Tag Archives: college and career readiness

Does Inflating Regents Grades Help or Hinder Kids? Who Are the “Most Effective” Teachers? Demanding or Caring or Tough? Can Too Much Caring Hurt Kids?

I met a kid twenty years after he was in my high school class,

I asked, “Andrew, what do you remember?”

Andrew thought a while, “You kept your foot up my ass – I needed it.”

It is our job to challenge kids, to push them beyond where they think they can go … to expand the boundaries of their lives, to take them out of their comfort zones. At the end of a lesson as a kid was leaving the room he turned to me and said, “That was really hard.” I smiled. I was doing my job.

We win battles kid by kid, and, too many kids fall between the cracks and fall by the wayside. The poorer the zip code the lower the academic achievement, richer the zip code the higher the achievement.

The achievement gap in city schools persisted on high-stakes Regents exams in 2013, according to a Daily News analysis of state data.

Citywide, only 58% of black students passed the integrated algebra exam while 87% of their white classmates aced the test, State Education Department figures show. Hispanic students didn’t fare much better, with 61% passing the test. Records show 63% of students considered “economically disadvantaged” passed.

“The way it is now, your zip code defines your destiny,” said Ocynthia Williams, a parent organizer with the United Parents of Highbridge, a Bronx-based advocacy group. “It’s shameful and it’s really sad.”

The Urbanization Project conducted by Ingrid Gould Ellen, a scholar at NYU finds,

… a study of 3rd-8th grade NYC public school students, found that acute exposure to localized violent crime decreases standardized test scores in English and language arts for elementary school students.

Unfortunately for some school leaders and teachers a combination of fear of school closings and a misguided view of addressing the impact of poverty has led to giving students undeserved passing grades on Regent exams.

To address this widespread practice, and the foot dragging of the NYC Department of Education, the New York State Education Department (NYSED) instituted a policy that prohibited teachers form marking papers of students they taught and moved to a distributive scoring system – papers were scanned and teachers mark anonymous papers.

The NY Daily News reports,

A stunning 373 schools out of 490 saw their passing rates drop after new guidelines barred teachers from grading tests administered at their own school.

Overall, the number of students who failed English exams jumped from 27% in 2012 to 35% in 2013, a statistical leap not reflected in the other nine Regents subjects. At 73 schools the passing rate plummeted by more than 20 percentage points.

Educators admitted that grade inflation was rampant before the policy shift.

“Teachers know their students. Sometimes a bad grade means the student giving you hell again next year, or him not getting a scholarship,” said one teacher at a Brooklyn school.

“There’s a form of empathy coming out. Like, ‘Oh my God, there has to be another point in there! Let’s find it.’”

But teachers took exception to the notion that sympathetic in-house grading amounted to cheating. Rather, they said they are the best qualified to assess their students’ achievement.

Fear of grades of “D” and “F” on School Progress Reports unfortunately may have encouraged principals and teachers to “bend over backwards” to benefit kids. Sometimes teachers are too sympathetic, sometimes they “adjust” for the pathologies of poverty by “going the extra mile,” adding a few points here and there to get kids over the hump … to boost them to a grade of 65 on a crucial Regents Exam.

They are not doing the kid a favor.

The 2013 NYS College and Career Readiness Index of high school graduates finds only 12.5 % of Black students, 15.7% of Hispanic students and 7.3% of English language learner graduates were college and career ready. (The definition of college readiness is grades of 80 on the ELA Regents and 75% on the Math Regents).

The 2009 NYC Community College cohort only 23% of students were still registered after three years and 13.4% earned an associate degree. (See CUNY Retention Rates by college here)

Caring, dedicated sensitive teachers who are advocates for their students may also be their worst “friends.” It is difficult to maintain high standards, to cajole kids, to urge kids, to be tough and strong and demanding, yes, to keep “your foot up their butt,” not being a friend, not suffering from “liberal guilt,” may describe the best teachers.

