Streams

Two Similar Schools, Two Very Different Assessments

Monday, April 30, 2012 - 08:02 AM

Michael Winerip starts his On Education column in The New York Times this Monday morning with descriptions of Public School 30 Wilton and Public School 179.

Both are in the South Bronx, two blocks apart. Both serve populations where more than 90 percent of the students get free or reduced price lunch. Both scored "proficient" during city inspections. And survey results for both schools were on par. P.S. 30 students did better on the state math exams, but P.S. 179 did better on the English.

Yet P.S. 30 received an A on its last school progress report, and P.S. 179 received an F.

What follows in the column is a fascinating look at the methodology of school progress reports and how they led to the very different assessments of P.S. 30 and P.S. 19. Mr. Winerip writes:

Even improved, the report card is often imprecise and arbitrary. And that is worrisome, because the city is increasingly relying on schools’ grades to make major decisions.

Last week, 24 schools were closed based in fair measure on report card grades.

Whether a principal is removed or receives a $25,000 bonus depends on the report card grade.

And yet, what appears to be a substantial difference in two schools’ achievement scores can come down to just a few correct answers per child.

The column examines the various arguments for and against the way the city calculates school progress reports. Shael Polakow-Suransky, the city's chief academic officer, says the city's methodology very intentionally highlights the achievement gap among city children by not calculating for poverty and race.

“We could zero it out," he said of the achievement gap. "But that would undermine our goals. We don’t want the achievement gap to be invisible. We want to see if we’re making progress and creating change.”

And yet, Mr. Winerip writes:

The unintentional side effect is that principals working at schools with the poorest children find it harder to get A’s, bonuses and promotions, and are more vulnerable to being removed.

And here's the kicker:

The other problem is that test results can be bent every which way. City schools also get rated under the federal No Child Left Behind law, which measures whether testing goals have been met for all the school’s demographic subgroups, including students who are white, black, Hispanic, poor or in special education classes.

On P.S. 179’s New York City report card under the big red F is a box indicating that according to the federal law, the school is in “good standing.”

But under P.S. 30’s big Green A is a box indicating the school is failing, having missed its federal testing goals four years in a row.

What do you think about your school's grade on its last progress report? Respond to the query below.

Another Times columnist, this one on the Op-Ed page, dives into another controversial area in education, standardized testing. In her column on Saturday, Gail Collins couldn't resist looking more closely at the controversy over the question on the eighth-grade English language arts exam about the pineapple and the hare.

The column has great fun with the matter, and yet after she makes her jokes, Ms. Collins zeroes in on a sobering issue.

We have turned school testing into a huge corporate profit center, led by Pearson, for whom $32 million is actually pretty small potatoes. Pearson has a five-year testing contract with Texas that’s costing the state taxpayers nearly half-a-billion dollars.

This is the part of education reform nobody told you about. You heard about accountability, and choice, and innovation. But when No Child Left Behind was passed 11 years ago, do you recall anybody mentioning that it would provide monster profits for the private business sector?

Me neither.

Also in the news, Jenny Anderson has something for private school parents -- or hoping-to-be private school parents -- in The Times this Monday. The article focuses on legal battles between some of the private schools and families who, for a variety of reasons, withdraw after accepting a spot in a class.

Since 2009, at least five private schools in New York City — Mandell, York Preparatory School, Friends Seminary, Léman Manhattan Preparatory School and the Little Red School House and Elisabeth Irwin High School — have sued parents for tuition.

The schools’ argument is simple: Parents sign a contract when they accept placement, saying they will send their child to the school the next year and pay the agreed-upon price.

Parent-oriented Web sites like UrbanBaby.com are now filled with anxious questions about how far schools will go to enforce those contracts.

Gotham Schools' Rise & Shine morning post has a more complete roundup of what's in education news this last day in April.

And, finally, all day on Monday, an enormous recycling bin will be set up in Times Square. According to a news release, "The materials collected will be turned into garden supplies to build an urban garden in Harlem’s P.S. 102 (benches, watering cans, plastic lumber, fertilizer, etc.)." Stop by and drop off a few bottles to help out P.S. 102 Jacques Cartier in East Harlem.

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