As Many Schools Earn A’s and B’s, City Plans to Raise Standards
There is nowhere to go but down.
With the vast majority of New York City schools receiving A’s and B’s on the progress reports released this week, Education Department officials said Thursday that they expected to adjust the grading system, in effect ensuring that more schools would receive lower grades next year.
In fact, school officials who helped create the system said they never meant it to be one that would have so many schools earning the highest marks.
“We are going to raise the bar,” said Shael Polakow-Suransky, the chief accountability officer for the department. He said that while he would want to see a wider distribution of the grades, “At the same time, when we set clear goals and schools meet them, they need to be recognized and rewarded for that.”
The huge increase in the number of top marks on the city report cards — 97 percent of schools received an A or B, up from 79 percent in 2008 — was driven by broad gains on state standardized tests in math and English. This year, the number of students who met state standards jumped to 82 percent in math, compared with 74 percent last year. In English, 69 percent of students passed, up from 58 percent.
The annual A through F grades measure how much students improved at a school, based on performance on the tests for the last three years. So this year, with large improvements on state tests far surpassing the jumps from previous years, many schools received far better grades. The city set the standards for the grades last year and has not changed them, despite the huge gains in state tests.
State education officials are also sensitive to criticism that their benchmarks have lost some of their meaning. Merryl H. Tisch, the chancellor of the State Board of Regents, has said that she hopes to make changes to the tests this year. Dr. Tisch said Thursday that the huge number of high grades was “one more indicator why we need to address the testing issue as quickly as possible.”
“All you need to do is understand that when you are telling parents that all of our schools are A’s and B’s or that all of our students are proficient, we are not providing a clear view of what is really happening in a school or with a student,” she said. “We need to raise the standards.”
At more than 50 of the schools that received an A on the report card this year, more than half of the fourth graders were below state standards in reading.
Chancellor Joel I. Klein has said that he would support raising the state standards, and at an appearance with Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg on Thursday, he said that while he was proud of schools’ improvements, “nobody should confuse progress with ultimate performance.”
Odelphia Pierre, the principal of Public School 129 in Harlem, said that receiving an A for three years straight on the report card was a huge vote of confidence to the school, which had struggled for years to raise its test scores. But, she said, the school was keenly aware that it would become more difficult to earn an A again next year.
“If you look closely, you can see where we have to really improve in getting our special education population to where they need to be, and that’s a group of students that is coming to us in droves,” Ms. Pierre said. “To us, that A is just an A, and it’s not the A we want it to be yet.”
Amber Charter School, also in Harlem, received an F last year but jumped to an A this year, primarily because far more students earned a Level 3, considered the passing mark, on the state exams. This year, 87 percent of the students met state standards in English, while 54 percent did so in 2008.
“It’s a double-edged sword, to be honest,” said Vashti Acosta, the principal of the school. “Last year it was a wake-up call for everyone, where we were saying, ‘We know this is not the school we have, let’s get together and prove it.’ ”
But she was already fretting a bit about next year’s grade. Since more than 97 percent of the students met state standards in math, it would be difficult to show improvement next year. And it could be even more difficult to earn another A