Tag Archives: progress reports

Should Poverty Be Acknowledged in Measures of School Accountability? If We Acknowledge Poverty How Do We Avoid a Two-Track System?

After my last blog, “Superintendents? Networks?” Eric Nadelstern, the former # 2 at the Department posted a commented:

The structure/plan issue is putting the cart before the horse.

The issue should be less which management structure and more what is the Mayor/Chancellor prepared to be held accountable for around student achievement. Once that is clearly defined, then perhaps, they can figure out how to get there.

Eric is correct, up to a point, the core question is accountability, and how do we define it? How do we measure it? How do we use it to improve schools?

About ten years ago I sat in a classroom in Long Island City and listened to Jim Leibman, the Klein accountability czar (and a law professor at Columbia) explain the school progress report accountability metric… Over the years the plan bobbed and weaved as it was used more for political ends than educational ends.

For a time I worked on a team to improve struggling schools, part of the “answer” was better data management: carefully checking long term absences and finding totally legitimate ways of turning them into “good” discharges resulted in higher graduation rates, and, small high schools with smart school support structures improved, well, improved their data and their Progress Report score.

The new administration has made changes to the school accountability system – the creation of Quality Snapshots for parents and Quality Guides for schools. See a sample of a Quality Guide for middle schools here
Almost all the schools in Brownsville and East New York received grades of “C,” “D.” or “F” while all the schools in Bayside in Queens received grades of “A” or “B.” Were the Bayside kids smarter? Or richer? Or whiter? Were the Bayside principals and teachers better teachers? If we switched teachers from Bayside to Brownsville would they take their school’s progress report score with them?

A large high school in Queens received an “A” and if you wandered around the school you would see mediocre instruction, teachers lecturing and kids writing notes, very little interaction. In an elementary school deep in the poorest section of the Bronx, classroom after classroom of deeply engaged kids, excellent instruction, and no progress on state tests: which school is “better”?

Closed schools are almost entirely in the poorest sections of the city.

Will the new Quality Guides produce different results than the letter grades Reports?

A touchy question: should poverty be taken into account in defining and measuring student progress?

On November 6th the Center for New York City Affairs at the New School will release a report entitled, “A Better Picture of Poverty: What Chronic Absenteeism and Risk Load Reveal About NYC’s Lowest Income Elementary Schools.” Utilizing research from the Chicago Consortium on School Research and sociologist William Julius Wilson the report identifies “truly disadvantaged schools,” and creates a new metric, “total risk load,” eighteen factors that are high predictors of chronic absenteeism and Common Core scores, and, progress report grades.

Total risk load factors include: male unemployment, housing project and shelters in school catchment zone, adult education levels, poverty rates, principal, teacher and student turnover rates, student suspensions, special education and others.

Should we use the “total risk load” factor in assessing student progress?

The MRDC Small School paper praises the initiative, small high schools outperformed large high schools, Diane Ravitch posts a response from a department insider challenging the findings, and, I ask, was the small schools initiative an example of a more effective school structure or social capital sorting?

If we acknowledge race and class in an accountability system aren’t we creating a race-based two track system? We’re not going to create an Algebra 1 for poor kids, at some point progress must lead to on track.

What happens to the “struggling schools” if they don’t show progress?

Mayor de Blasio called our attention to “a tale of two cities,” how do we address the issue within the school system? Can we create a nuanced accountability system that measures progress and acknowledges the challenges of poverty?

Nadelstern avers accountability must be “clearly defined,” he’s absolutely right, and, until it is the de Blasio/Farina leadership will lack credibility.


Separating the Wheat from the Chaff: Which Bloomberg Policies Should Stay and Which Go?

Mayor de Blasio selected a well-respected educator with decades of experience in the NYC school system, who, in turn promoted another long time NYC educator as her deputy and one of the senior high school principals to a key role. The mayor and the chancellor introduced the new hires at a principal’s meeting of the CSA, the supervisors’ union, and, announced principal candidates must have at least seven years of New York City experience to be eligible.

The mayor is currently examining the rushed decision of the prior administration to co-locate charter schools scheduled to open in September, 2014, in public school buildings.

Other major structural decisions will be on the table:

Should schools continue to be organized in the current system, non-contiguous, affinity clusters, called networks, geographic, contiguous districts, or some other configuration?

Principals are sharply divided with the principals who are satisfied with the network structure arguing to retain the structure. The teacher union supports a return to geographic districts led by a superintendent.

The current system, almost sixty networks is made of about 25 schools per network. The network vision statement, number and location of schools can be found here. Network leaders are evaluated annually by Progress Reports and Quality Review data, principal satisfaction surveys and the evaluations are public – see 2011-12 network evaluations here. The Department defends the network structure here as well as defining the roles and integration of networks/superintendents.

The Department also employees 32 Community Superintendents and 9 high school superintendents, the superintendents are required by state law and are the rating officer for principals; however, day-to-day school support is the responsibility of the networks.

A major flaw in the system, according to the critics of the network structure, is that principals are basically freed from day-to-day supervision. From the union perspective this leads to endless abuses, large numbers of grievances that should have been resolved by a phone call from a superintendent. The abuses at PS 106Q, the NY Post calls , “the School of No,” is a prime example, the absence of a superintendent with the authority to influence day-to-day operations resulted in too many instances of both abusive and ineffective principals. The only actual “supervision” are the data – the student test core-based Progress Report and the one-day Quality Review walk-through.

