The A-to-F letter grades on the city's 2010-2011 Progress Reports for high schools are as confusing as ever but don't dismiss the reports as useless. There's a ton of interesting information if you dig deep into the reports, now available on the Department of Education website.
New this year are measures to show whether each school is adequately preparing students for college. This isn't included in the school's final grade because it's so new, but it's an important number to watch. That's because so many schools have been graduating kids with the bare minimum high school requirements--setting them up to fail in higher education. For example, the Urban Assembly School for Media Studies in the Martin Luther King building got an "A" on its Progress Report because it graduated more kids on time--72%--than other schools with kids who entered high school with similar skills. But only 4% graduated with Regents scores high enough to avoid remediation at CUNY, according to its Progress Report.
Another number to watch is attendance. If a school has poor attendance and a high Progress Report grade, it's worth asking how the school is graduating kids who aren't showing up. For example, the same school, Urban Assembly School for Media Studies has an attendance rate of 80%, well below the citywide average.
The Progress Reports do a good job of rewarding schools that serve large numbers of students who are learning English or who receive special education services. Indeed, many of the top ranked schools, such as Brooklyn International, It Takes a Village Academy, and Manhattan Bridges, serve new immigrants exclusively.
It's certainly fair to give a tip of the hat to schools that do a good job with special populations. The problem is that the Department of Education uses the same yardstick to measure all schools. Is it really fair to rank Food and Finance High School-- a small school that prepares students to become cooks--above Townsend Harris High School--an academically demanding high school that sends nearly all its students to college? Wouldn't it be better to say both schools serve their students well?
The DOE points out in its press release that, in general, new small high schools created since 2002 perform better than older established schools with no entrance requirements. Among the schools receiving failing grades were Lehman and DeWitt Clinton, historically popular choices for Bronx residents which are now at risk for closure. What the reports don't show, however, is that both these giant schools had to absorb many additional students when other large nearby high schools were shuttered for poor performance. The new small schools simply couldn't absorb all students.
In total, 14 schools received a grade of F. They include both large and small schools, a few of which are new such as Manhattan Theatre (founded in 2004) and Gotham Professional Arts Academy (2007). (Schools don't receive a grade until they have a graduating class.) Three large career and tech schools also got Fs: Jane Addams, Dodge, and Graphic Communication Arts.
In contrast, 128 schools received an A. For more information, and to find your school's report, see the DOE's website.