Too many kids graduate and move on to college only to falter and drop out, kids in the same socio-economic bracket in other schools survive and prosper in college.

The difference: the quality of the instruction.

Demanding a kid write another draft versus “finding” a few points on a Regents Exam may be the difference between succeeding and failing in college.

Who Will Teach the Poor, the Kids Living in Shelters, in Foster Care …? How Can We Incentivize School Leaders and Teachers to Teach in the Most Challenging Schools?

I suspect they are, as do many public schools. The real question is what would it take to get schools to fight to recruit the hardest to educate youngsters? How would we need to adjust funding for such students, as well as school, principal and teacher accountability metrics?

Eric Nadelstern’s response to “Transparency Required: Are Charter Schools Dumping Struggling Kids into Public Schools?”

Principals understand that the path to success is recruiting kids with “3s and 4s” and avoiding kids with “1s and 2s.” The Department has made it easier – there are over 200 schools and programs that are screened, schools in which the principal can chose his/her kids. Beginning in the 70s the Board created an education option program, high schools, with the approval of the powers-that-be could create a school-within-a-school, a special program with screening requirements for applicants.

The Midwood High School screened Bio-Med program attracted students from across Brooklyn, in essence two schools in the school building, the Bio-Med ed option program and the remainder of the school. As ed option programs expanded across the city some were successful in attracting students while others could barely fill seats. The ofttimes demeaned Board of Education created a choice program within the frameworks of the system that created options for parents and competition among schools.

On the other hand an “unwritten” policy was a triage model – troublesome kids and less successful teachers were shunted to a few schools to “save” the others. Taft and Theodore Roosevelt in the Bronx were sacrificed so that other schools might survive – few did.

The Department of Education has expanded the screened options, there are currently over 200 screened schools and programs – most can be traced back to a political solution to an educational program. Active, knowledgeable parents appealed to Tweed, to local elected officials and community organizations to create a local screened program for their kids. There are pros and cons: a screened program keeps kids in local public school on the other hand distributes lower achieving kids frequently to schools with many other struggling kids.

A high ranking Department official was invited to an “A” school in Queens – he walked the corridors and saw classroom after classroom with teachers lecturing, an occasional question requiring a brief reply – very little student engagement. Using a Danielson rubric the classes would be at best minimally satisfactory. When the Department official expressed his concerns the principal smiled, “We have a high A on our Progress Report – why mess with success?”

Schools with “3s and 4s” were succeeding, as measured by Department metrics in spite of the quality of the instruction.

Closing schools are in high poverty neighborhoods, schools with higher percentages of kids in foster care or groups homes and kids who live in projects.

These additional challenges are not recognized by any evaluative metric. I suspect if we track kids from let’s say the fifth grade the lower achieving kids will end up in lower achieving schools and higher achieving kids in higher achieving schools.

From what I can observe this year the Department assigned Leadership Academy graduates to phase-out schools – the least experienced principals, frequently with limited teaching experience and no supervisory experience assigned to schools with the least successful students. A rather cynical recipe.

The macro-solution as espoused by David Kirp is school integration, in his New York Times opinion article Kirp argues,

Amid the ceaseless and cacophonous debates about how to close the achievement gap, we’ve turned away from one tool that has been shown to work: school desegregation … To the current reformers, integration is at best an irrelevance and at worst an excuse to shift attention away from shoddy teaching. But a spate of research says otherwise.

Between 1970 and 1990, the black-white gap in educational attainment shrank — not because white youngsters did worse but because black youngsters did better. Not only were they more successful in school, they were more successful in life as well. A 2011 study by the Berkeley public policy professor Rucker C. Johnson concludes that black youths who spent five years in desegregated schools have earned 25 percent more than those who never had that opportunity. Now in their 30s and 40s, they’re also healthier — the equivalent of being seven years younger.

Today schools are more segregated and the policy-makers have no interest in addressing school desegregation.

On the micro-front, in the New York City school system, how can we reverse the trend, how can we attract and reward the “best and the brightest” for both leading and working in the highest poverty school?