On the other hand principals cringe at the thought of the micro-managing superintendents of yore. “His office would storm through my building directing me to do this and that – it was stultifying – decisions must be made by teachers and principals at the school – not from some distant office. We know what’s best for our students.”

Passions are high.

Continuing the practice of principals’ “evaluating” the level of support from networks could be expanded to the role of superintendents, as well as involving teachers in the process – if collaboration is a goal, perhaps frame assessment questions around the level of collaboration at both the school and the district level.

Other principals, in transfer high schools, in schools with total English language learner populations, are currently in the same networks – schools with similar challenges, it would sense to continue to cluster these schools.

This is not as headline-grabbing as co-location of charter schools; however, the decision will impact every school in the city

How will the new administration deal with School Closings, School Choice and Progress Reports?

School closings is not a Bloomberg invention, the Department has been closing schools since the late eighties, almost all low performing high schools, Andrew Jackson, Erasmus, Eastern District, George Washington, Taft, Theodore Roosevelt and others were all closed and replaced by small high schools before Bloomberg. Why no screams from the union and the public? Teachers who were displaced from closing schools either ended up in the replacement small schools or in another school. The current system of forcing teachers to find their own job or idling away their time moving from school to school in the Absent Teacher Reserve (ATR) pool only began in 2005. The Bloomberg/Klein regency ratcheted up the school closings to include elementary and middle schools.

In the 80’s and 90’s the schools chosen for closing were among the lowest performing in the state. The Bloomberg/Klein policy closed schools as rapidly as possible – closing some schools that clearly were on the way to turnaround, Park West had already adopted the John Hopkins Talent Development Model and the state wrote a glowing report – too bad – the Manhattan location was too valuable and too much in demand by the small high school advocacy organizations.

Federal law and dense state regulations require that schools are identified for intervention – focus schools (bottom 15%), priority schools (bottom 10%) and persistently lowest achieving (bottom 5%). The state uses an algorithm – a Diagnostic Tool for School and District Effectiveness – site visits to the 700 schools in the focus, priority and PLA groupings. If a school fails to show progress the state must intervene – with school closing as the last step. This year the legally required time frame has passed – no schools will be closed in 9/14.

The Progress Report, the A – F grading system does not provide any surprises – most of the school grade is based on test scores and/or credit accumulation – the “C” “D” and “F” schools cluster in high poverty neighborhoods and the “A” and “B” schools in the more middle class neighborhoods. The Reports contain considerable disaggregated test score data – not helpful to a parent – and usually tells the school what it already knows; “smarter” principals target particular cohorts of kids to increase their grade (the extra credit categories), management of data over increasing instructional skills.

If you abandon the A – F grades, what is the replacement? What metrics do you use? Do you decrease the achievement emphasis and increase the growth emphasis? Under that system a low achieving, high growth school in Brownsville might get an “A” and a high achieving, low growth fully screened school a “C.” imagine the screams … Interestingly the state has not released data on teacher evaluation scores by district wealth, i. e., do high wealth districts have a higher percent of “highly effective” teachers and do low wealth districts a higher percent of “ineffective” or “developing” teachers?

Complex decisions that are better discussed openly – the best decisions are made in a transparent environment.

There is a tendency – more than a tendency – an obsession to rid the system of everything “Bloomberg,” without an assessment of the value of the idea/plan/initiative. Let’s not fool ourselves: in 2001, the year of Bloomberg’s election there were many, many high schools with graduation rates in the 30 – 40% range using the low skilled Regents Competency Diploma. As an example Taft had five, not 5%, five kids who graduated with a Regents diploma. The closing and the conversion of large high schools to “small schools of choice” has resulted in higher graduation rates and larger percentages of kids moving on to college.

The MDRC Study supports that “small schools of choice” (SSC) are showing better results that the large high schools. (non SSC high schools).

Jim Kemple, the leader of the NYC Research Alliance, in the The Condition of New York City High Schools: Examining Trends and Looking Toward the Future, 2013 (http://media.ranycs.org/2013/004)

...reports steady improvement across many indicators of high school performance and engagement, including attendance, credit accumulation, graduation, and college readiness rates. The paper highlights stubborn gaps in performance as well—between groups of students, and between current achievement levels and the aspirations that the public and school leaders have for New York City high schools.

Multiple schools in a building present management issues, commonly four, five or six schools in a building may also have three or four support organizations, leading to endless conflicts. Other schools have well organized campus councils with a wide range of campus-wide activities. SSC allow for personalization, teachers and administrations get to know every kid – kids don’t get lost as they commonly do in a 2-3,000 student school.

The “choice” element of Small Schools of Choice means that if you live a block away from a school you have no better chance of attending the school than any other kid in the city. The SSC program is the antithesis of a community school; schools should be part of a community – not an alien island in a neighborhood. Every school should have a geographic zone; neighborhood schools should give neighborhood kids a priority, as well as reserving seats for other kids.

The Bloomberg gamebook has created over two hundred screened programs – principals select kids – skimming the more able kids – the “3” and “4” kids further disadvantaging the remainder of schools. Scholar’s Academy, a 1200-seat fully screened 6-12 schools, located in Rockaway, is 39% white, 23% Asian and 15% Hispanic with less than 1% Special Education, other schools in Rockaway are all Black and Hispanic with between 15 % and 25% Special Education – you can find similar configurations around many screened programs.

de Blasio will have a major decision – does he continue supporting schools/program that segregate students by race, ethnic and ability, or, risk alienating whiter and more active parents by curtailing screened schools?

Hopefully his decisions will be better than his decision today to keep schools open.

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.