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Liu: School report card system flawed

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The city’s school report card system that was used as a factor in the city Department of Education’s decision to phase out Jamaica High School inaccurately measures an institution’s success over the years and needs to be more transparent for parents, an audit report from the city comptroller’s office contends.

Comptroller John Liu said the DOE revises its criteria for grading schools every year and, as a result, it is hard to determine what is the state of a school’s academics.

“It’s troubling that a system that is used to decide school closings leaves teachers and students confused about what they need to do to improve,” Liu said in a statement. “The Department of Education should not leave parents, educators or students in the dark when it’s deciding their fates.”

The audit was launched in March, one month after the city Panel for Educational Policy voted to phase out several schools, including Jamaica and Beach Channel high schools. Instructors at Jamaica and Flushing International high schools were interviewed and report cards dated back to the 2006-2007 year were reviewed, according to Liu.

Letter grades associated with numerical scores changes from year to year and parents and teachers were not informed well about those changes, according to the audit. During the 2006-07 school year, Jamaica was given a C grade for a raw score of 44, but during the last school year was given a D for a raw score of 45.

A spokesman for the DOE acknowledged that the department does change its criteria, but contended that does not undermine the validity of the report cards since the changes are made known to parents.

“The discovery that we improve our progress report methodology annually is in fact something we announce publicly before grading schools each year,” DOE spokesman Matthew Mittenthal said. “We make changes to our metrics in response to community feedback.”

The audit did confirm that the data used for the report card grading for all schools, such as student grades and Regents exam scores, was reliable and accurately recorded by the DOE.

Starting this fall, Jamaica High School will stop admitting new students and incoming freshman will have to attend one of four institutions that will be housed inside the building. The DOE made the decision based on Jamaica’s low school report card and low four-year graduation rates, but supporters have said the data does not take several factors into account, including the large number of special needs and immigrant students who attend the school.

Two other southeast Queens schools, IS 231 in Springfield Gardens and PS 30, are also slated for closure at the end of the school year.

Reach reporter Ivan Pereira by e-mail at ipereira@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4546.

Updated 10:49 am, October 12, 2011
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