measuring up

Understanding New York City’s latest round of school report cards

New York City’s schools got new, redesigned report cards on Tuesday.

For the second time since the de Blasio administration scrapped the A-F letter grades once assigned to schools, the city released a set of parent-friendly school guides and deeper data dives for most of its 1,800 schools. [Look up your school’s data here.]

This year’s school guides include more data than last year’s did, and line up with Chancellor Fariña’s new school “framework” — with measurements for trust and collaboration appearing alongside metrics of academic success. P.S. 15 on the Lower East Side, for example, exceeded the city’s target for school leadership but is only approaching its target for student achievement.

Those targets are new this year, and reflect city officials’ latest answer to a tricky question: How do you measure and reward a school for its progress, while also giving parents a clear sense of whether students are passing state tests or are ready for college?

The Bloomberg-era letter grades were often criticized for their focus on progress, leaving some high-performing schools with low letter grades and some low-scoring schools with As and confusing parents. Last year’s reports, the first released by the de Blasio administration, nixed the grades. In their place were descriptors based on in-person “quality reviews,” among other metrics.

City officials say the new targets are here to stay, and are meant to be realistic goals for schools to meet each year.

For parents glancing at the results, the reports are also generous: Only four high schools are labeled as not meeting their targets for student achievement, though another 106 fell short and are labeled “approaching target.” Just two high schools are labeled as not meeting their targets for rigorous instruction.

Seven of the 94 schools in the city’s turnaround program met or exceeded their targets in all categories, including student achievement.

The goals also vary widely. The selective Millennium High School needed a 93 percent four-year graduation rate to meet its target (seven points lower than its actual 100 percent graduation rate), while the long-struggling Dewitt Clinton High School would have needed 67 percent (a full 22 points higher than its 45 percent graduation rate).

The variation comes from the fact that each school got its targets based mostly on a group of peer schools with similar demographics, but also based on citywide averages.

“The Snapshots do a good job translating a large amount of school data into language that is meaningful to parents,” said Nicole Mader, the education policy analyst at the Center for New York City Affairs at the New School. “But it would be very hard to use these Snapshots to compare multiple school options available to their children.”

Next year, the city is ditching peer schools altogether in favor of comparisons between each school’s individual students based on grade level and demographics. Lisa Merrill, a research associate at the Research Alliance for New York City Schools who works with school survey data, said that will provide more sophisticated comparisons.

Those peer comparisons already appear on this year’s reports below prominent statistics, including a school’s pass rate on state tests and its graduation rate. But critics said the city’s attempts to translate the data into understandable graphics — with Boys and Girls High School, which has a low graduation rate, earning two out of four bars for student achievement — are misleading.

“The administration would rather give parents a falsely rosy picture than admit schools are not performing,” StudentsFirstNY’s executive director Jenny Sedlis said.

Others, including Mader, noted that presenting school data always involves trade-offs.

The snapshots, she said, are a fair way to account for challenges each school faces while pushing them to do better. The question is whether parents will dig deep enough to utilize them.

“While I applaud the administration’s desire to move away from one summary grade or statistic for each school,” Mader said, “I worry that parents who are pressed for time or overwhelmed with options are going to ignore most of what this Snapshot is offering them, focusing on one number like test scores instead.”

research shows

Race, not just poverty, shapes who graduates in America — and other education lessons from a big new study

PHOTO: Meghan Mangrum

The study landed with a gut punch.

Black men earn significantly less than white men, even when they were raised in families making the same amount. Poor black boys tend to stay poor as adults, and wealthy black boys are more likely to be poor as adults than to stay wealthy.

“Black men raised in the top 1 percent — by millionaires — were as likely to be incarcerated as white men raised in households earning about $36,000,” explained a New York Times article, complete with graphics to let you follow different kids’ paths.   

“It was sobering to read,” said Ryan Smith the executive director of Education Trust – West, an education and civil rights advocacy group. “Me being a black man, obviously I’ve experienced some of the data, but to see it in black and white was tough.”

The study, released through the Equality of Opportunity Project, is noteworthy in scope, using data on millions of people born between 1978 and 1983 in the U.S. And while it focuses on their economic outcomes, the research also looks at education, where the impact of racism on black boys is also apparent. Here’s what the study tells us about schools and education policy.

Poverty is not a proxy for race when it comes to academic outcomes.

