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Fewer Manhattan High Schools Get A's and Prep Kids For College, Report Says

By Jill Colvin | October 24, 2011 4:03pm | Updated on October 25, 2011 9:00am
The High School of Graphic Communication Arts received an
The High School of Graphic Communication Arts received an "F" in this year's progress report.
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DNAinfo/Jill Colvin

MANHATTAN — Just 38 percent of Manhattan high schools earned "A" grades and only 1 out of every 4 students is ready to go to college, according to new school progress reports released Monday by the city’s Department of Education.

The reports show 27 percent of Manhattan’s 99 schools received "B's," 24 percent received "C’s," 6 percent received "D’s" and 4 percent received "F’s" — including Hell’s Kitchen’s High School of Graphic Communication Arts, Gramercy’s Washington Irving High School, the Upper West Side’s Manhattan Theatre Lab High School and the Legacy School for Integrated Studies in Chelsea.

The numbers represent a significant drop from just two years ago, when close to half of the borough’s 94 public and charter high schools earned the top score. Just two schools received "F’s" last year, and none received "F’s" the year prior.

Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott said
Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott said "students need to be meeting a higher bar" in regard to the progress reports.
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DNAinfo/Jill Colvin

Washington Irving, Manhattan Theatre Lab and the Legacy School all received "C’s" last year.

“Our message to schools is clear: Students need to be meeting a higher bar and doing more rigorous work if they are going to be ready for life after high school,” Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott said in a statement announcing the results.

Overall, schools across the city fared worse than last year, with less than a third of schools receiving "A’s" this year versus 38 percent in 2009-'10 — a 6 percent drop. Meanwhile, the number of "C’s" increased from 21.6 percent to 24 percent, and the number of "D’s" increased from 6.9 percent to 8.2 percent. The number of "F’s" held steady at 3.6 percent.

A single "F" or "D"  grade or three "C's" in a row flags a school for intervention — the first step toward closure.

While they weren’t included in school’s scores, the progress reports also contained for the first time information about college readiness, including the percentage of students who graduated with a Regents diploma with a 75 or higher in English and 80 or higher in math.

The numbers show that just 25 percent of students who began high school in 2007 were "college ready" by 2011. And just 37 percent of those who had graduated by the end of that year were adequately prepared.

The numbers also show that many students are skipping college or putting it off, even if they graduate. Just 46 percent of students who began high school in 2006 had enrolled in a two- or four-year college by the end of 2010. Nearly 30 percent of graduates hadn't yet enrolled by the end of the year.

Department of Education officials blamed the drop in grades on higher standards, and noted that individual schools’ grades were mostly stable, with 90 percent of schools earning either the same grade as last year, or one grade higher or lower.

The grades, which are now in their fifth year, are based on factors including student progress, performance on standardized tests and student attendance, as well as surveys by parents, students and teachers about their schools.

Critics, meanwhile, say the grades are an unreliable measure of quality because they rely too much on test scores, reportedly pressuring principals and teachers to fudge results to earn higher scores.

"The whole system has been corrupted by the high-stakes accountability system that the DOE has imposed. There is no reliability of the various components that make up the progress reports,” said Leonie Haimson, executive director of Class Size Matters, who added that the reports also fail to take into account key factors, including class size and overcrowding.

Instead of obsessing about grades, Haimson encouraged parents to do their own research by looking through parent and teacher survey results, scrutinizing SAT scores, talking to students on class tours and talking to parents whose kids are already enrolled in schools.

To see how your child's school fared this year, click here.