dept. of unintended consequences

New testing schedule complicates NYC's summer school plans

When the state announced plans to push back the date of the annual tests, some teachers and administrators bristled. But now the change is complicating a rite of passage: figuring out which students are promoted to the next grade and which are going to summer school.

This year’s delayed testing schedule puts New York City in the awkward position of choosing which students to send to summer school without knowing whether they passed the state’s annual math and English exams. Currently, schools have their students’ raw test scores, but they don’t know whether the scale score passes the official state cut-off for passing, because the state hasn’t set cut-off scores yet.

In response, the city is working with the state to set their own cutoff scores months before the official results come out in August.

In order to qualify for summer school, students have to score very low on the tests — getting a one or a two out of a possible four.

“We will determine based on prior years’ data what we believe a two, three, or four would equate to this year,” said a spokesman for the city’s Department of Education, Daniel Kanner, adding that the cutoffs will be set higher this year than in the past.

In a memo the city Department of Education sent to principals, officials referred to the cutoffs as “promotional cut scores,” meaning they will only be used to decide who is required to go to summer school.

The city’s decision will result in two sets of cut off scores that may not match up. If the official cutoff is set higher than the first one, students could be promoted to the next grade only to find that they officially failed the test. The reverse could also happen: a student could be required to attend summer school and then learn that her test scores put her in the passing range set by the official cutoff.

Kanner said that if the first scenario happens, the city will not force the student to repeat a grade. “We will not take promotion away from any student we grant it to,” he said.

The change will not affect high school students, who are promoted or held back based on their Regents exam scores and whether they pass their classes.

City officials have said they will offer summer school in as many schools as they did last year — 369 schools — but without test results it remains unclear how many students will be required to attend or how much money schools will be given to spend on the program.

A preliminary budget sent to principals this week shows a citywide decrease in summer school spending. But Ann Forte, a spokeswoman for the DOE, said schools’ funding would change once the city figured out how many students it would require to go to summer school. “It’s too early to tell what the difference is and we’ll have a better idea once we get the scores and budgets adjusted,” she said.

Last year when fewer students scored low enough to qualify for summer school, the city’s summer school budget went down 22 percent and classes were offered in 369 schools, down from 562 in 2008.

next stop

Robotics is bringing Betsy DeVos to Detroit for the first time as education secretary

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. (U.S. Department of Education)

Betsy DeVos is set to appear in Detroit for the first time as education secretary on Friday, though she’s unlikely to encounter local students when she’s there.

DeVos is scheduled to attend a student robotics competition being held downtown in a bid to promote science and math education. The event is also likely to again highlight DeVos’s past influence over education policy in the city, which has been heavily scrutinized.

Before becoming President Trump’s education chief, DeVos, a prominent Michigan philanthropist, was a key architect of policies that many blame for the dire state of Detroit’s schools.

We’ve outlined that debate in full, but the key points are that the state’s charter law puts no restrictions on where or how many charter schools can open, which has created school deserts in some neighborhoods, and far too many schools in others. Both district and charter schools struggle financially with less-than-full enrollments, while student performance suffers across the board.

DeVos’ critics say she has blocked attempts to bring order and oversight to Detroit schools. Defenders note that parents now have more options and that charter school students in the city do slightly better on state exams than their peers in district schools.

DeVos also had a tense exchange with Lesley Stahl of “60 Minutes” about Michigan schools back in March.

“Michigan schools need to do better. There is no doubt about it,” she said.

DeVos’s announcement says she plans to meet with students on Friday. But while the event is happening in Detroit, the students DeVos encounters at the FIRST Robotics World Championship on Friday will almost surely hail from elsewhere. Earlier this week, Chalkbeat noted that just one city high school in Detroit qualified to send a team.

money talks

Funding for New York City homeless students, universal literacy in de Blasio’s executive budget

PHOTO: Benjamin Kanter/Mayoral Photo Office
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announces his 2019 budget proposal in the Blue Room at City Hall.

Mayor Bill de Blasio’s $90 billion city budget proposal includes millions of dollars for homeless students and to fuel a push to get every student reading on grade level by third grade.

The mayor’s official budget reveal comes after a major announcement Wednesday that the city will invest $125 million in schools, which principals can spend on items such as teacher salaries, after-school programs or new technology.

Taken together, the news means that New York City schools have avoided any budget cuts and instead received a sizeable boost in a year of funding uncertainty.

De Blasio took several shots at state lawmakers while unveiling his budget, emphasizing that the city invested in schools even as they received less than they anticipated in school funding from Albany.

“This certainly shows that even when Albany steps back, we step forward,” de Blasio said.  

Here’s what you need to know about education:

$30.5 million to boost literacy

De Blasio has said he wants his new schools chancellor, Richard Carranza, to “supercharge” his “universal literacy” program, which is attempting to help every third grade student read on grade level. On Thursday, de Blasio shed a little light on what he meant by outlining a plan to help the city’s neediest students.

The mayor’s plan would double after-school programs for students in shelters; provide more training for teachers of students learning English and students with disabilities; and boost the number of literacy coaches in low-performing schools.

De Blasio said that, though it hasn’t captured headlines, the city’s universal literacy program is going to be a focus for him moving forward. “This is one of the things the chancellor and I talked about the most during the interview process,” he said.

$12 million for social workers for students in shelters

The executive budget restores funding for homeless students that the preliminary budget lacked. For the past two years, de Blasio has left the funding stream out of his preliminary budget — drawing criticism from advocates.

That city’s budget will fund 53 social workers, according to Randi Levine, a policy director at Advocates for Children. Advocates have been calling for 150 social workers that would be spread out across schools and in shelters.

$23 million for anti-bias training

In the next school year, the city expects to train 10,000 education department employees, with the goal of reaching everyone in the department by the 2021-22 school year. The plan includes identifying schools that are adept in culturally relevant teaching so they can share their practices with other educators, and digging into data to uncover and address inequities in schools.

Derrick Owens, a father of two in Harlem, said he expects the expanded training will have a real impact in the classroom and help change the fact that students of color are disproportionately disciplined at school. Owens is a member of the Coalition for Educational Justice, a parent organization that has lobbied hard for more anti-bias training for teachers.

“Now what happens with the anti-bias training, teachers can identify a problem,” he said. “They won’t be quick to have the child disciplined or suspended. They’ll be able to work it out and able to solve the problem. I think it’s a win win.”

A “surprising” lack of funding from Albany

In his latest critique of Gov. Andrew Cuomo, de Blasio said the city expected to get $140 million in school aid from state lawmakers that never materialized. The state increased education spending by about $1 billion this year, but the boost was less than the city expected, de Blasio said.

“It was honestly very surprising that the number came in as low as it did,” de Blasio said.

Christina Veiga contributed reporting.