Dangerously confusing

Can dangerous schools be great schools? According to New York City's annual progress reports, the answer is yes. Not only did an astounding 97 percent of the Big Apple's schools receive A or B ratings on their 2008-2009 report cards, six of them also appear on the state's "most violent" list. Go figure. But how did 84 percent of the city's 1,058 elementary schools get an A this year when only 38 percent pulled that off a year earlier? Two ways: First, the state test has long been too easy and badly scored. In June, we saw huge and possibly spurious gains on it across the state. It turns out that just guessing can result in a passing score; on last year's state math tests, seventh graders receiving a 44 percent raw score could still pass. (The state's high-school subject tests, the Regents, suffer from a similar malady.) Second, New York City's school-rating formula heavily weights score improvement to the exclusion of other factors such as actual achievement and school violence. (The city's measure of violence is largely based on satisfaction surveys and it's no secret that parents tend to see their own child's school with rose-colored glasses. The state's list of violent schools is based on actual numbers of reported incidents.) Gadfly applauds New York City's effort to emphasize "value-added," but that only works properly when the test is rigorous and high-quality and the school-scoring system makes sense. That doesn't appear to be the case in our largest school system--or the Panglossian state in which it's located.  

"As Many Schools Earn A's and B's, City Plans to Raise Standards," by Jennifer Medina, The New York Times, September 4, 2009

"School Grades Are Clash Act," by Austin Fenner and Yoav Gonen, The New York Post, September 4, 2009

"Bloomberg's bogus school report cards destroy real progress," by Diane Ravitch, New York Daily News, September 9, 2009

Note: A previous version of this recommended reading mistakenly called the elementary- and middle-school tests the "Regents." The Regents tests are New York State's high school subject tests.

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