That’s clear in the data: Black students are much less likely to graduate from high school and attend college than white students with the same family income.

The differences were substantial. Whereas poor white men graduated high school about 78 percent of the time, black men whose families had the same income graduated only 70 percent of the time. Disparities for women exist too, but were much smaller.

Education policy sometimes proceeds under the assumption that socioeconomic status matters, but that race and racism — aside from their impact on family income — don’t.

This study suggests that just isn’t so.

Here’s another example: On federal math and reading exams, white eighth graders who qualified for subsidized lunch (indicating low family income) slightly outscored black eighth graders who did not qualify.

This has real-world consequences. A number of states that do not have school funding gaps between low- and high-income students still have gaps between white students and students of color, one recent analysis found.

In California, where Smith of Education Trust works, the state’s funding formula sends more money to schools with many low-income students. The idea is to get extra help for students who need it. But there aren’t additional resources allocated for black students who are behind academically, regardless of their families’ income.

“There are middle-income and upper-income African American students who are chronically underperforming and yet we’ve not created a structure to actually support their success,” Smith said. His group is supporting a bill in the California state legislature that would increase funding for a district’s lowest performing subgroup of students that doesn’t already get extra money. In many cases, that means black students.

“If those are African-American students in your state, in your districts, in your school, then we must at least have the conversation about what we can do differently,” he said.

Test scores may miss something in black girls.

The authors note a puzzling phenomenon: On average, black girls score lower on tests than white girls with the same family income, but there’s no such disparity in their adult earnings. This suggests that test scores don’t fully capture the skills of black girls.

Ironically, Raj Chetty, coauthor of this study, is perhaps best known in the education world for pioneering but controversial research on the links between test scores and adult income. (That research focused on teachers’ impact on student scores, which was found to translate into higher earnings later in life.)

The latest study doesn’t overturn the previous research, but it does raise questions about whether test scores may be less accurate for certain groups of students.

Can good schools and neighborhoods help close these gaps?

The paper points out that kids of all races do better in certain neighborhoods. “Black and white boys who grow up in neighborhoods with lower poverty rates, higher test scores, higher median rents, and more two-parent households tend to have higher incomes in adulthood,” they write.

The research finds that up to 25 percent of the black-white income disparity is connected to the neighborhood a student grows up in. That suggests that ensuring families of different races live in the same neighborhood and attend school together — integration — can have a significant effect.

But it’s unclear to what extent the quality of a school makes a difference. This study relies on average test scores to define school quality, though that doesn’t actually say much about how effective schools are.

We do know that early childhood education, school integration, educational spending, certain charter schools, and better teachers can benefit students in the long run, sometimes substantially so.

list list

Here are the 50 New York City schools with kindergarten waitlists in 2018

PHOTO: Christina Veiga
Kindergarten students at the Brooklyn School of Inquiry.

It’s the most anxiety-inducing season of all: Kindergarten placement letters are out in New York City.

All kindergartners are guaranteed a spot in a city school, and almost all families that prefer their zoned school ultimately get to enroll there.

But the city’s admissions process yields waitlists at dozens of schools for a period of time every year — and this year, there are 50 schools where not all local families who applied by the January deadline could be given a spot. In all, 590 applicants were placed on waitlists, compared to 1,083 a year ago, according to the city’s admissions tally.

Here are the New York City schools with kindergarten waitlists right now:

Waitlists typically clear over the spring and summer, as families opt for schools outside of their zone, including private or charter schools, or relocate out of the city. But each year, some kindergartners are assigned to schools outside of their zone — an issue that typically affects a few crowded neighborhoods in Queens and Brooklyn.

Half of the schools with waitlists had five or fewer children on them. Three schools had waitlists with more than 60 children: PS 196 and P.S. 78 in Queens and P.S. 160 in Brooklyn.

In a sign of just how volatile the admissions picture can be, just 23 of the 50 schools with waitlists this year also had them last year.

Some schools with large waitlists had none last year, according to a comparison of education department data from the two years. P.S. 78 in Queens has 73 children on the kindergarten waitlist this year, for example, but last year all zoned students who applied by the deadline were admitted right away.

On the other hand, some schools that placed many students on the waitlist last year were able to take all applicants this year. Last year, 43 children landed on the waitlist at P.S. 176 in Brooklyn, but this year, the school has no waitlist at all.