WEEKEND EDITION

Cheat Sheet for Parents: Understanding School Progress Reports

| October 3, 2011 12:29 PM

City Limits logoLast week, the New York City Department of Education announced it was evaluating the futures of dozens of schools which had earned bad grades in the department’s annual progress reports. This was welcome transparency compared with the early years of Progress Grades, when the Department of Education announced school-closing lists as faits accompli, without community feedback or participation.

Schools that receive an F or and a D on the Department of Education's progress report cards are at risk of being shut down, so far officials have flagged 20 low performing schools. On May 12, education advocates rallied against budgets cuts and layoffs. MetroFocus/Sam Lewis

But while the public is learning more about what might be done after this year’s round of progress reports, understanding of the reports themselves is not widespread—largely because the reports employ a complicated formula that has evolved since 2007, when the Department of Education began rating city schools with letter grades. Here’s a tip sheet for understanding what the Department of Education (DOE) holds most important in the lives of New York City students.

Grading system changes often

In the beginning, under the direction of Columbia University law professor (on loan to the Education Department as chief accountability officer) and public school parent James Liebman, schools got a single, bold-faced grade, A to F. Since 2008, however, the school’s report card suggests a student’s report card — with different grades in different areas, calculated into an overall grade. Liebman and then-Chancellor Joel I. Klein wanted the Reports to permit parents and school officials to easily compare schools from year to year. But that’s been made difficult by a series of changes to the yardstick against which schools are measured.

Every year, the criteria by which grades are determined have been tweaked by DOE. Some years, grades have been “curved,” as they were last year, when more rigorous standardized tests led to plummeting test scores that would have doomed hundreds of city schools to letter-grade failure.

In other years, grades have been determined solely by the DOE formula, as was the case this year, when 60 percent of schools earned As and Bs and 10 percent Ds and Fs, evoking, for some critics, a version of Garrison Keillor’s Lake Wobegon effect, where (nearly) all the children are above average.

Go to City Limits for the full tip sheet on understanding the Department of Education’s progress reports.

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