Sunday, December 16

Student Thought: The importance of the school progress debate, Part II

By Seth Pearce

As I promised last week, here are the points that New York City Student Union members made when we met with James Liebman to discuss the progress reports.

1) The NYC Student Union supports the progress report program because it adds a sense of accountability and transparency to our schools and gives principals and SLTs important information about how to improve their schools.

2) We believe that students should be involved in revising the surveys to make them more student friendly and informative. In addition, we believe that like the parent survey, the student survey should include a question like "What is the most important thing that could be improved about your school?" We also thought that surveys of teachers, parents and students should carry more weight in the overall school grade.

3) We believe that the Student Progress section should be reduced to at most 50 percent of the grade and more weight should be given to the Learning Environment section.

4) We believe that the weighted Regents pass rate does not say as much about the output of the school as the survey-makers desire and that it should be reduced or eliminated in favor of a larger emphasis on credit accumulation and graduation rates as both of those use Regents scores to determine real student output. It also puts too much emphasis on test prep by giving schools points for trying to make students take Regents earlier.

5) We believe that attendance, though it is a somewhat troublesome factor, should be given more weight because it forces schools to reexamine policies on a day-to-day level and create more incentives for students to come to school. Shanna Kofman, a Staten Island NYCSU representative, pointed out that at Staten Island Tech, the school offers SAT tutoring the day before SAT exams so that students won't stay home to study. This is an important example; this occurs only several times a year but the school cares enough to adapt to the students in order to keep them in class for those few days.

6) Finally, we suggest that a student or students should be included in the evaluation of data collected from surveys and quality reviews, so that the effect of positive and negative aspects of every school can affect the school's report card grade in a way that accurately reflects the way those aspects affect students. Because schools are made up of people of diverse educational perspectives, the teams that evaluate schools must reflect this diversity, and therefore must include students.
The edu-activist community has, to this point, missed out on a great opportunity to revise this system and make it into a more positive factor in our schools. Instead, they have for a large part condemned the program outright, severing a possible avenue of communication between the various constituents of our school system.

I hope that the education community can eventually use this issue to give parents, teachers, and students more influence on the results-based system that seems soon to overtake American education (i.e. keeping the general program but working to decrease the importance of certain elements like high-stakes testing). By refusing to compromise on this we are decreasing the possibility of working together on the more important issues like class size. In this city, compromise matters.

1 comment:

Patrick Sullivan said...

In speaking to Manhattan parents as part of my duties on the Panel for Educational Policy, I find them mostly dismissive of the Progress Reports and focused on the inadequacy of the system for their particular school or in general. Many are concerned about the emphasis on testing. In fact I've spoken to more parents who have complained about the fact that Jim Liebman sends his kids to programs that refuse to buy into his testing mania while he forces it on the rest of us than I have found parents who find the reports useful.

Regarding the need to compromise, can you point to situations where the DOE has compromised in response to parent concerns? Teacher concerns yes, State Ed Department yes but parent concerns?