“How Am I Doin’?”: A Plea for an Impartial Agency to Evaluate Student Performance Data.

In the private sector we evaluate the performance of corporations through reliance on generally agreed upon accounting principles, transparency, a host of rules and regulations and strictly enforced statutes.

Evaluating performance in schools is a totally different story.

One of the primary purposes of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) is to establish a “generally agreed upon” metric for school performance. Unfortunately NCLB is too zip code driven – the only metric that counts of moving students to “proficiency,” and the rate of movement is set by each individual state.

Increasingly states, and maybe in the reauthorization of NCLB, we are looking at a different way of evaluating student progress, that is called value-added, the improvement in student performance regardless of zip code.

In grades 3-8 the metric is a standardized test. In my view looking beyond how many kids are moved from Level 2 to Level 3 (proficiency)) but looking at the average growth of all the kids in a school makes sense.

While Klein and friends tout improvements in grades 3 – 8 others  are far more critical pointing out that some progress predates Klein and other improvement is across the state and probably due to an easier test.

Tweed however has flacked improvement in graduation rates: the result, says Tweed, of the rapid expansion of small high schools.

In 2000 the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation provided hundreds of millions of dollars across the country to create small high schools. The movement to close low performing high schools and create a campus of small high schools predates Klein – it began in the late eighties and continued in the Chancellor’s High School District. However, the Gates dollars, called the New Century High School Initiative (NCHSI) accelerated the closing of large schools and the creation of smaller high schools. The result was the “deflection” of students, including Special Ed and ELL students, who initially were not accepted by the small high schools. The resultant overcrowding only accelerated the problems in large high schools. All of this is recounted in a thoughtful study by the teacher’s union.

In June Tweed proudly announced significant jumps in graduation rates, especially in small high schools and gleefully patted themselves on back.

Are they right?

 The City University, the destination of most NYC college bound kids uses a college readiness metric for admission to four year CUNY colleges. It is commonplace for high schools to have college readiness rates for graduates that are 30%, 40% and 50% below graduation rates. Couple this with significant college freshman dropout rates  and we have to question the touted graduation rates.

Why are college readiness rates so far below graduation rates?

The answer: there is no accountability in the current NYC high school world.

Are schools granting credits appropriately? Should teachers be grading their own student’s Regents? Is there a review of Regents scoring? Does the Department vigorously pursue accusations of malfeasance in grading, and is the “new thing,” Credit Recovery, a valid method of students accumulating credits, or a sham? Who monitors “Credit Recovery” programs?

The bottom line is that if the same rules that applied to profit-loss statements in the private sector were applied to measuring graduation rates in NYC high schools we’d have to build more jails.

As the NYS Legislature begins to look at what follows mayoral control they should consider a non-partisan, outside scholarly agency whose role would be to analyze school data and produce regular, transparent reports.

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