, 2012
As in L.A., city advocates call for arts to be seen more as "core"
City Councilman Robert Jackson protested against cuts to arts education on the steps of City Hall in June 2011. A move made in Los Angeles last week to elevate arts classes to a special status is unlikely to be repeated in New York City soon, despite exhortations from local arts advocates. L.A. school board members unanimously approved a resolution to make arts a "core subject," or one considered essential to students' education. The proposal was aimed at insulating arts from further budget cuts and laying groundwork for a restoration of arts funding within five years. "The use of the term 'core' says that every child will be entitled to it, and when you use the word 'core,' there’s a financial expectation attached to it," the district's top — and only — arts official told Southern California Public Radio. "So when cuts are made, now that the arts are core, cuts will need to be spread across all the disciplines. Now the arts can be seen as important as social studies, science, math and language arts." New York City technically includes arts courses in what it considers core subjects, in keeping with federal and state language, according to Department of Education officials. But when the department awards schools for their students' success in passing academic courses, it leaves the arts out. On the city's annual city progress reports, high schools receive points based on how many classes students passed in the last year. Extra weight is given to English, math, science, and social studies courses, the ones the city considers to be at the core of the academic program. This year, for the first time, middle schools also received credit for the proportion of students who passed classes in those subjects. The change to the middle school progress report prompted seven leading arts advocates to petition city officials in late August to add arts to the Department of Education's list of core subjects. The advocates, who included the director of the Center for Arts Education and the chair of the New York City Arts Coalition, argued in a letter to Chancellor Dennis Walcott that the department's metrics signal to principals that it's okay to give the arts short shrift.
October 1, 2012
More schools met threshold for closure on new progress reports
Chief Academic Officer Shael Polakow-Suransky briefed reporters on the new progress report cards this morning. Almost twice as many elementary and middle schools are eligible for closure under the Department of Education’s longstanding rules this year, according to the schools’ 2011-2012 progress reports. Since 2007, the city has given schools a letter grade each year based largely on calculations of their students’ test scores. Schools that receive an F, D, or three consecutive C’s or worse can be closed. Last year, 120 schools fell into that category, and the department ultimately moved to close 10 of them. But this year, 217 schools received those grades, suggesting that this year’s closure toll could be greater than in the past. The most dramatic change was a jump in schools receiving their third straight grade of C or below — from just five last year to 114 this year. The striking jump is a late-onset effect of the state’s 2010 decision to raise the proficiency bar on its state tests. In 2009, just two schools had received F’s and 84 percent earned A’s. But that year, most schools saw their test scores fall, and nearly 70 percent of schools saw their progress report grades drop, too. The progress reports released today were the third since the change. Caught in the metrics were some popular schools, such as Central Park East I and the Earth School in Manhattan, as well as 16 of Staten Island’s 52 elementary and middle schools.
October 1, 2012
New progress reports shift some weight from scores to grades
For the first time since introducing school progress reports in 2007, the Department of Education has reduced the weight of state test scores in determining middle schools' scores on their state test scores. The change is slight, allocating just 5 percent of the calculation toward the grades schools hand out, but it reflects a significant shift within the Department of Education. After years of saying that the state's current tests are not the ideal measure of students' abilities, the department is — to a limited extent — putting its metrics where its mouth is. Until now, 85 percent of elementary and middle schools' scores have come from crunching the scores in different ways. But on the 2011-2012 progress reports, which are coming out today, that proportion has dropped slightly for middle schools, to 80 percent. The difference will be made up by schools' course passage rates in the core subjects of English, math, science, and social studies. The change, which the department promised a year ago, makes year-to-year progress report score comparisons hard to make yet is unlikely to dramatically alter schools' scores on its own. Still, it signals that the city is projecting onto middle schools growing concerns about the mismatch between how city students perform on some high-stakes accountability metrics and how well prepared they are to take on more challenging work.
April 18, 2012
DOE accedes to calls for expanding college readiness metrics
This fall, city Department of Education is preparing to factor students' post-graduation outcomes into high schools' annual progress report grades for the first time.