1. Change the school measuring metrics.

The current Progress Report metrics place schools in peer groups – schools compete against “similar schools,” the peer metrics are shallow metrics and the closing schools almost all are identified in the lowest achieving peer groups. We need more nuanced metrics that acknowledge that kids in foster care, in group homes, living in projects, are much more likely to struggle in school and to drop out. You cannot make zip code the most important determinant of school success.

2. A coordination of community social services and resources

In New York City the wide range of social services available to families are not school-centered, they are too frequently fragmented with different city agencies and programs dealing with the same families. The school must be the hub of the services and the range of service providers clustered around a school building. The Cincinnati Model is one approach. The City Council is currently funding a six school Community School cluster and the about to be approved State budget does create a funding stream. The new Mayor, whoever he or she may be must be committed to continuing, enlarging and embedding the concept. RFP for new round of Coummunity Schools here

3. Attracting school leadership and teachers.

The jewels in the crown of the Department, the leadership programs, are tarnished. The programs have failed to produce school leaders who can thrive in difficult settings. The Department proudly points to a school in an inner city community that is thriving; it is frequently a school that screens students. Bushwick Community High School, a transfer high school accepts students with zero credits, and has been on the “chopping block” for years. Both the city and the state, until recently, failed to understand that the school was not a failure, it was an outstanding success. It was only with the intervention of Brooklyn member of the Board of Regents Cashin and State Deputy Commissioner of Education Ira Schwartz, who included a special section in the NCLB Waiver, that the school’s mission is acknowledged.

School leaders who were highly effective teachers and assistant principals or coaches, working with inner city youth, not data nerds, are needed to lead schools with challenging populations. Bi-monthly computer assessments of student progress are not the answer to school success – a school leader who is respected by the community – students and parents – is much more likely to change outcomes.

Yes, we can debate the lack of school racial integration, point to the re-segregation of schools and communities, there seems to be little appetite for creating proposed solutions – we can implement policies to support students and families in the poorest neighborhoods, policies that will invigorate and encourage, we can remove the specter of school closings and assess schools in a more meaningful way – accept the challenges and create metrics that do not doom schools from the onset.

The current system discourages school leaders from accepting “difficult” assignments and convinces teachers to flee. An NYU Study,

Among middle school teachers who entered their school during the last decade, more than half left that school within three years—significantly higher than the rates seen for elementary and high school teachers. Of the teachers who leave, most exit the NYC public school system altogether and only about 1 in 10 transition to another grade 6-8 school
The punitive PARCC assessments, the lure of online courses, plans written in the aeries of Albany will not impact the streets of East New York and Buffalo, local policies that support school leaders and teachers, mayors and superintendents and union leaders and community leaders creating a synergy, creating paths to “college and career readiness,” better known as a job., is what is needed.

It all comes down to, “Coach says I gotta pass the math test before I can practice with the basketball team – I’m not only going to pass it – I’m going to ace it.”

Are School Progress Reports a Helpful Tool or a Hammer to Close Schools?

The department used to believe that the best way to roll out “new things” was with a roll of drums and flourishes. Hundreds of us were sitting in an auditorium in Long Island City and listening to Chancellor Klein try and motivate the audience: the topic was an explanation of the new School Progress Reports.

Jim Leibman, the former Accountability czar moved from room to room explaining the new grades A to F Progress Reports.

My notes are clear.

A = 5%

B = 10%

C = 70%

D = 10%

F = 5%

The “grades” would reflect a normal (or Gaussian) distribution, i. e., abell-shaped curve, which is expressed as,

A normal distribution is often used as a first approximation to describe real-valued random variables that cluster around a single mean value … The normal distribution is considered the most prominent probability distribution in statistics.”

Over the six years of School Progress Reports it was essential for the department to show “progress,” and the normal distribution curve morphed into a subjective judgment and the inflation of grades.

