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School Report Cards Unfair to Minority Students, Study Says

By Julie Shapiro | April 12, 2012 6:01pm
Schools with higher minority populations receive lower scores on their school report cards, the city's Independent Budget Office found.
Schools with higher minority populations receive lower scores on their school report cards, the city's Independent Budget Office found.
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DNAinfo/Julie Shapiro

MANHATTAN — The more minority students a school has, the worse it does on the city's annual report card ranking, according to a new study, which criticized the system for failing to level the playing field for schools with large minority populations.

Schools with high black and Hispanic populations, as well as schools with many special needs and low-income students, are more likely to get a low rating on the city's A-through-F scale, the city's Independent Budget Office said in a report released Thursday.

"All other things equal, elementary, middle and high schools with a higher percentage of black and Hispanic students were consistently likely to have lower overall scores than other schools," the IBO said in the report.

For every 10 percent increase in the proportion of Black and Hispanic students, there is a 1 point difference in the overall 100-point report card score, said the study, which accounted for the four school years beginning in 2006-'07.

For example, an elementary school that is 40 percent black and Hispanic generally scores at least 1 point less on its report card than a school that is 30 percent black and Hispanic, the IBO said. For a middle school, the average difference is more than 2 points, the IBO said.

The school's score on the 100-point scale ultimately determines the school's letter grade.

The city created school report cards five years ago as a way of comparing schools based only on the factors they can control, like good teaching and a positive environment, rather than on factors they cannot control, like whether the students arrive at kindergarten speaking English.

The report card grades are based on student progress, student attendance, standardized test scores relative to students at similar schools across the city and teacher, parent and student surveys.

The Department of Education tries to equalize the differences between student populations by comparing schools only to those in demographically similar "peer groups." The DOE also awards extra points to schools where English language learners, special needs students and black and Hispanic students excel.

But despite the city's efforts at evening the playing field, the IBO found that the report card grades put elementary, middle and high schools with high percentages of black, Hispanic, low-income and special needs students at a disadvantage, the report said.

Still, the IBO praised the Department of Education's overall methodology and said the report cards are an improvement over simply comparing schools based on their standardized test scores alone.

The Department of Education did not immediately respond to a request for comment.