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.

that was weird

The D.C. school system had a pitch-perfect response after John Oliver made #DCPublicSchools trend on Twitter

Public education got some unexpected attention Sunday night when John Oliver asked viewers watching the Emmys to make #DCPublicSchools trend on Twitter.

Oliver had been inspired by comedian Dave Chappelle, who shouted out the school system he attended before he announced an award winner. Within a minute of Oliver’s request, the hashtag was officially trending.

Most of the tweets had nothing to do with schools in Washington, D.C.

Here are a few that did, starting with this pitch-perfect one from the official D.C. Public Schools account:

Oliver’s surreal challenge was far from the first time that the late-show host has made education a centerpiece of his comedy — over time, he has pilloried standardized testing, school segregation, and charter schools.

Nor was it the first education hashtag to take center stage at an awards show: #PublicSchoolProud, which emerged as a response to new U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, got a shoutout during the Oscars in February.

And it also is not the first time this year that D.C. schools have gotten a surprise burst of attention. The Oscars were just a week after DeVos drew fire for criticizing the teachers she met during her first school visit as secretary — to a D.C. public school.

Startup Support

Diverse charter schools in New York City to get boost from Walton money

PHOTO: John Bartelstone
Students at Brooklyn Prospect Charter School in 2012. The school is one of several New York City charters that aim to enroll diverse student bodies.

The Walton Family Foundation, the philanthropy governed by the family behind Walmart, pledged Tuesday to invest $2.2 million over the next two years in new charter schools in New York City that aim to be socioeconomically diverse.

Officials from the foundation expect the initiative to support the start of about seven mixed-income charter schools, which will be able to use the money to pay for anything from building space to teachers to technology.

The effort reflects a growing interest in New York and beyond in establishing charter schools that enroll students from a mix of backgrounds, which research suggests can benefit students and is considered one remedy to school segregation.

“We are excited to help educators and leaders on the front lines of solving one of today’s most pressing education challenges,” Marc Sternberg, the foundation’s K-12 education director and a former New York City education department official, said in a statement.

Walton has been a major charter school backer, pouring more than $407 million into hundreds of those schools over the past two decades. In New York, the foundation has helped fund more than 100 new charter schools. (Walton also supports Chalkbeat; read about our funding here.)

Some studies have found that black and Hispanic students in charter schools are more likely to attend predominantly nonwhite schools than their peers in traditional schools, partly because charter schools tend to be located in urban areas and are often established specifically to serve low-income students of color. In New York City, one report found that 90 percent of charter schools in 2010 were “intensely segregated,” meaning fewer than 10 percent of their students were white.

However, more recently, a small but rising number of charter schools has started to take steps to recruit and enroll a more diverse student body. Often, they do this by drawing in applicants from larger geographic areas than traditional schools can and by adjusting their admissions lotteries to reserve seats for particular groups, such as low-income students or residents of nearby housing projects.

Founded in 2014, the national Diverse Charter Schools Coalition now includes more than 100 schools in more than a dozen states. Nine New York City charter groups are part of the coalition, ranging from individual schools like Community Roots Charter School in Brooklyn to larger networks, including six Success Academy schools.

“There’s been a real shift in the charter school movement to think about how they address the issue of segregation,” said Halley Potter, a senior fellow at the Century Foundation, a think tank that promotes socioeconomic diversity.

The Century Foundation and researchers at Teachers College at Columbia University and Temple University will receive additional funding from Walton to study diverse charter schools, with the universities’ researchers conducting what Walton says is the first peer-reviewed study of those schools’ impact on student learning.