The city Department of Education’s latest letter grades for city elementary and middle schools once again demonstrate how ridiculous its progress reports are. Assessing the quality of our schools is worthwhile, but any system that gives A’s and B’s to nearly all the schools one year and then curves the results to avoid giving D’s and F’s the next will baffle parents instead of inform them.
There are several problems with the DOE’s system:
1. It is based on unreliable data that comes from standardized test scores. We need fair tests that students are not taught to game. Instead, incessant test preparation is rampant and the tests’ difficulty level changes yearly.
2. Tests count for far too much of the grades. Any mother who walks into a school knows quickly whether she would want her child to go to that school. The school environment is a major factor, and so are the professionalism of the teachers, attitudes of the students and involvement of the principal.
3. The system changes every year. Since the DOE initiated school progress reports, it has tinkered with the report components, cutoffs to earn each grade and rules on how grades can change from one year to the next. Last year, when nearly all the schools received either an A or a B, the DOE did not curve the results. This year, however, when every school would have gotten a D or an F, the DOE decided to grade on a curve.
The DOE has issued school progress reports since 2006, but it has not shed much light on our school system. Schools have gotten an A one year and a C the next and A’s with scores as low as 58.5, and those on the state’s “persistently dangerous” list have gotten A’s. The DOE’s evaluation system has eaten up tens of millions of taxpayer dollars and generates mostly confusion.
It is time for the DOE to close down its Office of Accountability, which has become nothing more than a propaganda unit.