2007-11-09 / Community

Not Making The Grade

Analysis By Howard Schwach

Remember when you were a kid and worried about taking your quarterly report card home to your mom and dad?

For many school administrators and staff members, it's déjà vu all over again, as the Department of Education issued its school report cards on Monday, causing consternation and confusion in many portions of the peninsula.

The report cards overturned many long-held beliefs.

For example, Belle Harbor's PS 114, long thought of as the top elementary school in Rockaway, and one of the top 25 in the city, received a grade of B from the DOE, while PS 47 in Broad Channel, a small school that draws mostly from the island community, received an A.

PS 42 in Arverne, considered by many to be one of the lowest-performing schools on the peninsula, received a B, the same grade as PS 114, while PS 105, led by a dedicated principal and staff and thought to be a model of a successful inner-city school, received a D.

Similarly, the Scholars' Academy, an application-only school filled with highperforming students received a B, the same score as schools considered problematic by the educational community, including PS 197 and PS 215, whose students score far lower on standardized tests.

Why the apparent inconsistencies? The grades are actually based on four measures:

Fifteen percent of the grade comes from "School Environment" measures, based on the surveys filled out and returned to the DOE several months ago. Those surveys asked teachers, students and parents to rate their schools in more than a dozen areas.

Thirty percent of the grade comes from "Student Performance" indicators, mostly standardized tests, but other factors, such as attendance, play a role as well.

The largest percentage, 55 percent, comes from "Student Progress" factors. Chancellor Joel Klein said in a prepared statement that student progress dictates the highest percentage, because it measures how much students progress from year to year.

The fourth indicator adds points for how well the school matches up against its "cohort," a group of schools with similar demographics.

Only the school's principal, however, knows the schools that make up that cohort.

A number of school staff members and administrators spoke to The Wave about the report cards under a promise of anonymity, because they had no permission to speak with the media and could be disciplined for doing so.

The majority of people associated with the higher-performing schools on the peninsula, PS 114 and the Scholars Academy, complained that the heavy reliance on the progress of a particular school punishes those whose students are already high-performing.

"How can you make progress when you're already at the top of the scale," one Scholars' Academy teacher asked. "Why should progress be almost twice as important as performance? That makes no sense."

Another staff member, this one from PS 114, added, "We got nearly 23 points out of 30 in performance, and only 26.7 out of 55 for making progress. How do you make progress when most of your kids are already a "4" and there is no "5?" 25.2 percent of the city's schools got a grade of A, 35.5 percent a B, 25.5 percent a C, 9.7 percent a D and 4.1 percent an F.

The only local school to earn an Awas PS 47 in Broad Channel.

Six schools earned a B, seven a C, and 3 schools earned a D. There were no F schools in the local area.

Three schools, the Goldie Maple Academy (formerly MS 198) and two small schools inside of Far Rockaway High School, Frederick Douglass Academy and KAPPA VI, were not rated with a letter grade, although they received numerical scores in each of the categories measured.

And, while there have been a number of complaints to the DOE from school people who feel that their buildings have been wronged in the process, Mayor Bloomberg praised the system.

"Information is power, which is why we're committed to providing clear, comprehensive information about our schools to educators and families," Bloomberg said in a prepared statement. "With these progress reports, parents no longer have to navigate a maze of statistics to determine how their child's school is doing and how it compares to others.

And, our educators have a new tool to help them see exactly where their school needs improvement and find similar schools that can help them do that."

AScholars'Academy staffer, however, pointed out that the statistics are clear that his school deserves a better grade than it received.

"Ninety-one percent of our students are reading at high level three and level four, and 99.1 percent of the students are at that level in math as well. Is it any wonder that only 5.1 percent of our students gained more than a year of progress last year or that our average change in proficiency was negative? How could they do better on the tests, if they're already at or near the top."

"To say that any other school in Rockaway is more proficient than ours is ludicrous," he added. "It shows that the report cards are not worth the paper they're printed on."

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