it is mind-bogglingly difficult to keep up with all the change going on in NYC this year, on top of having been away last year. When I reported a few weeks ago that my school got an A on our progress report, it did occur to me to wonder why no one else seemed to know anything about these progress reports. I just assumed it was one more thing my school was piloting or maybe that other principals had not chosen to share the information with their staffs. Turns out there was a media-gag on the whole thing (I’m pretty sure no one did anything wrong – my principal was allowed to tell her staff, and I had no idea the results weren’t yet public when I posted about it).
Here are some thoughts about the report cards:
1. Vis-a-vis all the criticism that small schools and others that screen or select their students should not be compared with the schools who have to take all applicants, the school report cards compare schools to a “peer group” of schools considered to have a similar population of students entering their school. While this can still feel unfair – when a school like mine with kids coming from a background of poverty and instability is compared to a school with kids coming from more stable, middle-class homes – it certainly feels more fair than comparing us to the schools around us in the neighborhood, given that our kids do come in better prepared in terms of test scores and academics. Similarly, the progress reports reward schools with greater numbers of ELL and special needs students (and other categories? I forget), which seems fair. These students add complexity to the work a school must do, and it’s a good push to the new, small schools to expand the services we provide. To me, it’s kind of a “Think you’re so great? Put your money where your mouth is!” thing. The truly good educators and schools will rise to the occasion. Witness this quote from the NY Times:
Gregory Hodge, principal of Frederick Douglass Academy, a school in Harlem with students in 6th through 12th grades and a stellar reputation, said he was shocked that his school was compared with those with white middle-class populations. But Dr. Hodge said he was pleased with his school’s grade.
“We’re moved into a much more competitive group of schools, and it’s going to force a school like Frederick Douglass to work a little bit harder to keep up,” he said.
2. I like the growth model approach rather than flat scores. I like that it includes more than just test scores. But keep reading.
3. The statistics are HARD. I like numbers. I think numbers can tell us certain things and can, at the very least, prompt us to ask questions that we might otherwise not ask. Like, if your school’s scores dropped when everyone else’s rose, why did that happen? Or, why is this one group of kids underperforming at your school compared to everyone else? Or, why did parents report dissatisfaction with X, Y, or Z on the school environment survey? Sometimes these questions might spur positive change.
But dear god. The statistics on these progress reports raised questions on the level of comprehension. Is there a ceiling effect taken into account in the growth model? What does this mean? What does that mean? I looked at it a few weeks ago and don’t remember all the questions I had any more (and was out sick for the staff meeting at which we discussed it in more detail). But one thing that sticks out in my head is that there is supposedly a computer program designed to help schools analyze their results to determine which actions are likely to achieve the greatest improvements in the data. (The idea is to prevent situations where principals throw a ton of resources at a problem identified in the school environment survey, improve that result, but find out later that because of the weighting it made very little difference in the overall school report). So you need a program to help you analyze the analysis? That seems like a waste of resources to me. Find a way to report data so that it is clear and comprehensible and paints a picture of what needs to change. Otherwise, it’s just more numbers.