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Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Is an Ill Wind Blowing Through NYC Public High Schools?


Even as the recent round of DOE Progress Reports has generated another wave of criticisms over Lake Wobegon-style grade inflation (with only one school in the city getting an F and over three-quarters grabbing A's), the just-released high school report cards contain some serious, and considerably more negative, news.

As Jennifer Medina and Robert Gebeloff reported in their Monday (11/16) New York Times article, "More New York High Schools Get A's:"

The school environment grades, which are based on attendance and results of student, parent and teacher surveys, and make up 15 percent of the grade, showed the steepest decline. This year, 55 high schools received a D or an F in school environment, compared with 12 last year.

Thus, in the one area where students vote with their feet (attendance) and the public -- parents, teachers, and students -- have some direct input via surveys tailored to each of those constituencies, the feedback from high schools is not happy news for Chancellor Klein. And the picture is actually far worse than the Times reported. As is too often the case, their "analysis" picked a piece of easy, low-hanging fruit while eschewing a more substantive and informative presentation.

Here's a more thorough recap of the School Environment Survey component of the high school Progress Reports, based on the 268 high schools across all five boroughs for which Progress Reports were completed and published for both 2008 and 2009. (Excel spreadsheets for all 2007, 2008, and 2009 Progress Reports can be found on the DOE website here.)

School Environment --------- Number of Schools Receiving Grade
------- Grade ------------------------ 2008 --------------- 2009

--------- A ---------------------------- 100 ------------------ 78
--------- B ---------------------------- 124 ------------------ 88
--------- C ----------------------------- 34 ------------------ 56
--------- D ------------------------------ 4 ------------------ 33
--------- F ------------------------------ 6 ------------------ 13

The number of high schools scoring an A or B for School Environment dropped from 224 in 2008 to just 166 this year, a decline of 25.9%, while the number of schools scoring a C, D, or F in that category rose from 44 to 102, an increase of 131.8%.

Another way of looking at this shift comes from studying the increases and decreases in letter grades. From 2008 to 2009, three of 268 schools increased their School Environment performance by two letter grades, and just nine more managed a one-letter-grade improvement. A total of 139 schools retained their same letter grade from 2008 to 2009, while 94 schools dropped one letter grade level, 19 more dropped two letter grades, and four dropped three letter grades. In other words, 4.5% of high schools saw their School Environment grades go up, 51.9% stayed the same, and 43.6% saw a drop of at least one letter grade. Across the full range of those 268 schools, their average School Environment grade (using a scale of A=4, B=3, C=2, D=1, and F=0) went from 3.15 in 2008 to just 2.69 in 2009, a drop of 14.6%.

While everything about these Progress Reports and surveys remains suspecct, the data from these latest ones suggest that some ill winds may be blowing in NYC public high schools. Parents, teachers, and/or students are clearly responding to these environment surveys more negatively now than a year ago, a trend that should warrant great concern with the constant shuffling, reconfiguring, and shuttering of schools and the persistently (and worsening) overcrowded classrooms.

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