April 12, 2012
IBO: City's school progress reports are flawed but an advance
The system the city uses to award letter grades to schools is complicated and in some ways flawed — but it's the best system we have. That's the conclusion of a report by the Independent Budget Office, the city's budget watchdog that since 2009 has been charged with scrutinizing Department of Education data. The office examined the city's progress reports, released annually since 2007, to see whether their underlying metrics produce meaningful results. The progress reports were meant to radically reorient the way that New Yorkers thought about school performance. Instead of assessing schools simply by the proportion of students passing state tests, the progress reports focus on students' improvement from year to year. In a precursor to the "value-added" measurements now being used to assess teachers, the reports use a complex and evolving algorithm that controls for student demographics to calculate just how much students have progressed. The city then assigns each school a letter grade based on its score. The letter grades inform both the city's decisions about which principals should receive bonuses and which schools should be considered for closure and families' choices are where to enroll. The IBO concludes that the progress reports offer a more sophisticated analysis of school performance than ever before — but that there is room for improvement. "The methodology used by the education department is a significant improvement over simply basing measures on comparisons of standardized test scores," the report concludes. "Still, the School Progress Reports have to be interpreted with caution."
April 4, 2012
Hoping to please parents, school introduces real-time polling
The results of the Department of Education's learning environment surveys, due tomorrow, aren't likely to go public until June. But Catina Venning, the executive director of Fahari Academy Charter School, doesn't want to wait. Since the start of the year, she has been polling Fahari's families monthly about their satisfaction and tweaking the school's practice in response. She launched the polls after Fahari scored a B last year on the section of the progress report that counts survey results — the "environment" section. Looking closer, she found the source of the problem: parents had graded the school poorly for communication. “We looked at our survey from last year and the numbers were a little bit lower than they were in our first year and that was not pleasing to us at all,” Venning said. “We want to make sure parents are getting the services they’re signing up for." The new mini-polls' instant feedback has already led to some changes. After only 55 percent of parents reported receiving weekly phone calls from their child's advisors in a fall survey, Venning issued a course correction. Soon, advisors were submitting weekly contact logs to administrators, and parents were receiving not only more frequent reports but also weekly newsletters. The polling is part of a larger outreach push that includes a new director of family engagement and a parent she's brought on staff to work with families after school.
February 15, 2012
More than $5 million in bonuses given to leaders at 275 schools
The principals of top-ranking city schools got their annual bonuses today, adding as much as $25,000 to some school leaders' pay. The bonuses, guaranteed under a city agreement with the principals union, went to administrators at schools with the highest scores on the city's progress reports. A total of 275 principals and their assistant principals received bonuses totaling more than $5 million. The bonuses went to the principals of some of the city's most selective schools, such as the Anderson School for gifted students and Staten Island Technical High School, one of the city's specialized high schools. But they also went to administrators at schools that serve low-performing students, including eight transfer high schools, which had their own bonus division. In at least a couple of cases, the bonuses went to principals who have gotten into hot water. Darlene Miller, the principal of the NYC Museum School, received a bonus despite being arrested for driving drunk over winter break, as did Ling Ling Chou, who was removed as the Shuang Wen School's principal last summer amid multiple investigations.
January 26, 2012
At turnaround schools, wide range in college readiness rates
Click on the chart for an expanded view. A handful of the high schools the city wants to "turn around" are already doing a better-than-average job at preparing students for college.
January 25, 2012
As some schools protest turnaround plans, others wait and see
Two weeks after receiving the surprise news that their schools could close this June, some teachers are staging protests while others say they are too stunned to respond, for now. At Herbert H. Lehman High School in the Bronx, Ann Looser is hoping fifty to 100 of her fellow teachers will stay after school tonight to protest city plans to “turn around” Herbert H. Lehman High School. As Lehman’s union chapter leader, Looser has led efforts to raise awareness about the city’s plan to “turn around” the school. Under the plan, which the city devised to keep federal funding despite a breakdown in negotiations over teacher evaluations, 33 low-performing schools would be closed and reopened after having half of their teachers replaced. At Lehman, Looser and her colleagues have been trying recruit families, local politicians, and journalists to attend tonight’s “early engagement” hearing. The goal, she said, is to convince the city not to upend progress that the school had been making with the help of federal funds. Under “restart,” Lehman had used the funds to offer credit recovery programs, peer mentoring, and extra training for teachers, Looser said. She said the extra help came at an important juncture, just as a new principal arrived after years of turmoil that included a grade-changing scandal. Purging the school’s teachers would set those efforts back, Looser said.
