Sunday, November 11

Middle School Muddle: Toss the grades

Toss The Grades: For More Details, Try the Quality Review Reports
(If you can slog through them, that is)

When it comes to selecting a District 2 middle school for my fifth-grader, I have no intention of ruling a school in or out based on the latest letter-grade from the New York City Department of Education.

The progress reports and accompanying grades are misleading, difficult to understand and culled from criteria that say much about the DOE’s priorities – improving test scores – and little about mine as a parent.

I had a hard time taking the letter grades seriously when I learned the Tribeca Learning Center, my son’s amazing elementary school, got a C.

And I would happily trade the A at Clinton, where my oldest son attends middle school, for smaller class sizes, a music program, a soccer team and a well stocked, staffed and open after-hours library.

So, I’m not disturbed that some of the fine schools we are seriously considering for next year -- like IS 89 -- received a D, or that the impressive Manhattan Academy of Technology, or MAT, got a C on its report card.

I sat down with the report cards this week to see what I might learn. The data and the methodology confused me, although it was clear that heavy penalties fell upon schools where test scores for the lowest performers failed to rise.

I switched to reading the quality reviews, like this one for MAT, and found much of the language in the quality reviews unfriendly to parents and filled with jargon: Does the average parent, for example, know what it means to “build and align capacity?’’ or why that matters? Or care if “professional development activities are in place to address differentiated instruction and to create a seamless curriculum?’’

Despite the jargon, overall, I found the quality reviews far more useful for parents, because they contained sections entitled: “What this school does well,’’ or “What this school needs to do to improve.’’

As for the report cards, here’s a tip I gleaned from my colleague Veronika Denes, a Ph.D. who directs research and program evaluation for the National Academy of Excellent Teaching at Teachers College and understands data better than anyone I know.

Veronika and colleagues spent more than a day trying to understand the methodology behind the reports, until they discovered online a simplifying tool that the DOE created for educators.

It’s 28 pages long.

Read all of Liz Willen's Middle School Muddle

No comments: