2007-11-30 / Letters

Evaluating The Wrong Thing

Dear Editor,

With much fanfare, the Department of Education released School Progress Reports, otherwise known as School Report Cards. There were many confusing results; many schools received lower grades than would be expected from their DOE Quality Reviews and student performances, and many schools received higher grades than expected from those same indicators. Afew schools in District 26 were given undeserved "Cs," primarily due to their students not sufficiently improving on standardized test scores. As a member of the Community District Education Council for District 26, I have visited these schools and spoken with their students, parents, teachers, and principals and my conclusion is that they are not "C" schools.

Beyond District 26, I have spent much time at a school in Jamaica that has about 40 percent of its students in need of learning English as a second language. Yet, this school was compared with a school that has very few, if any, students in such need, and its grade suffered due to this unfair comparison.

At these schools, I have seen students in classes showing interest in discussions, being attentive, and wanting to learn; in fact, most of them get above-average scores on standardized tests. I have seen the core sub- jects taught by knowledgeable teachers

with energy, as they

successfully impart knowledge and engage the students. I have seen the principals struggling to ensure that their students are prepared for the "high stakes" tests and still bring their schools music, dance, literature appreciation, art and other programs that expand the scope of a child's understanding and knowledge. To me, these schools are excellent places for students to get a full-quality education.

The improper grading of these schools is only a small sampling of the improper grading of schools throughout the city, due to the methods used to prepare the grades. This system suffers from the overemphasis of standardized test scores, with the potential to push schools into doing more test prep work, and the extremely narrow definition of progress. This grading formula includes 55 percent "progress" and 30 percent "performance." However, this hides the fact that "progress" is based on our children's grades on the English and math standardized tests from one year to the next, and that "performance" is the actual grade that our children receive on these tests. That's 85 percent of the school's grade! Do you evaluate your children's school that way? Do you ignore students' report cards, homework, projects, school trips, music classes, art, student assemblies, physical education, and student organizations in evaluating a school?

In other words, these progress reports mostly evaluate whether a school's students are becoming good test takers, not good learners capable of succeeding and helping society.

It is time for concerned members of the education community to let the Department of Education and the public know that the grading system is not acceptable and that it is wrong to pigeonhole our schools into a simplistic formula that fails to evaluate what we find important at our schools. To address the inappropriate methods that determined school grades, Time Out From Testing, a group dedicated to bringing normalcy to the testing and grading process in our schools, is hoping to gather 10,000 signed petitions to show that parents are opposed to the DOE's "A-F" grading system for schools.

I urge you to go to timeoutfromtesting. org, look for the "Red Alert" and click on "Sign the On-Line Petition Now." I also suggest that you write a letter to the Department of Education and express your outrage over the expenditure of millions of dollars on an evaluation system that is so flawed.



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