December 9, 2011
Gompers teachers: We will stay dedicated despite phaseout
Samuel Gompers High School, one of 19 schools slated to close, was quiet before dismissal Friday afternoon. Some of the teachers at Samuel Gompers Career and Technical Education High School held their breath when administrators called them into the school's music room shortly after third-period this morning. Moments later, officials from the Department of Education and the teachers union announced that Gompers would be one of 19 schools the city tries to close this year. Gompers's progress report card grade dropped from a C to an F this year. But even last year city officials had flagged the school for its low performance, making it one of a handful of schools eligible to receive federal school improvement grants. When Gompers wasn't selected for the funds, some predicted that closure would become a more likely intervention for the school. The news still came as a surprise for three teachers I spoke to today, who asked not to be identified because they were instructed not to speak to reporters. "It came as a complete surprise to us," said one technology teacher. "Our school management team told us they had a strategy and as long as we followed it we'd be okay." The teacher, who has been at the technology-focused school for nearly a decade, said this year administrators told teachers to document all of their lessons diligently and collect more data on student improvement — policies that rankled some more experienced teachers.
October 26, 2011
The good, the bad, & the puzzling within the progress reports
Behind the letter grade that each city high school received this week is a mess of data. Progress report scores take into account everything from how many ninth-graders earned six credits in academic courses to the number of overage students to the relative performance of students with special needs. The city's spreadsheet containing the underlying data for the progress reports runs to more than 200 columns. We sorted and re-sorted the spreadsheet to look at the city's measures of school quality in different ways. Here are some of the most interesting things we found. The top five highest-scoring schools include three schools for new immigrants (marked with asterisks): Brooklyn International High School (Brooklyn)* Manhattan Village Academy (Manhattan) It Takes A Village Academy (Brooklyn)* Williamsburg High School for Architecture and Design (Brooklyn) Manhattan Bridges High School (Manhattan)* The top five lowest-scoring schools: Manhattan Theatre Lab High School (Manhattan) High School of Graphic Communication Arts (Manhattan) Samuel Gompers Career and Technical Education High School (Bronx) Herbert H. Lehman High School (Bronx) Freedom Academy High School (Brooklyn) Seven schools didn't get progress reports after their data raised red flags with department officials:
October 25, 2011
Among low-scoring schools, familiar names and dashed hopes
Yesterday's high school progress reports release put 60 schools on existential notice. Fourteen high schools got failing grades, 28 received D's, and another 14 have scored at a C or lower since at least 2009 — making them eligible for closure under Department of Education policy. In the coming weeks, the city will winnow the list of schools to those it considers beyond repair. After officials release a shortlist of schools under consideration for closure, they will hold "early engagement" meetings to find out more about what has gone wrong. City officials said they would look at the schools' Quality Reviews, state evaluations, and past improvement efforts before recommending some for closure. Last month, they said they were considering closure for just 20 of the 128 elementary and middle schools that received low progress report grades. The at-risk high schools are spread over every borough except for Staten Island and include many of the comprehensive high schools that are still open in the Bronx, including DeWitt Clinton High School and Lehman High School, which until recently were considered good options for many students. They also include two of the five small schools on the Erasmus Campus in Brooklyn and two of the three small schools that have long occupied the John Jay High School building in Park Slope. (A fourth school, which is selective, opened at John Jay this year.) They include several of the schools that received "executive principals" who got hefty bonuses to turn conditions around.
October 24, 2011
Amid mostly stable scores, a few outsized gains and losses
In the past, Department of Education officials have cheered when schools posted dramatic progress report gains. Today, they touted the scores' stability. Last month, DOE officials attributed new stability in elementary and middle school progress report grades to a refined formula that offered the most accurate portrayal yet of each school's performance. They gave the same explanation today for why 90 percent of high schools kept the same grade from last year or changed by just one level. Another 9 percent of schools varied by two grades, going, for example, from a D to a B. Just five schools' grades changed by more than that. Satellite Academy High School posted the most spectacular climb, jumping all the way from an F to an A. But DOE officials attributed the size of the gain to a technical change: Low-scoring Satellite Academy had been broken into multiple small schools, with one retaining the name and identification number. That small school received the A this year. Four schools shot up or down by three letter grades. Brooklyn's School for Global Studies, which began federally-funded "transformation" last year, saw its grade rise from an F to a B. When GothamSchools spoke with Principal Joseph O'Brien last month, he said he attributed the school's gains to spending on technology and teacher training, and to a new emphasis on test performance.
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