grading the grading

UFT protests Regents grading issues; UFT downplays concerns

UFT President Mulgrew and Council of Supervisors and Administrators, a principals union, outside Stuyvesant High School this morning.
UFT President Mulgrew and Council of Supervisors and Administrators, a principals union, outside Stuyvesant High School this morning.

A top Department of Education official said Friday that effects from delays caused by city’s new electronic grading system were “overblown” and estimated that only a small percentage of students would participate in graduation ceremonies without knowing their final grades.

“Every kid will have their diploma before the end of [the school year], no one’s being kept from walking,” Chief Academic Officer Shael Polakow-Suransky said at International High School at Lafayette in Brooklyn, shortly before taking stage to speak at the school’s graduation ceremony.

“I know that it’s stressful and I feel bad for the kids that it’s stressful,” he said, then added, “I do feel like it’s a little bit overblown.”

Polakow-Suransky’s comments came following days of complaints from teachers about the grading process of four of the most-taken Regents tests — Living Environment, Global Studies, U.S. History, and English. The exams are being scored electronically this year through a “distributed scoring system” to improve the efficiency and accuracy of the process used in previous years, which involved teachers grading their own students’ exams.

McGraw-Hill, the vendor administering the process, was tasked with collecting the exams at schools, transporting them to a scanning site in Connecticut, and then distributing answers one by one to teachers stationed at computers in city grading centers.

But the process was significantly delayed by scanning glitches and teachers said this week that often they’ve only been able to grade just a few dozen tests for an entire day. As a result, tens of thousands of Regents exams have not been graded and many students who are preparing for their graduation ceremonies still aren’t sure if they scored high enough to receive their diploma. The city is rushing to hire teachers to grade over the weekend in order to complete the scoring.

Polakow-Suransky downplayed the concerns, saying he expected the grading to be done by Monday and he estimated that less than 4 percent of students will have walked in graduation ceremonies without knowing what their final grades are.

He also criticized the United Federation of Teachers, which held a press conference early this morning at Stuyvesant High School, one of the city’s grading sites. UFT President Michael Mulgrew railed against the Department of Education for its handling of the process.

“Who was the genius who decided that it was a good idea to take all the tests that the children take and put them in trucks and send them to Connecticut to get scanned into systems so they can send them back here?” Mulgrew asked.

Mulgrew said he supported electronic scoring, but that the department made mistakes in its oversight of the contract with McGraw-Hill. When the education department awarded the $9.7 million contract to the publishing giant last year, officials said that part of the discounted deal included a promise from McGraw-Hill to develop a new web application that it didn’t previously have.

“Open up the books and be transparent and just say, listen we messed up, we shouldn’t have done this,” Mulgrew said.

In response, Polakow-Suransky said he believed the union was unnecessarily politicizing the issue.

“It’s ugly to be using this for political gain,” he added.

The shift to online distributed scoring is part of a roll out that began last year. It comes as the city prepares the need to administer and grade tests that include more open-answer questions to reflect Common Core standards. Officials have said that the system makes its easier to more accurately grade essays and other written responses.

Bruce Matthews, a teacher at Bard High School Early College who joined Mulgrew for the press conference, agreed that the concept behind the grading system was promising.

“If they can work out the kinks in this program, I think it’s great,” Matthews said. “But there’s been no input from people in the trenches who do this.”

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.