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.