Education Opinion

Addendum to NYC Grades Entry

By Diane Ravitch — November 14, 2007 1 min read
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Dear Deb,

I must add two points to my blog about the letter grades handed out to New York City public schools last week.

As I said in my original post, the formula was complex but heavily dependent on how students did on the state tests. Eighty-five percent of the letter grade (and remember that each school was given only a single letter grade, not a report card with a variety of grades) was based on these test scores, a combination of “performance” and “progress.” Some very reputable, high-performing schools got a low mark because the proportion of students who passed the test was lower this year than in the previous year (say, from 90 percent passing to 84 percent, still an incredible mark in this city). I erred, though, as a reader pointed out in one of the comments, in saying that the other 15 percent was based on the school “environment,” as evaluated by outsiders. In fact, the 15 percent was based on surveys sent to parents, teachers, and surveys. The response rate to these surveys was very low, in many schools below 10 percent. So, how valid these surveys are in assessing the quality of each school is not clear.

A second point that I should have mentioned was that each school was judged in relation to 40 schools considered demographically similar. This was another reason why, in some cases, a well-regarded school ended up with a low score and a very low-performing school ended up with an A or B. In a similar schools analysis, some schools identified by the state as “failing” received high marks because they were compared to other schools that were also low- performing.

As I said, it is a very complex formula, and many people are unhappy with the results. It is hard to explain how a school that was honored last year as the best middle school in the city got a D or why a school that parents clamor to get their children into got a B or C. Author (and former teacher) Dan Brown pointed out in an article in Sunday’s New York Post (and on the Huffington Post) that some of the schools labeled “persistently dangerous” by the state earned an A or B. A very strange methodology indeed.


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