October 1, 2012
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.
It is possible that more schools than usual will start the first phase of the closure process, called “early engagement,” this year, Chief Academic Officer Shael Polakow-Suransky told reporters during a briefing about the progress reports today. But he said most schools with middling progress report scores would not need to worry.
“Early engagement is still going to be a significantly smaller subset of these schools,” he said. “There are triple C’s in this group that I’m not really worried about… that are nowhere near the point where we would consider them for closure.”
Progress report grades are a big factor in the city’s school closure decisions. But officials also take into account the schools’ enrollment data, safety data, and leadership quality, and other department accountability metrics.
The progress reports have drawn criticism for their complex and ever-changing algorithms and for sometimes awarding low scores to top schools and high scores to schools not considered desirable. But Polakow-Suransky said the reports have grown more sophisticated and accurate as the city has devised new ways to judge schools, such as by awarding them extra credit for helping high-needs students boost their test scores.
He touted this year’s adjustments, which include a new score for middle school students’ pass rates in core courses, and noted that most schools’ letter grades didn’t change much: 86 percent of schools received the same rating as last year or rose or fell by just one letter grade.
Tallying middle school students’ course passing rates allowed city officials to identify “a handful” of schools that had much higher pass rates in core subjects than on standardized tests.
“In the ones that we found, there really was grade inflation,” he said. “The standards were off in those schools and they needed a reality check.”
Department officials could not immediately provide a list of those schools, but Polakow-Suransky said the schools’ progress reports were adjusted so they were not unduly rewarded for having high course pass rates.
“This is the balancing act that is challenging around measuring school performance,” he said. “There’s always a risk when there’s data that doesn’t have the security of a standardized exam that this can happen.”
One metric that was not factored into the reports this year, but is set to be included next year, was a look at how each middle school’s recent graduates are faring in high school. The data, culled from the city’s “Where Are They Now?” reports that track student cohorts over several years, appeared on this year’s reports in a non-graded form.
Overall, of the 1,193 schools to receive grades for last year, 304 schools received an A, 421 received a B, 365 received a C, 80 received a D, and 23 received an F. Principals of A-rated schools receive bonuses of $5,000 to $25,000.
As has always been the case, Queens schools scored the highest, on average, compared to other boroughs. In a PowerPoint presentation delivered to reporters, department officials also called attention to the scores of charter schools and the 250 elementary and middle schools opened under the Bloomberg administration. Both beat the city average, the department noted.
Several charter school networks, including Democracy Prep and Success Academies, sent press releases touting their progress report scores. And in a statement, James Merriman, CEO of the New York City Charter School Center, celebrated the 45 charter schools that scored A’s, calling them ”another sign that charters are making tremendous progress,” in a statement. Seven of the top 15 schools were charter schools.
“We hope they will share their lessons broadly to help make every public school great,” he said. The statement also touted the charter schools’ performance on one piece of the progress report: student growth. About a third of city charter schools earned A’s in that section, compared to 16 percent of schools citywide.
Teachers union officials did not comment on the progress reports this year, though in the past they have criticized the reports for their heavy emphasis on test scores and for not offering principals strategies to improve their schools. Instead, the union shared a table of data from the reports showing that several of the highest-performing charter schools had very high suspension and student attrition rates. The officials said those schools were at an advantage because many students who would post low test scores leave instead, the officials said.
Union officials also noted that several other high-scoring charter schools are new and do not yet have students in all grades.