New report cards get mixed grades from parents, schools


By Albert Amateau

“For the first time we’re grading schools ‘A,’ ‘B,’ ‘C,’ ‘D’ or ‘F,’ and we’re letting parents and school educators know about them,” said Mayor Bloomberg at the Oct. 7 news conference with Schools Chancellor Joel Klein at P.S. 19 in the East Village.

“An ‘F’ or a ‘D’ is a wake-up call,” the mayor said in response to questions about what happens to schools with low grades. “The objective is to help schools get better,” Bloomberg said. “Now our educators have a new tool to help them see exactly where their schools need improvement and find schools similar to theirs that can help them.”

But a week later parents and educators at some schools — even ones that received “B”s and “A”s — graded the grading system and they found fault with it.

While the mayor and Klein said the grades are based on three components, subjective as well as objective, parents and teachers noted that the grades are based 85 percent on test scores.

“We have never used report cards for children in our school because we feel that letter grades do not contain all the information about children’s learning and achievement that we wish to convey,” said Judith Foster, principal of the Neighborhood School, at 121 E. Third St. east of First Avenue. It received a “B” in the ratings.

“It appears that our school has done well on this year’s school report cards,” Foster said. “But we would like our families to know that these report cards are based on criteria and values that we don’t always embrace. We have higher expectations and deeper academic values for educating our children than performance on once-a-year tests.”

Dave Samuel, a Neighborhood School parent, said the grading system was part of “corporate obsession with accountability — whatever that means — and giving a school an ‘A,’ ‘B,’ ‘C,’ ‘D’ or ‘F’ is an easy way to do that.” Samuel, whose son Dylan is a Neighborhood School fourth-grader, noted that the school does give letter grades but gives parents a detailed report on how their children are doing.

The new school grading system is based on three categories. The first is school environment (15 percent), which includes the result of parent and staff surveys and attendance counts. The second is school performance (30 percent), which includes how third-through-fifth-grade students and graduated sixth-graders perform on the standardized tests. The third category is school progress (55 percent), which looks at what percentage of fourth- and fifth-graders have made “a year’s worth of progress” on the standardized tests.

Foster said measuring progress is a new, positive development in testing, “but it makes it difficult for children who already have high test scores to get credit for making progress,” she noted.

The Greenwich Village Middle School in the P.S. 3 building at 290 Hudson St., with 213 students in grades six, seven and eight, received an “A” in the new progress report and its principal, Kelly McGuire, attributed the success to great teachers.

“I’ve been here for the past two years and this is the finest group of teachers I’ve ever worked with,” McGuire said. “They work very hard and pay a lot of attention to how the children are doing, not just in standardized tests but day to day,” he said.

Regarding the school grading system, McGuire said, “It doesn’t tell you everything but it tells you something that is worth looking at.” He went on to say that giving parents as much information as possible is important. “Parents are entitled to see if their children show a year’s growth,” he said.

The Charrette School in the P.S. 3 building with 570 students in grades pre-K to five received a “B,” and its principal, Lisa Siegmar, said, “Here, we do the very best we can with or without a report card and we’re always looking to see how we can do better for our children.” However, she observed that not all parents want or need the same things for their children. “If there are areas where a student needs help, our job is to find out and help them,” Siegmar said.

The Greenwich Village School, with students from pre-K to the fifth grade, at 116 W. 11th St., received a “B.” Several parents interviewed after school let out this Tuesday afternoon found fault with the grading system. Students at the school have for years scored high on the reading and math tests and it is virtually impossible for them to improve their scores, the parents said.

The grading system compares each school with schools with similar demographics in all five boroughs. The grades will become more valuable in the future as they show whether students improve as time goes by, Bloomberg said last week. Nevertheless, Klein said that there will be changes in about 15 of the schools currently graded “F.” And down the line, if those schools do not improve, there would be further changes or closings, Klein said.

Among local schools receiving “F”s were Chelsea Campus High School at Sixth Ave. and Broome St. on the western edge of Soho and Washington Irving High School on Irving Pl. at 16th St. in Gramercy. Principals from both schools declined comment last week.

The Nov. 5 news conference announcing the grades took place at P.S. 19 on First Ave. between 11th and 12th Sts., which received a “B” on the city’s first school report card.

“It’s a beginning,” said Ivan Kushner, P.S. 19’s principal.

Cecille Stone, a parent at the school and president of its parent teacher group, said Kushner “is interested in the total child, not just in how they score on the standard tests.”