Among all City schools that received grades this year, including early childhood, elementary, K-8, middle, high, District 75, transfer schools, and Young Adult Borough Centers, the grade distribution was: 28 percent As, 36 percent Bs, 28 percent Cs, 6 percent Ds, and 2 percent Fs.

That’s right, 72% of high schools and 64% of all schools received grades of “A” or “B.” Not exactly a normal distribution curve.

See department description of methodology here.

Check out all schools on a spreadsheet here.

There is a problem: the New York State Education Department has developed a “college and career readiness” index that is not encouraging.

The new statistics, part of a push to realign state standards with college performance, show that only 23 percent of students in New York City graduated ready for college or careers in 2009

The School Progress Report/State Education Department college readiness metric mismatch is distressing.

What is even more distressing is a close look at the school by geographic area

District 2 (Central Manhattan)

A – 25

B – 17

C – 9

D – 4

F – 1

A single school district with far fewer students has many more schools and 75% of high schools received grades of “A and “B”

District 13, 16, 17 and 19 (Bedford Stuyvesant, Crown Heights and East New York) with many more students has far fewer schools and fewer percentages of schools with higher grades.

A – 10

B – 17

C – 9

D – 4

F – 1.

Is it the quality of the teachers? The principals? Or, maybe the levels of poverty? Why is central Manhattan filled with new(er) high schools and an entire swath of Brooklyn has far few(er) high schools?

The Progress Reports should provide information that enable schools to target professional development and specific cohorts of students within a school. The two hundred plus fully screened schools, schools that select their student bodies, are almost all “A” and “B” schools. The “D” and “F” schools cluster in the highest poverty zip codes.

Principals have a laser focus on their progress grades – not improving instruction, in high schools that means accumulating credits and passing regents exams and offering “college level” courses. An online newspaper reports that a Bronx principal does not offer English or Mathematics in the 11th grade so that he can offer “electives” to his most able kids – he’s trying to inflate his Progress Report grade – even if it means harming kids.

FDNY School for Fire & Life Safety (Brooklyn) got a B and not a single graduate earned a Regents diploma or met CUNY’s basic standards.

Data is important, data can provide us with information to guide policies, data as a stick to whip schools, teachers and families is a failed policy.

A principal, “I asked around and found a support organization that taught how to increase my grade – it has nothing to with instruction – just data manipulation – survival is the primary rule.”

Although we hear a drumbeat of “college and career readiness” we rarely hear a discussion of what the term means! David Conley is the leading authority; watch a U-Tube of a panel from June, 2012, at which Conley discussed college and career readiness in detail,

College readiness is not just grades on regents exams, Conley explains,

We describe skills in four categories—think, know, act, go. The more of these skills that a student has, the more post-secondary options are available:

  • Key cognitive      strategies (think): problem solving strategies, conducting research,      interpreting results, and constructing quality work products.
  • Key Content      Knowledge (know): structure of knowledge in core subjects, the value of      career related knowledge and willingness to expend effort to get it.
  • Key Learning      skills and techniques (act): ownership of learning, and learning      techniques such as time management, note taking, memorizing, strategic      reading, and collaborative learning.
  • Key transition      knowledge and skills (go): post-secondary aspirations and norms, awareness      of postsecondary costs and aid opportunities, knowledge of eligibility and      admissions criteria, career awareness, role and identity, and      self-advocacy.

Progress reports do not examine whether students have acquired “problem solving skills, conducting research, interpreting results or constructing quality work product.” The State and District leaders will tell you that the new Common Core-referenced exams will test these skills.

Only if the curriculum address these skills, oh, what curriculum? Neither State Ed nor the City has produced curriculum.

There are schools in which the school leaders and teachers are engaged in a teaching/learning process that reflects (“thinking, knowing, acting and going”) – too few.

Whether it was intended or not the Progress Report, the A-F Report Card is used to bash teachers and close schools. We have the ability (check out “big data“) to track results in real time, not wait for the end year summative assessment.

Maybe Leonard Cohen has it right: the dice are loaded.