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Maureen Lane

Getting Real About Grading Schools

New York City news is reporting a fair amount of discussion about the new school grading system that issued report cards for NYC schools last week. The system may not provide the dynamism the Department of Education needs. The schools' focus needs to include graduation and retention as well as the test scores.

As reported in the Times this week the grades may be deceptively simple. "Since the grades were released, one common call for change goes to the very heart of the city’s plan: the reduction of a school’s worth to a single letter grade. Diane Ravitch, a historian of the city schools and a critic of the Bloomberg administration, noted that when students receive report cards, there are different grades for different subjects. “It is reductive to give a school, which is a complex organism, a single letter grade,” Dr. Ravitch said. 'It doesn’t clarify, it oversimplifies'.”

What is the grading system for?

Let's take high school grading, for example. Mayor Bloomberg is quoted as saying the high school grading system implemented by the Department of Education in NYC is “the best way to hold a principal’s feet to the fire.” Is the Mayor is implying that somehow principals do not want to improve city schools?

The Mayor is prone to using hyperbole.

Last spring, for example, when the administration was rolling out its grading system, the mayor trumpeted the biggest parent involvement in NYC history in the devising of the school grade system. The city had some parent input through a survey, but the group of parents who worked with the city said their concerns of class size, standardized testing and school leadership teams were not a part of the survey.

The mayor dismissed the parents’ focus group efforts, “Mr. Bloomberg said the group had found a way to 'subvert the system and sit around and complain and not make it any better',” reports the Times. Bloomberg's reaction was harsh and dismissive, but not inconsistent with a lot of policymaking tactics used when dealing with poor and low-income New Yorkers with different perspectives from executives and administrators.

About 88% of NYC public high schools are Title I schools. That means the students come from poor and low-income families with parents struggling to make ends meet. Students from low income and poor families are far less likely to get a college education than those from middle and upper income families. The road to college leads out from high school, but you have to graduate from high school to even make college a possibility.

Last month the National Women’s Law Center ( NWLC ) released a stunning report When Girls Don’t Graduate, We All Fail: A Call to Improve High School Graduation Rates for Girls.

One of the startling findings was the number of high school dropouts in the U.S. The estimate for this year is a drop out rate totaling 1.2 million children.

I know from my high school work at WRI (Welfare Rights Initiative) that the real challenge for students is retention and graduation. The schools want students to improve their grades, but parents, teachers, and the rest of us want schools to graduate the students.

The No Child Left Behind Act does not set a standard that promotes all of our students to graduate from high school. The NWLC recommends that we increase accountability for drop outs. That sounds about right.

The bottom line is not improving test scores and other measures without having a whopping big graduation rate. Let's aim for 100%. Until we reach that figure, putting people's feet in the fire could be distracting us from shaping a better education for the city's kids.

Maureen Lane: Author Bio | Other Posts
Posted at 11:53 AM, Nov 29, 2007 in Education | New York
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