Tuesday, November 06, 2007

School Grades

Mayor Bloomberg and Chancellor Klein unveiled their vaunted school report cards yesterday.

50 schools received F's, another 99 received D's.

The NY Sun reports that the mayor and the chancellor usually close between 5 and 15 schools a year, but the mayor threatened to close as many as 149 schools this year.

But some of the schools that received poor grades in the latest DOE assessment received good grades under other assessments.

For instance, some schools that do well under No Child Left Behind measurements received low grades in the latest DOE assessment while other schools that have low tests scores received high grades from the DOE.

The Daily News reports that

The prestigious Center School on the upper West Side - a sought-after school that had a 91% passing rate on eighth-grade state math exams - was slapped with a D.

Public School 35 on Staten Island received an F despite 98% of fourth-graders passing math exams. Junior High School 151 in the South Bronx earned a B even though just just 8.5% of eighth-graders passed math.

The NY Times
also lists schools with excellent reputations that were slapped with some surprisingly low grades by the DOE:

Several esteemed elementary schools that middle-class parents often factor in to their real estate decisions — including Public School 6 on the Upper East Side, P.S. 87 on the Upper West Side, P.S. 234 in TriBeCa and P.S. 321 in Park Slope, Brooklyn, — received B’s. Other popular schools fared worse. P.S. 154 in Windsor Terrace, Brooklyn, received a D, as did Central Park East I in Harlem.

The chancellor responded to criticism from parents and educators that some schools have been short-changed by the grading system that relies on improved test scores each year by saying that

The city is trying to create a "rising tide," and all schools at all levels need to continue moving upward.

"If you're not making progress, if your kids are not moving forward, then I don't think the school is doing well," Klein said.

Of course, if you take that statement to its logical conclusion, it means that all schools will have to eventually reach 100% proficiency for all students on every test or risk being labeled "failing" by the DOE assessment and thus at risk for closing.

It's ridiculous to say that because a school doesn't have 100% proficiency every year, it ultimately has "failed."

And yet that's exactly what No Child Left Behind (which also uses 100% proficiency as a benchmark) and the latest Kleinberg school assessment movement are doing.

Chester Finn wrote in the Wall Street Journal that the quest for 100% proficiency is a fantasy:

No educator in America believes this can be achieved anytime soon, not with 100% of the kids and by any reasonable standard of proficiency. The truth is that boosting our students' proficiency from today's 35% to 70% or 80% would be a transformative accomplishment. But no politician dares say that, lest he instantly be skewered with "which 20% of the kids don't you care about?"

Meanwhile, the federal mandate to produce 100% proficiency fosters low standards, game-playing by states and districts, and cynicism and rear-end-covering by educators.

You can bet that the latest DOE assessment will garner more game-playing with tests, cynicism and rear-end covering.

Remember, many of the tests used in the DOE assessment are graded in-school.

Anybody want to bet some principals and assistant principals are going to put pressure on teachers to grade a little easier on tests that have already been dumbed down by the city and the state?

When those test scores magically increase next year, will that be cause for celebration?

And how about those schools that received A's this year? What happens when a school with 90%+ proficiency doesn't increase next year?

Will that mean that the school is "failing" and needs to be threatened with a shutdown or will it mean that educators at that school are already doing an excellent job of helping as many students as they can to do as well as they can?

Randi Weingarten, president of the UFT, noted that high-performing schools are disadvantaged by the new DOE assessment:

“If you have kids that are high-performing kids, you have to continue to push them in lots of different areas, not narrow the curriculum to math and English.”

Of course it was Weingarten and the UFT that allowed hooey like school report cards, additional standardized tests, and teacher merit pay tied to those tests to happen in the first place by enabling total mayoral control for the Little Autocrat Mayor.

Unfortunately with the mayor able to make all decisions for the school system without input or accountability from anybody outside of his own circle of cronies, students are just going to have to put up with more and more test prep and less and less real learning.

Art, music, drama, and other enrichment activities will continue to disappear from the curriculum as schools spend more and more time and resources on math and reading. Science and history will also take a back seat to the subjects that count for the tests.

At the end of the day, Bloomberg, Klein and the other education reformers will continue to pat themselves on the back that they are increasing education standards and helping better achievement for students from all backgrounds.

And they have - no generation of children has ever been better at filling in little circles with number two pencils than this one.

As for actually being able to think critically, appreciate art, music, and drama, or read or write anything that doesn't have a test prompt above it, not so much.

And personal growth or life skills like financial literacy and conflict resolution - sorry, that will have to be done on their own time.

Heckuva job, Kleinberg.

Heckuva job, education reformers.
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