2006-04-14 / Community

Report Cards For Schools Under New DOE Plan

By Norman Scott Special To The Wave

By Norman Scott
Special To The Wave

The Department of Education announced on Tuesday a new accountability plan set to begin in September, 2007 in which all schools will be given a letter grade from A to F based on a set of criteria that will go beyond the simple measures of No Child Left Behind.

"For the first time we will be comparing apples to apples," said Chancellor Joel Klein, referring to the fact that schools will be judged against their peers in relation to criteria such as free lunch (an indicator of income), ethnic grouping, ELL, and Special Ed. Thus, schools in Park Slope can be compared to schools on the upper west side instead of schools in nearby Bedford Stuyvesant, where schools in turn can be judged against similar schools in the Bronx.

It will be a "dynamic, real-time data management system for the schools," Klein said. Carmen Faria, Deputy Chancellor for Teaching & Learning, said she had always wanted to see longitudinal data that measures a student's achievement through the grades and not the simple snapshot NCLB provides.

The DOE's Chief Accountability Officer James Liebman, who has been on the job since January and is on leave from Columbia Law School, developed the system, which is expected to be funded by private donations and to ultimately cost around $25 million a year.

There will be two report cards, one for elementary and middle schools and another for high schools, which will measure the type of diploma in addition to graduation rates. Schools will get credit for raising students from low "twos" to high "twos" a significant achievement according to Klein for which schools are not recognized under NCLB.

In addition to quantitative measures such as performance of students, attendance, school safety and "community engagement and satisfaction (based on forthcoming parent, teacher, and student surveys," non-quantitative factors such as "how effectively schools create environments conducive to teaching and learning" will be used.

Liebman presented a chart showing average grade 4 ELA scores from 2001 to 2004. When asked what impact factors such as the number of children in a class or the rate of teacher retention in each school would have on a school's scores, Liebman and Klein said they were focusing on outcomes, not incomes.

"How can principals and schools be given grades and have class size as a factor be ignored," said Leonie Haimson of Class Size Matters, an advocate for class size reduction in NYC? "Without controlling for class size, any grading system is both meaningless and unfair." Haimson indicated that apples were really not being compared to apples when there are drastic differences in class size, since principals often have so little control over this factor.

Schools will be offered opportunities to assess students every six to eight weeks (Klein presented the actual number of exams as an individual school option) and it was promised the data would be in the hands of teachers in a matter of days. A number of questions were raised about the feasibility of this plan given the months-long time lag in distributing the results of standardized tests. Klein responded that answer sheets would be scanned or students would take tests online.

Klein did not have a clear response to questions about whether there were adequate computer facilities in the schools for on-line test taking. Questions were also raised about how and when teachers would access all this data given the time constraints of their days and the log-jams teachers can face in getting online at certain times of the day. Klein indicated that he did not think these issues would be a problem.

Top performing schools will get monetary awards and schools that grade poorly will be subject to leadership changes, restructuring or face being closed down.

UFT President Randi Weingarten said, "The school system has been working on a value-added accountability plan for three years, and although we have always been open to such measures, we are approaching this one with healthy skepticism.

We are disappointed that teachers who are in the classrooms working with kids every day were not involved in the planning process. The foremost expert in value-added, William Sanders, will not do these programs without the cooperation of teachers."

The DOE has set up an email for comments: childrenfirst@nycboe.net.

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