Thursday, December 13, 2007
Head-Banging Over Progress Reports – At Least It Feels Good When You Stop
Common sense would suggest that in the ideal world, the DOE’s new Progress Reports would serve two major constituencies: parents and school administrators. Testimony at the City Council Education Committee hearing on Monday, December 10 made it clear that these report cards receive an “F” of their own with regard to parents who simultaneously find them too simplistic and yet due not understand how the grades were derived.
The very next day, I observed first hand at an SLT meeting my son’s school’s efforts to figure out how to interpret and respond to their grade. On that score, I can only conclude that the Progress Reports deserve an “F” for school administrators’ inability to convert the products of a $3 million DOE investment into something actionable.
Since my son's high school received a letter grade of “A,” albeit just barely, the meeting agenda item was stated as, “Discuss ‘A’ rating and its implication: How do we keep it?” Our Principal, an AP, five or six teachers (two of them in math!), the UFT chapter leader, four parents, two students, a DC 37 representative, and a CBO representative sat in a classroom for nearly an hour striving to answer that question. The result? Not only did we discover we really had no idea, we also realized we had far more questions than answers, such as:
-- Our school received over 10 points in “additional credit,” but that came from the nature of how the school works. It was unclear how to get more credit in this category, whether this was academically meritorious, or even how many more points we could actually get.
-- We realized that we do not understand what 4- and 6-year weighted diploma rates are, why ours are 170.7% and 195.6%, respectively (how do you graduate 195.6% of your kids?), or what the maximum percentages could be.
-- We did not understand what "Average Completion Rate for Remaining Regents" or where the percentage associated with it came from.
-- We did not understand the peculiar score system associated with our school's "Weighted Regents Pass Rate," numbers like 0.98, 1.28, 1.48, 0.94, and 1.0. What do these numbers mean, and how do they get improved? Do they reflect students passing Regents at different levels, such as below or above 85%? We don't know.
-- SLT members persistently confused our bold-faced "score" in these categories with actual Regents pass rates, thinking that the Progress Report data must be incorrect.
-- No one in the room understood how the peer groups were actually formed, and only one or two of us knew who some of the schools in our peer group were.
-- No one in the room knew about the 2/3 vs. 1/3 weighting split between peer group horizon and Citywide horizon until I (a parent, not a DOE employee or Principal) explained it to them. And I only knew because I heard it in Jim Liebman’s testimony at the Education Committee hearing the day before.
We spent so much time asking questions and realizing how little we knew about this system, we did nothing to answer the original question about how to maintain our grade. A group of intelligent, committed, and genuinely caring teachers, administrators, and parents beat their collective heads against the Progress Report wall for over an hour and came up with nothing about how to make the report actionable. Frustration edged into cynicism as opinions were expressed that "this too shall pass," that as soon as Bloomberg is gone, Klein will be gone and this report card system with it, so why worry about it.
The DOE has produced a system that grades schools while giving them (and us as parents on the SLT) little or no guidance in how to interpret it and absolutely no idea how to respond. This is a management failure of the first order, particularly given the ultra-high visibility and stigmatizing potential of a single letter grade.
Despite everything, my son’s high school is happy to have an “A” and be able to wave it around like a gold ribbon in front of 8th grade parents at open houses, as well they should. If anyone has taught us about PR, it's this Chancellor. Still, in my heart of hearts, I know the grade is virtually meaningless and is giving our school's well-intentioned administration absolutely no help in guiding itself toward doing better. I am convinced that we as an SLT will collectively develop our own much better sense of what we need to do than this inane Progress Report system is telling us.