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NCLB Outrages

Albany Adds 60 Schools to New York City List of Failures

So it's tweedledeedee and tweedledeedumb when trying to compare the way the New York City fiefdom rated its schools and the federal rating. So what else is new? And the union just adds to the confusion. It doesn't look like anyone is trying to serve kids and their parents.

By Jennifer Medina

Sixty New York City elementary and middle schools have been newly identified as failing under the federal No Child Left Behind law, according to a list released on Thursday by the State Education Department, which also showed that the number of failing schools was rising in both the city and the state.

The list was released more than a month after the city gave out its own grades to more than 1,200 schools. And a comparison of the two assessments showed some surprising contradictions, putting into sharp focus the difficulty of measuring what makes a school successful.

More than half the elementary and middle schools that got an F under the cityâs new grading system are in good standing under the federal law, while more than 20 percent of the schools that the city gave Aâs are considered failing, the state said.

Of the 568 elementary and middle schools that received an A or a B from the city, 398 are in good standing under the federal standards. At the other end of the spectrum, of the 115 schools that received a D or an F, 66 are in good standing, while 49 are not. Two schools that the city announced it would close at the end of this year for poor performance, among other factors â P.S. 79 in the Bronx and P.S. 183 in Brooklyn â are considered in good standing under the federal law.

The schools list released by the state can be found here.

State and city officials explained the contrasts by saying the two lists were not meant to measure the same things. But critics said the two systems would only confuse parents and urged the state and city to agree on how to judge schools.

âYou cannot go on having disparate paths about how to identify the schools,â said Merryl H. Tisch, a member of the stateâs Board of Regents. âWhat do you do if you are a parent in the Bronx and you want to use a neighborhood school, but the city says it is failing and the state says it is not? You have to make the decision: Do you want your kid to schlep an hour to get to a different school? How can you decide what is meaningful?â

The federal law focuses on overall performance of the student body, as well as the scores of various subgroups, like black or special education students. The city report cards use some of the same criteria, but emphasize how much improvement a school shows in each year, by measuring, for example, how well fourth graders did compared with when they were in third grade.

James S. Liebman, the schoolsâ chief accountability officer, who designed the grading system for the city, said he saw a âstrong correlationâ between the two lists, because schools that received an A on the report card were more likely to be considered in good standing by the state than a school that received an F.

âYou wouldnât need two systems that tell you the exact same thing,â he said. âWe built our progress reports because we felt there was new information by looking at comparisons of the same kids over time.â

But Mr. Liebman also said the city was working with state officials to design a similar system. Tom Dunn, a spokesman for the stateâs Education Department, said it was âprematureâ to talk about what kind of system the state would create.

The stateâs list included only elementary and middle schools, but officials said they would release the results for high schools later this school year.

Using test scores from the 2006-7 school year, the number of city schools considered failing rose to 292, from 249 last year. In New York State, the number rose to 444, from 365 last year. The new schools in New York City included Arthur Tappan Elementary School in Harlem, P.S. 291 in the Bronx and Middle School for the Arts in Brooklyn.

Mr. Dunn said many more schools were deemed failing, or âin need of improvement,â this year because they were judged on scores of all students in third through eighth grades, rather than just fourth and eighth grades, as they had been in years past. In effect, a much larger group of students were tested and measured for the results. Schools are deemed failing under the federal law if they do not make âadequate yearly progressâ under state standards in the same subject two years in a row.

City officials said a large part of the reason for the increase in failing schools was that new federal regulations required far more students who are still learning English to be tested.

âI think you canât easily develop a kind of trend line because you are dealing with far more kids,â said David Cantor, a spokesman for the cityâs Education Department. âAny school that is not making performance standards is one too many, but by the same token, even given the changes in the testing program, we have sent far fewer schools to the list than the rest of the state.â

Randi Weingarten, the president of the cityâs teachersâ union, said the city and state were presenting âcompeting and conflictingâ measurements.

âHow can you possibly close a school morally or ethically if the school by the accountability system that is already on the books tells you that they are in good shape?â she said, adding that the city should reconsider its decision to close P.S. 79 and P.S. 183.

Mr. Cantor said both schools had been in good standing under federal standards since at least the 2003-4 school year.

Griff Palmer contributed reporting.

— Jennifer Medina
New York Times
2007-12-21


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