2011-09-30 / Top Stories

Report Cards Show Mixed Grades For Public Schools

By Howard Schwach

The number of public elementary and middle schools scoring low marks on the city’s annual school report cards increased by nearly 100 percent this year, including a number of Rockaway schools that fell a full two grades.

PS 197 on Hicksville Road in Far Rockaway fell to a C from last year’s A grade and Middle School 53 in Far Rockaway, which in 2008 was listed as one of the top schools in the city with a solid A rating, fell to an F from last year’s C.

Rockaway schools scored six A ratings, up from three last year. The schools that scored the top grades are PS 106 in Edgemere; PS 183 in Arverne; The Goldie Maple Academy in Arverne; Scholars’ Academy in Rockaway Park; KAPPA VI at the Far Rockaway Educational Campus and The Waterside Children’s Studio School, at the nowclosed PS 225 in Rockaway Park.

Only three schools got eitheraDoranFgrade: PS 215; MS 253 and MS 53, all in Far Rockaway.

The high schools will get their ratings late in October or early in November, school officials said.

Citywide, 111 schools scoredaDorFinthe 2010-11 school year, up from 57 a year earlier. Bad grades – a D, F or three C’s in a row – put schools in danger of being shut down.

Good grades mean bonuses for principals at the top 20 percent of schools. The top one percent, or a dozen principals, can expect $25,000 each.

Critics greeted the results with continued skepticism, in part because the grading criteria for the reports have been revamped each year since first being implemented in 2007.

“The Department of Education annually rolls out the progress reports with some fanfare, but the changes in what go into the letter grades, and the grading of schools on a curve, limit what the progress reports can tell us,” Columbia University Prof. Aaron Pallas told the New York Post.

The reports focus on measuring how well schools are doing to help improve students’ scores on state tests, which account for 85 percent of the grade.

This year, the city dropped a safety-net rule that had saved schools from falling more than two letter grades.

The city also awarded extra credit for the first time this year for progress made in moving special education students to more inclusive settings – and for work with struggling black and Latino boys. Public School 60 in Queens was the top-scoring school in both those categories. Those grades show up in the “Additional Credit” portion of the chart that accompanies this story.

In order to understand the process and what it means, education insiders say, a look at two local schools would be informative.

The Scholars’ Academy, what was once known as JHS 180, is a magnet school for educationally gifted students. It accepts only those students working well above the competency level.

With so many students already testing at Level 4, the insiders argue, there is no place for the students to show improvement. Therefore, when the city places an emphasis on “progress,” the school suffers.

In fact, while the school got 20.5 (out of 25) points for “performance,” the best in Rockaway, it got only 28.9 (out of 60) for progress, reducing its total grade.

Focusing on progress and allotting it 60 points while allotting performance less than half of that harms high-performing schools, the insiders say.

On the other hand, PS/MS 183 received only 7.7 points out of 25 for performance because most of its students are working far below the competency level, but got 43.4 points for progress, making it a “better” school than Scholars’ Academy.

“The question is, which school would you rather see your child attending,” one local parent, who asked not to be identified, said. “The grades make no sense, and they haven’t from the beginning.” “We know that it’s not easy to make schools successful. We know it’s really hard work,” said Senior Deputy Chancellor Shael Polakow-Suransky. “A lot of the progress we’ve seen since this system was put in place is because we now have a conversation that measures student learning. We never had that before.”

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