Making the grade

After rule changes, fewer students held back, sent to summer school

PHOTO: Tasked Angel

A year after the city reduced the influence of test scores on grade promotion and summer school decisions, the number of students headed to summer classes has fallen to its lowest level in six years and the share of students held back a grade has declined by half.

Those numbers, released by the city Wednesday, are among the first signs of the effect of policy changes that barred the use of test scores as a major factor in promotion decisions in response to a 2014 state law. The changes gave principals more discretion when choosing which students should attend summer school and deciding whether they are ready to move on to the next grade.

The changes came after a decade-long push by the Bloomberg administration to curb “social promotion” by not allowing students who scored poorly on state tests to go on to the next grade. That connection became a focus of parents concerned about testing anxiety, prompting legislation and then city policy changes.

Officials said last year that they did not anticipate that the shift would mean fewer students being held back or summer-school numbers dropping, emphasizing that a more holistic approach would lead to more accurate decisions.

But the new figures suggest that the changes have had some immediate impact: The city recommended that about 19,400 third- through eighth grade students take summer classes this year, or 6.2 percent of eligible students, down from 7.4 percent the year before and 10 percent in 2013.

Meanwhile, just 1.2 percent of eligible students were held back at the end of last summer, compared to 2.5 percent of students in 2013 and 3.4 percent of students in 2010.

On Wednesday — the first day of summer school for city students — officials said that principals, superintendents, and teachers were now paying closer attention to student work throughout the year to make decisions about summer school, and that the work portfolios gave more students the chance to show their growth in reading and math.

“We have high expectations for all our students, and our promotion policy reflects our commitment to high standards across multiple measures,” Chancellor Carmen Fariña said in a statement. Officials also said attendance at summer school improved last year, jumping from 77 percent in 2013 to 81 percent in 2014.

The implications of the latest enrollment figures are less clear. Officials noted that more students were recommended for summer school in 2013 because it was unclear how students would perform on new, more difficult state tests. And in many years when the city sent more students to summer school, scores released months later showed that thousands had done well enough to have not required the extra time. Advocates have also raised questions about the efficacy of summer school, pointing to other enrichment programs like Summer Quest, which mixes academics and camp activities, as better options.

Pamela Wheaton of Insideschools, the online guide to city schools, says it’s difficult draw conclusions from the data about whether the right students are getting what they need.

“Do these kids need a program? Yeah,” she said. “But I’m more concerned about what help they’re actually getting once they get to the next grade, because clearly they’re struggling.”

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”

moving forward

After Confederate flag dispute at Colorado football game, schools pledge to bring students together

PHOTO: Marc Piscotty
Manual High students.

Acknowledging “we may never have a conclusive picture of what happened,” two Colorado school districts sought to move past a controversy over whether a Confederate flag was displayed at a football game and open a conversation between the two school communities.

The principal of Manual High, Nick Dawkins, wrote in a community letter over the weekend that the visiting Weld Central High School team “displayed a Confederate flag during the first quarter of the (Friday night) game, offending many members of the Manual community.”

Officials from Denver Public Schools and Weld County School District Re-3J released a joint letter Tuesday saying that based “on what we have learned to date, however, the Weld Central team did not display the Confederate flag.” At the same time, it said, multiple Manual eyewitnesses “reported seeing spectators who attempted to bring a Confederate flag into the game and clothing with flag images.”

Going forward, students from the two schools — one rural and one urban — will participate in a student leadership exchange that has student leaders visit each other’s schools and communities to “share ideas and perspectives,” the letter says.

“At a time in our country when so many are divided, we want our students instead to come together, share ideas and learn together,” says the letter, which is signed by the principals of both schools and the superintendents of both school districts.

The alleged incident took place at a time when issues of race, social injustice, politics and sports are colliding in the United States, making for tough conversations, including in classrooms.

Weld Central’s mascot is a Rebel. Manual, whose mascot is the Thunderbolts, is located in one of Denver’s historically African-American neighborhoods.

Dawkins in his initial community letter also said “the tension created by the flag led to conflict on and off the playing field,” and that three Manual players were injured, including one who went to the hospital with a leg injury. He also said some Manual players reported that Weld Central players “taunted them with racial slurs.”

Weld Central officials vehemently denied that their team displayed the flag. In addition, they said in their own community letter they had “no evidence at this point that any of our student athletes displayed racially motivated inappropriate behavior.”

They said district officials “do not condone any form of racism,” including the Confederate flag.

Weld Central fans told the Greeley Tribune that they didn’t see any Confederate flag.

Read the full text below.