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School Report Card Grades Drop as City Changes Ranking System

By Julie Shapiro | September 30, 2010 2:58pm
More than a dozen Manhattan schools that received A's last year dropped to C's this year.
More than a dozen Manhattan schools that received A's last year dropped to C's this year.
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David Livingston/Getty Images

By Julie Shapiro

DNAinfo Reporter/Producer

MANHATTAN — Letter grades issued to schools plummeted this year as the state toughened its standards and the city changed the way it calculates the annual rankings.

Last year, the city awarded A's and B's to 97 percent of all public elementary and middle schools in the five boroughs. This year, just 60 percent made the cut, as more than 700 schools saw their grades drop.

Part of the reason for the change is that the city capped the percentage of schools that could receive top grades after facing criticism over grade inflation last year. Also, city students did worse on state tests this year, as the state raised its standards.

The individual report card grades are based mostly on student progress on standardized tests, but they also factor in the school environment and student performance compared to schools that serve similar populations.

The city may remove principals or shutter schools that receive D's or F's, or receive C's three years in a row.

One school that bucked the downward trend this year was the Washington Heights Academy, an elementary school that rose to a B this year after receiving an F last year.

Staff at the Washington Heights Academy told InsideSchools.org last year that the F was a "fluke," but Principal Crystal Felix said it "ignited community passion" to improve the school.

Founded in 2004, the Washington Heights Academy just moved into a new building on Sherman Avenue, at 204th Street, this fall and plans to expand into a K-8. Felix did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

P.S. 130, on Baxter St. in Chinatown, also had reason to celebrate this week: The elementary school has now received an A on all of four of its annual report cards.

"We're very happy," Principal Lily Woo said on Thursday. "It gives us a reading as to how well we're moving our children."

Woo likes that the city's grade heavily weights progress, especially since about 70 percent of her incoming students do not speak English fluently, which ordinarily puts P.S. 130 at a disadvantage in rankings.

However, ever since the city first issued the blunt report card grades three years ago, local education watchdogs have questioned their validity and usefulness.

Leonie Haimson, executive director of Class Size Matters, said the grades are meaningless because the city keeps changing its methodology. She is particularly concerned that the city mandated 5 percent of the schools would receive D's and F's this year, meaning they could be targeted for closure.

"It serves no purpose at all," Haimson said. "It's a fundamentally flawed system."

Still, the appeal of an A and the disappointment of an F are hard to avoid.

"Even people who know how invalid it is," Haimson said, "will look with interest at what their school got."