October 24, 2011
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.
Two schools received D’s this year after getting A’s last year: the Urban Assembly School for Performing Arts and the Downtown Brooklyn Young Adult Borough Center, which serves students at risk of dropping out. And one school, Freedom Academy, dropped all the way from a B to an F.
Among the 22 additional schools whose grades fell by two letter grades, several have broadcast clear signs of turmoil or distress. The principal of Manhattan’s High School of International Business and Finance, which dropped from an A to a C, was demoted early last year after tackling a student; he said the school was riddled with gang activity. Students at Samuel Gompers High School in the Bronx, which fell from a C to an F, rallied this spring and again on Saturday, saying their school needs more resources if it is to improve. And Washington Irving High School, a long-struggling school that also dropped from a C to an F, has desperately tried to boost its profile by putting in place policies that awarded students credit for courses they failed.
The general stability could also reflect a growing sense that rapid gains are a red flag, not a mark of success. Last year, the city launched audits at 60 schools whose scores reflected suspicious patterns, so sharp drops could be more likely than ever to reflect the effects of new scrutiny.
And two policy changes might have inhibited schools from seeing inflated scores. For the first time this spring, Regents exams were scanned electronically and teachers were not allowed to regrade them. And amid criticism that schools “discharge” students improperly, the DOE began requiring stiffer documentation when schools want to discharge a student from their rolls.