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School report cards stabilize after years of unpredictability

After years of volatility, letter grades on progress reports for the city’s elementary and middle schools are the most stable and accurate they’ve ever been, according to Department of Education officials.

Queens schools had the highest grades on this year’s city progress reports, which were released today, and charter schools received higher scores, on average, than schools across the city. Of the 1,219 schools to receive grades in this year’s reports, 298 schools received an A, 411 received a B, 354 received a C, 79 received a D and 32 received an F.

The city graded schools on a curve, so that 60 percent scored either an A or a B; 30 percent received C’s; and 10 percent received D’s or F’s – twice as many as last year.

That means new additions to the city’s list of schools that it will consider closing. Schools that received a D or F, or three consecutive years of C or lower, are automatically added to the list of potential closures. Last year, 62 schools fell into that group, but this year, the total was 116.

It is the fifth year that the city has issued the reports, which assess schools based heavily on students’ state test scores and their improvement since last year, as well as attendance rates, and feedback from parents, students, and teachers. Schools also earn extra credit for progress made by students with disabilities and English language learners. For the first time this year, schools whose low-performing black and Latino boys made gains also got extra credit.

“By acknowledging progress in schools that help struggling students, we can keep more students on track during elementary and middle school,” Chancellor Dennis Walcott said in a statement.

Changing standards on state tests over the past two years had thrown the DOE’s progress reports into a cycle of unpredictability. Inflated test scores in 2009 resulted in just two schools receiving F’s, while 84 percent earned A’s. Last year, after state tests became harder to pass, almost 70 percent of schools saw their grades drop and a third of schools saw their grades swing – mostly downward – by two or more letters.

This year, the department touted adjustments to the reports and pointed to the fact that most schools’ letter grades didn’t change much: 88 percent of schools received the same rating as last year or rose or fell by just one letter grade.

In a briefing with reporters this morning, Chief Academic Officer Shael Polakow-Suransky said the formula changes — which he said were made after consulting with principals — have led to the most accurate portrayal yet of what the city wants to see from its schools.

“We met with networks to make sure we got it right and we’re hearing from principals that it makes a lot of sense this year,” Polakow-Suransky said.

United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew criticized the reports for their heavy emphasis on test scores and said that they offer all information and no instruction for improvement.

“It’s like 20 doctors standing around telling you what’s wrong, but nobody’s lifting a finger to help,” he said. “I would rather have a report that diagnoses a school’s problem and came up with recommendations to rectify them.”

Here’s a link to all of this year’s progress reports, but we threw in some other highlights below:

A few other highlights:

  • The highest school went to a middle school, Staten Island School of Leadership with a 97.2. The lowest was P.S. 377, with an overall score 4.6
  • Charter schools operated by management organizations scored significantly higher than the citywide average, while independent charter schools actually performed worse, particularly at the middle school level. Charter schools operated by Success Charter Network, Achievement First and Uncommon all had four schools each that earned A’s.
  • One “mom and pop” charter schools, Future Leaders Institute, was one of the 10 lowest-scoring schools in the city.
  • For more detailed breakdown on the charter school results, check out the NYC Charter School Center’s interactive graph here.
  • The actual report cards also received a re-design, featuring more information about the school’s performance over time, as well as how the school is graded based on other measures, such as the city’s Quality Review and the state’s accountability.
  • Charter schools opened since 2004, when DOE began taking a more active role in supporting the schools, have earned a higher percentage of As (38 percent) than before, when just 19 percent earned As. NYC Charter School Center CEO James Merriman called it “another sign” that charter schools are making progress “with some of the City’s most disadvantaged students.”
  • For the second straight year, District 26 in Queens was the highest performing district.
  • One school – P.S. 60 Woodhaven in Queens – did the best job at narrowing the achievement gap for both students with disabilities and for academically struggling black and Latino boys.
  • Charter schools that were co-located in DOE building outperformed charter schools located in private space.

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