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Not happy with one school grade? Have two!

Written by Admin Friday, 14 December 2007 09:14

Just what we need -- another school grading system! The Sun reports today that the state has developed a "growth model" method of evaluating schools that, like the progress reports, depends heavily on year-to-year improvement in student performance.

The new reports, already under development, will go online just as soon as Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings approves it. It will be interesting to see whether the state's reports will have the same flaws as the city's progress reports, or whether state education officials will learn from the brouhaha over the progress reports and improve upon the city's model.

Earn an A for your progress reports proficiency

Written by Admin Thursday, 13 December 2007 12:56

Think you know everything there is to know about the progress reports? Take Columbia University's Teachers College quiz to find out for sure.

Celia Oyler, the professor who wrote the quiz, doesn't try to hide her disdain for the reports. Here's the extra credit question:

Since these school grades are: so expensive to produce; not based on many important aspects of what many educators and parents consider central aspects of schooling; do not take into account multiple measures of student progress and school quality; do not take into account standard statistical measures of error; and are based predominantly (in elementary and middle schools) on state tests not designed to be used to make year-to-year comparisons of student growth, why are these school grades being used by the Bloomberg/Klein administration?

Administrators: Give good grades -- or else!

Written by Admin Thursday, 13 December 2007 07:26

Two news stories today about grading improprieties remind us of the unintended consequences of placing high stakes on tests and scores.

At Central Park East High School, Principal Bennett Lieberman is under fire for a memo he sent to his staff calling for teachers to hand out higher grades, telling them, "If you are not passing more than 65% of your students in a class, then you are not designing your expectations to meet their abilities." Teachers and students are upset, and Deborah Meier, a founder of the school who now works as an education professor and activist, hypothesized in the Daily News that Lieberman's memo was a response to the progress reports, which give credit to high schools based on how many classes students pass.

Also, Yoav Gonen reports in the Post on the investigation of a cheating scandal at Wagner High School on Staten Island, where an assistant principal engineered an attempt to artificially raise students' scores on June 2006 Regents exams. The report of investigators recommends that the assistant principal, who is now an AP at MS 88 in Brooklyn, be fired, but Wagner Principal Gary Giordano, now the AP's husband, will go almost entirely unscathed. The Post bills the story as an exclusive, but the most recent edition of New York Teacher, the UFT's newspaper, has more details about the testing improprieties, as well as other allegations of wrongdoing against Giordano.

There have always been corrupt administrators, but as pressure to improve performance ratchets up even more, I think we can assume we will see more incidents like these.

A few days ago, walking to the train after an NYC Student Union meeting with some of my fellow students, it struck me to ask, Why has the debate on the NYC DOE's progress report program garnered so much attention? Why have so many newspaper articles been written on it, so many people been riled up about it? It's just a silly report card program, right? Aren't there so many important issues out there?

Well, yes and no.

While there are more urgent issues facing our schools, especially class size, this issue gains its importance because it very thoroughly defines the main theme of Klein/Bloomberg's tenure running our schools: The Search for Results. Under this administration and probably in many other school systems around the country, the focus of broad educational policy is measurable results. These results set the agenda for individual schools and school systems as a whole.

Hopefully, all of us witnessing and participating in this event can use what has transpired in New York as a learning experience on the short-term future of American education politics. Since the first school Progress Reports were released, many education advocacy groups have viciously attacked the DOE, alleging that the reports are a waste of money and encourage a culture of constant test prep.

Many of these attacks have been directed at DOE accountability czar James Liebman. I personally feel that these were uncalled for. The man is trying to create a system that brings a measure of accountability, transparency and, most important, attention to our schools. In that third category, Liebman has unquestionably succeeded.

The progress report debate has brought education issues into the public eye more than any other issue this year. It has stayed in the paper and on the minds of parents, politicians and plain old people. It has inspired questions to be asked and answers to given and has gotten more people thinking about their schools. Without the letter grade, bold and big in the top left hand corner of the progress report (the main qualm for some anti-report card activists), this would have been a non-story and no change would have come of it.

If there's one thing I would like to put out there before the debate begins to die down it is this: The report cards are not inherently evil. They are flawed, but their spirit is important and good. For my school's SLT at least, our Progress Report has given us important information about what can be improved in our schools and has forced us to develop strategies to deal with the areas in which we did not do as well. Hopefully, the progress reports also got more parents informed about what's going on in their children's schools and inspired them to take some action.

As I said, however, the report cards are flawed. Last week several reps from NYCSU went to meet with Mr. Liebman to explain our grievances about the current progress reports. In my next post, I will describe them.

Cross-posted on the NYC Students Blog

School opening news: A bumper crop of charters to open in 2008

Written by Admin Wednesday, 12 December 2007 13:29

This past spring, when the state lifted the cap on the number of allowed charter schools, you could hear prospective school operators salivating. Now some of the first charters have been granted under the new cap.

Eight schools chartered by SUNY will open in the fall; all are part of existing networks of charter schools. There will be a new Achievement First school in Brownsville, a Carl C. Icahn school in Far Rockaway, an Uncommon Schools middle school in Brooklyn, and three replicas of the Harlem Success Academy Charter School in Manhattan. That represents a 300 percent expansion of Eva Moskowitz's charter school, which opened in 2006. And of course the UFT-endorsed Green Dot charter high school, based on the model out of Los Angeles, will open somewhere in the Bronx.

