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As city overhauls school progress reports, release is kept quiet

New York City is releasing its annual report cards for every public elementary and middle school tomorrow, and though this event is usually the focus of the week’s news cycle, city officials are trying to keep the release quiet.

Last year, when 97 percent of elementary and middle schools received an A or B on their progress reports, Department of Education officials held a press conference with Chancellor Joel Klein to announce the results. The same was done in 2008. This year, just as the city has changed its formula for assigning the grades and tougher state tests mean more schools will receive a D or F grade than last year or the year before, the DOE is downplaying the release.

There will be no press conference tomorrow. The chancellor, who in years past has taken questions from reporters in public, will spend the day in Washington D.C, according to a DOE spokesman. Instead, reporters have to request a phone interview with DOE Deputy Chancellor for Accountability Shael Suransky and Klein may be made available for some reporters’ calls late tomorrow afternoon.

“The reasoning is that apart from the data itself, the grades schools receive, and which ones receive the grades, there’s no news here,” said DOE spokesman Matt Mittenthal.

Mittenthal said the city would hold a press conference in November when it releases high schools’ report cards. The city has not announced any plans to make changes to the formula that determines high school grades.

For the first time, the city is releasing progress reports for K-2 schools and District 75 schools, which serve high-needs special education students. It is also radically changing the way it doles out grades by switching to a formula that compares similar students’ progress rather than the percentage of students that are proficient.

Out of concern that the newly toughened tests and the increase in failing students would cause schools’ grades to plummet, the city has placed limits on how far schools’ grades can fall. Still, some principals are having a difficult time adjusting to the new scores.

“Some Principals are overwhelmed and frustrated with this latest round of Progress Reports,” said principals union spokesman Antoinette Isable. “This frustration has a lot do to do with the state benchmarks being raised.”

The city’s press office has also decided to forgo the tradition of giving reporters the embargoed grades the night before the official release. This year, the press will have less time to review the information-heavy documents.