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DOE: College-readiness data could take toll on reports next year

Although the city’s new college readiness metrics were not factored into high school progress reports this year, they will be next year—and schools that don’t prepare could see drops in their grades, city officials said.

The new data points are one of the Department of Education’s answers to increased scrutiny on how public schools are preparing students for college. Criticisms have mounted against city schools for graduating students who are not college-bound, or require large doses of remedial coursework when they get to college.

But Shael Polakow-Suransky, the chief academic officer, said they will not be factored into the schools’ scores until next fall because the Department of Education wants educators to have time to adjust their curriculums to meet those standards.

Until the city completely rolls out new Common Core standards, he said, instructors will have to walk a fine line between preparing students for state exams, which often require broad but shallow knowledge, and simulating college-level work with more writing assignments and long-term projects.

“We’re not waiting for the state to change its assessments, but it is a real dilemma that teachers and students face until that change occurs,” he said. “You can play around with the cut scores, but until you actually change what you ask kids to do, until you ask them to do more writing, more critical thinking, more problem-solving, engage with more rigorous texts, you’re not changing the standard. That’s the real work.”

The department hasn’t decided yet how to factor the new data points into progress report scores, Polakow-Suransky said. But he said expected the college readiness metrics to bring many grades down next year.

A glance at the data shows that many schools who received A ratings are not necessarily scoring high on the new metrics. For example, the Fordham High School of the Arts got an A this year. But less than a third of its graduates went on to college.  Another A-rated school, Brooklyn Theater Arts High School, got one of the top 20 overall scores. But it received only a 6.6 percent on the college-prep index, meaning that very few of its students are passing college-level exams before graduating.

In the meantime, he said the city is giving support to schools that have scored low on the metrics, which measure the percentage of students who, after spending four years in high school, have passed an advanced Regents exam or other college-preparatory exam and enrolled in college, and the percentage of students who are entering college without requiring remediation.

“We have over 300 instructional coaches working in the schools with principals and teachers,” he said, particularly to train them in administering the state-mandated Common Core curriculum. “We’re engaging in critical thinking and deeper forms of problem solving.”

Polakow-Suransky said he and other DOE officials are also making a point of talking to parents and community members about college-readiness this fall at Community Education Council meetings, and that will be the focus of tomorrow night’s Panel for Education Policy.