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Published in Print: February 23, 2000, as New York Considers System For Rating Schools

New York Considers System For Rating Schools

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Following the lead of Texas and California, New York education officials are proposing to rate all schools on how well their students do in passing state tests.

Currently, New York state requires schools to distribute report cards that provide test results. But the proposed accountability scheme would go further by setting more precise state standards, which would then be used to rank schools at one of three levels starting next year.

As it does now, the state would identify low-performing schools, but designate them by the new phrase "furthest from standards." In addition, schools would be rated as "below standards" or "meeting standards." A fourth level, "exceeding standards" would be added in two years.

"It gives a more precise picture of school performance," said Roseanne DeFabio, the assistant state commissioner for curriculum, instruction, and assessment. "It will leave no question in anybody's mind what the state thinks is a good school and what is not good enough."

Other Big States Rate

If New York does adopt school ratings tied to more precise performance targets, it will join the ranks of the nation's three other most populous states—California, Texas, and Florida. The move also comes as more states consider beefing up their accountability systems.

"It reflects a broader national trend of going beyond putting test scores out there for parents to interpret as best they can,'' said Matthew Gandal, the director of the Washington office of Achieve Inc., a resource center on standards and accountability that was established by governors and business leaders. "States are exerting leadership and saying they're going to take responsibility for determining how good is 'good enough,' reporting it, and doing something about it."

Richard P. Mills

Under the New York proposal, schools with the "below standards" rating would be required to come up with an improvement plan approved by Commissioner of Education Richard P. Mills, much as the lowest-performing schools must do now. State education officials envision that schools with the "exceeding standards" label would be freed from some state regulations.

Criteria for the high school rankings would evolve as the state phases in its new, more challenging exit exams, starting with results on state English and mathematics exams and eventually focusing on graduation rates. Rankings for elementary and middle schools would likely hinge on student performance on English and mathematics tests in 4th and 8th grades.

Officials Changed Course

State officials initially floated a five-level rating plan, but settled on three levels for now. Florida recently adopted a five-level rating system for its schools, using the traditional report card letters of A, B, C, D, and F. The plan raised a ruckus among educators.

New York officials also steered clear of some of the controversial rewards and sanctions that other states have tied to their ratings. Failing schools in Florida, for instance, can see their students become eligible for state vouchers that allow them to leave for other public or private schools. In North Carolina, staff members at high-performing schools get cash bonuses. Schools there at the bottom of the heap are subject to reconstitution—a thorough staff shake-up—by the state.

New York has also decided against dividing students into racial, ethnic, or socioeconomic subgroups, and then expecting schools to ensure that members of those subgroups achieve the same test results as the student body as a whole. In Texas, that approach has been credited with helping to narrow achievement gaps between subgroups. New York officials said that while they are interested in focusing on subgroup performance, they do not yet have adequate technical means to do it.

The New York plan does call for recognizing "rapidly improving" schools that may not have reached the state targets but have made substantial progress toward them.

The state school board is expected to vote on the plan in May or June. In the meantime, many New York educators, and some state lawmakers, are responding warily, questioning whether the plan will accomplish more than the report cards have already.

Antonia Cortese, the first vice president of New York State United Teachers, said the American Federation of Teachers affiliate was concerned about the resources that would be available to schools that fell short of the standards. "After you have sliced and diced," she said, "have you done anything to improve student achievement?"

Vol. 19, Issue 24, Page 18

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