And while I can't find evidence that the DOE has actually granted charters yet for next year, this summer it did invite a number of schools to submit full charter applications for the fall of 2008, and at least a few of those are now hiring. It looks like the DOE is more comfortable with home-grown charters than the state; many of the proposals it requested came from individuals or community-based organizations.

School closing news: Canarsie added to list

Written by Admin Wednesday, 12 December 2007 09:02

Teachers, administrators, and students at Canarsie High School got the news they feared earlier this week: the Department of Education will phase Canarsie out because of its consistently poor performance. It won't accept any new 9th graders in the fall of 2008, and the last seniors will graduate in 2011. Presumably, new small schools will open in the Canarsie building.

With the school scoring an "F" on its progress report and an "undeveloped" rating on its Quality Review, its demise seemed inevitable. But a teacher told the Daily News that news of the closing "came as a shock to everyone," and a Daily News article last week described the school's attempts to stop its doors from closing. Administrators planned to ramp up the level of academic work and tighten security this spring, saying, "We won't go down without a fight." Teachers told the Daily News that they think Principal Tyona Washington is receptive to change -- but she's also experienced in ushering troubled schools to their deaths; after graduating from the Leadership Academy, she was principal of IS 390 in Brooklyn for its final year.

This week, G&T presentations in other languages

Written by Admin Tuesday, 11 December 2007 15:09

There are only two more nights, but you should still know that this week the DOE is holding presentations about the new Gifted & Talented admissions policy in the seven languages for which the DOE provides translation services. Tomorrow there will be presentations in Haitian Creole, Bengali, and Russian; on Thursday, Bengali and Spanish. Share this news with your school and families who might want to attend the forums, and see the Insideschools calendar for details about locations.

Unfortunately, the Arabic and Chinese presentations were tonight, as was the single presentation in the Bronx, but families should be able to get their questions answered in their own language by calling their District Family Advocate.

Advocates for Children, Insideschools' parent organization, has just released a report about the status of overage, under-credited kids — of which there are about 138,000 — in the reorganized DOE. The policy brief, "Dead Ends: The Need for More Pathways to Graduation for Overage Under-Credited Students in New York City," says that despite the creation of the Office of Multiple Pathways to Graduation, which incubates programs to serve older students, and the addition of new transfer schools in District 79, many older students are still without options. In particular, many of the new transfer schools require students to be able to graduate in two years or to have a certain number of credits before enrolling; young adults who never accumulated any credits are shut out of these programs.

AFC's report also discusses the ability of the DOE's programs to meet the special needs of English language learners, students in special education, and pregnant and parenting teens, whose special programs were closed this year. AFC found that more than half of Young Adult Borough Centers don't offer adequate services for at least one of those needy groups.

This may be the worst time of year for New Yorkers to stop by Rockefeller Center, but the million dollars in pennies that the city's schoolchildren raised this fall looks like it's worth the hassle. Penny Harvest has been going on for 16 years, but this year Common Cents, the organization that runs it, commissioned a "field" to showcase all of the pennies and raise awareness about the program. I think it's working — at least partially — because last night a friend in Chicago called me to ask what was the deal was with the giant pile of pennies next to the Christmas tree.

At each school, students work together to decide where to donate their pennies. As Jennifer Freeman pointed out last week, the experience of giving at school can be a great way to teach kids about thoughtful, deliberate philanthropy — and to make the point in a visually powerful way that every little bit counts when it comes to helping others.

“Did you get anything back?’’I posed this question to my 7th-grade son the other day. I hated the nagging tone of my voice. I’m sure he did too. After all, I’m constantly asking how he did on the math test, the science project, the Spanish quiz.

Wouldn’t it be better if I asked, “Did you learn anything interesting today?’’

Why do I care so much? Because 7th grade counts for high school admission, and the grades you get do have an impact. After that, grades affect what college you get into.

It’s an endless cycle of evaluation. And last month, some staff members at Institute for Collaborative Education, a well respected middle and high school in Manhattan, decided to offer a way out.

After a staff meeting where teachers spent “about two straight hours contemplating and debating about grades,’’ 6th grade parents received a letter offering a chance to “opt-out’’ of receiving letter grades — while still receiving detailed narratives at the end of each cycle, along with time to conference with the teachers.

“To us, the goal of education is to foster a sense of curiosity in the students, to encourage them to explore the world around and try to find ways to make it better,’’ the memo said. “Too many times, education boils down to competition for the best letter grade. And this should not be what education is all about.’’

An interesting take at a time when schools in the city are being awarded controversial letter grades, a concept I totally disagree with.

It's different, though, when it comes to your own kid. I broached the idea of no grades with my 7th grader, who does not go to ICE but wished he did the minute I told him about the “opt-out” plan.

Possibly, he just liked the idea of not hearing my voice at the end of the day: “Did you get anything back? What did you get?’’

I can’t say I blame him, although I’m still conflicted here. As I search for a middle school for my 5th grade son, I love the idea of telling him that grades – and test scores – really don’t matter, as long as he is trying his hardest and doing his best.

Except it wouldn’t really be true, would it?