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Third of Elementary and Middle Schools Earn 'A's on New Report Cards

By Jill Colvin | September 23, 2011 8:05pm
Ling Ling Chou (kneeling), the former principal of the Shuang Wen school, which received the best ranking of elementary and middle schools in the city.
Ling Ling Chou (kneeling), the former principal of the Shuang Wen school, which received the best ranking of elementary and middle schools in the city.
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MANHATTAN — Nearly one-third of Manhattan’s public elementary and middle schools earned an ‘A’ in overall performance this year, according to new rankings released Friday by the city’s Education Department.

But the annual report cards, which rate schools based on factors including student performance and attendance rates, also doubled the number of schools receiving ‘D’s and ‘F’s citywide, thanks to another rejiggering of how the city computes the overall scores.

Under a predetermined formula, the top 25 percent of schools city-wide received 'A's, 35 percent 'B's, 30 percent 'C's, 7 percent 'D's, and 3 percent 'F's — an increase from last year, when the number of 'D's and 'F's was capped at 5 percent.

In addition to adding new information about middle schools' performance, this year’s reports also gave schools extra points for improving the performance of low-achieving black and Latino boys, under the recently announced Young Men's Initiative.

“This year’s reports make clear that principals should be focusing their attention on preparing students for success after high school, and on helping struggling students beat the odds,” said DOE Chief Academic Officer Shael Polakow-Suransky, who said the reports have been redesigned “to give educators and families access to clearer, more useful information about their schools.”

Under the new rankings, more Manhattan schools received ‘A’s than any borough but Queens. At same time, 11 percent of Manhattan schools received ‘D’ and ‘F’ grades — the most of any borough except for the Bronx.

The numbers also showed a significant split within Manhattan. In District 2 — which stretches all the way from Lower Manhattan up through the West Village, Midtown and the Upper East Side — half of all schools received ‘A’s and none received ‘F’s, giving it the fourth-highest ranking city-wide.

In contrast, just 9 percent of upper Harlem’s 23 District 5 schools received ‘A’s, while 30 percent received ‘D’s and ‘F’s — the city's second worst.

Cherry Street’s scandal-plagued K-8 Shuang Wen had the highest overall score in Manhattan, with the Upper West Side’s gifted and talented The Anderson School ­ and Union’s Square’s New York City Lab Middle School for Collaborative Studies following closely behind.

On the other end of the spectrum, P.S. 197 John B. Russwurm in East Harlem and P.S. 084 Lillian Weber and Frederick Douglass Academy II Secondary School on the Upper West Side ranked the worst in the borough.

The vast majority of schools stayed within one letter grade of last year’s score.

The annual reports are based on a combination of student performance and progress on state tests, attendance, student, teacher and parent survey results and student performance compared to schools that serve similar populations.

The city flags schools that receive 'D's or 'F's, or receive 'C's three years in a row for potential principal firings and closure.

The numbers also show that charter schools outperformed regular district schools, with a higher percentage of ‘A’ grades and a higher average rank.

Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott said the reports are an important tool for pushing schools to improve.

“By acknowledging progress in schools that help struggling students, we can keep more students on track during elementary and middle school,” he said in a statement.

Others, however, have their doubts.

Leonie Haimson, executive director of Class Size Matters, said the rankings are meaningless because the city keeps changing its formula and relies on inaccurate data.

“Basically they are rolling the dice with these grades,” she said, arguing that year-to-year fluctuations in test results are statistically insignificant.

"I don’t think you should believe in them at all," she said.

She also criticized the idea of predetermining the number of schools that receive ‘F’s.

“That’s not a good system unless you want schools to fail,” she said.