In an education department that’s driven by data, what gets measured is a clear expression of values.
So this year’s elementary and middle school progress reports signal that the city is serious about integrating disabled students into regular classes, helping minority boys, and quickly getting immigrant students learning in English.
The broad contours of what we’ll see later today when the Department of Education releases the newest progress reports, based on the last school year, have been clear for months. Back in the spring, the DOE told principals that it would not insulate schools against steep score drops as it did last year, so we know that more schools will get failing grades that put them at risk of closure.
In fact, the department set a fixed distribution of scores: 25 percent of schools will get As, 35 percent Bs, 30 percent Cs, 7 percent Ds, and 3 percent Fs. Last year, just 5 percent of schools were awarded D or F grades.
We also know each school’s state test scores, announced last month. While high or low average scores don’t always equate to high or low progress report grades, because the reports are based mostly on the test scores, they often do. (The department is also guaranteeing that schools with test scores in the top third citywide get no lower than a C; last year, only schools in the top quarter got that promise.) Also, because fewer schools registered large test score gains or losses this year, progress report grades are likely to be relatively stable.
That means that the biggest changes could come as the result of the department’s annual tinkering with the reports’ formula. This year, schools will for the first time get extra credit for moving students with disabilities to less-restrictive environments, for example from a self-contained class to one that has general education and special education students together — the major goal of a special education overhaul that is mid-rollout.
Extra credit is also being awarded to schools whose low-performing black and Hispanic male students posted significant test score gains. The change comes as the city launches a new Young Men’s Initiative to help a population seen as disadvantaged across the board.
And the city is also treating students who were considered English language learners or who were in restrictive special education settings within the last four years as though they still are. The tweak means that schools can push new immigrants and disabled students into regular classroom settings without taking a hit to their grades. “The new rule recognizes that students who make these gains still have significant needs,” according to the guide to this year’s progress report changes.
Other data will appear for the first time on this year’s middle school progress reports but not count toward their score. That includes information about students’ pass rates in their core courses, similar to the “credit accumulation” metric on high school progress reports, and the percentage of eighth-graders who have passed a Regents exam. One goal of the city’s 2007 middle school reforms, which quickly lost steam but got new attention after Chancellor Dennis Walcott announced a middle school overhaul this week, was to expand high school-level coursework in middle schools.
More tinkering is likely during the next year, when the coursework metrics are set to factor into middle schools’ progress report grades. The department’s guide to the reports says principals are worried how they would fare when compared to schools with softer grading policies. Other changes are also being considered, according to the guide.