2007-11-23 / Columnists

From the Editor's Desk

The Response To The Ridiculous School Report Cards
Commentary By Howard Schwach

As you would expect, the response to the Department of Education's school report cards has been swift and deep.

If you read my column regularly, then you know how I feel about the report cards.

The local results were largely a joke, and every parent involved with a school, whether that school got a D or an A, knows that fact.

PS 47, a K-8 school in Broad Channel was the only local school to receive an A. I like that school and I like its principal, Pat Tubridy, who is a Broad Channel resident. That does not mean that I believe that PS 47 deserves a higher grade as an educational institution than either PS 114 in Belle Harbor or the Scholars'Academy at what was once JHS 180 in Rockaway Park.

I thought that you might like to read the responses of others, published in media outlets far and wide.

From a New York Times editorial:

"The city's focus on student progress is commendable. But even commendable aims followed out the window can yield misleading and distorted results. For example, people all over the city were understandably skeptical when a high-performing school was given an F and several low-performing schools - those actually on the state's failing list - were given A's and B's."

From an Op-Ed piece in the New York Times penned by Tovah Klein, the director of the Barnard College Center For Toddler Development, as well as three others involved with The Central Park East I Elementary School.

"Central Park East I [which got a D on its report card] and other 'failing' well-regarded schools like it have become collateral damage in a clash of competing educational philosophies: waste time and energy training children to do well on a test and get the grade; or educate them to be creative in their problem solving, but fail on the Department of Education's report card. It's not Central Park East I that deserves the D, it's the educational specialists who can't or won't accept that testing young children is not the best way to judge how an elementary school is doing. Yes, we're angry about the bureaucrats giving us a failing grade, but we'll wear our scarlet letter - our D - with pride if that's the price we have to pay to stand up and fight for a great education for our children."

From an Op-Ed piece in the Daily News by Dan Brown, a teacher in East Harlem and the author of "The Great Expectations School: A Rookie Year in the New Blackboard Jungle."

"How much can we trust these flavor of-the-month lists of statistics? Upon checking the 'Persistently Dangerous Schools' new report card grades, the schools exposed in August as riotous hellholes suddenly look like relatively winning learning environments. Of the twenty-five dangerous schools, eleven received grades this week (thirteen are District 75 Special Education schools, which did not receive grades and one, Powell Middle School for Law and Social Justice, was left off the list). Those dangerous schools received two A's, two B's, five C's, one D and one F. Not too shabby for a scarlet-letter bearing bunch."

From an Op-Ed piece in the New York Post, written by United Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten.

"While it's good that the reports look at each school's year-to-year progress (a growth model), rather than [looking at] this year's absolute scores, the DOE's model does not take into account a basic statistical norm - students who scored highly on tests have less room to improve than students who don't. This means a school where 95 percent of the kids meet state standards faces a near-impossible task of scoring better the following year. Furthermore, the focus on standardized test scores pushes schools to devote even more time to test preparation, to the exclusion of important enrichment activities such as class trips, school plays and foreign language instruction. What other message can a school [that gets a low grade] take from this, even when most - if not all - of its students are meeting state standards?"

From an Op-Ed piece in the New York Post by Merryl Tisch, an official with the Charter School Movement, commenting on the fact that charter schools, small high schools and other "innovative" programs were left out of the rating process.

"To validate the importance and integrity of the charters [charter scools], the chancellor must move immediately to include these schools in his school report card initiative, which assigns AF grades to public schools. Those skeptical of charters see them as 'favored children' of the chancellor's administration. They argue that charter schools get both more resources (by way of well-intentioned deep-pocket donors) and preference when it comes to providing space in an overcrowded system. Not all charters will receive A's - but I have great faith that the public will understand that not all new schools will succeed. But I don't see how the school system can reap the full benefit of a robust charter school culture thriving in its midst if charter schools are held to different standards."

From a Daily News story by Erin Einhorn, who interviewed Carmen Farina, the former Deputy Chancellor For Instruction for the Department of Education.

"A former member of schools chancellor Joel Klein's inner circle says parents should take the new school letter grades 'with a grain of salt.' In an exclusive interview with the Daily News, former Deputy Chancellor Carmen Farina called Klein's new grading system 'confusing' and argued that it's a poor tool to separate good schools from bad. "I don't think an absolute A is going to tell you that that's the best school and the people do the best work [nor will] a D grade … necessarily tell you that the person is a terrible person or that the school is a terrible school. If the report card becomes a tool for hiring and firing, I think that we're going to be hiring and firing the wrong people for the wrong reasons."

From a letter to the editor of the New York Times by Jane Hirschmann.

"Schools chancellor Joel Klein touts school report cards as the way to give parents the information they need to evaluate a child's performance and a school's progress. This couldn't be further from the truth. Report card grades are based mostly on test scores. This means progress is measured by a single score on a single test on a single day. Parents want more. We want to know if our children are reading more books; if their understanding is deeper; if they ask intelligent questions; if they are curious and creative; and if they can work cooperatively. No test score will give us this information. Learning is complex and assessments should be [complex] as well.

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