“No more letter grades!”
That was Chancellor Carmen Fariña’s emphatic declaration as she announced the end of the Bloomberg-era A–F grading of schools in a special address on Oct. 1.
Fariña’s statement was met by loud applause from parents, educators, advocates, union leaders and elected officials who packed the auditorium at PS 503/PS 506 in Brooklyn to hear the much anticipated announcement.
“This is a new era of support and collaboration,” she said.
No longer will schools have an annual School Progress Report, for which student standardized test scores accounted for 85 percent of the grade.
“We are looking beyond test scores,” Fariña said.
The previous administration used those letter grades as a cudgel, closing schools with low grades instead of helping them to improve.
In the report’s place, Fariña introduced two new instruments: the School Quality Snapshot, to give parents accessible information about school performance, and the School Quality Guide, which she said will give school leaders the data they need to help schools improve.
The snapshot and the guide will include a variety of metrics, including:
- a quality review based on an experienced educator’s formal evaluation of the school after classroom observations and interviews with parents and students;
- a description of student progress based on state tests;
- progress toward graduation for high school students;
- school attendance;
- closing the achievement gap for English language learners, students with disabilities and students who scored in the lowest third citywide on state tests last year;
- the movement of students with disabilities into regular classrooms; and
- college- and career-readiness for high school students.
In addition, the guide for school leaders will include a tool to evaluate the quality of the Common Core-aligned curriculum at the school.
“Our framework provides a robust basis for building on each school’s strengths, addressing its needs, and determining a course of action that holds everyone in our school system accountable for our students’ futures,” she said.
UFT President Michael Mulgrew, who attended the announcement, said the changes were a welcome departure from the previous policy.
“The progress reports were based on test scores so education became nothing more than test prep,” he said.
Both new instruments have been shaped by research spearheaded by Anthony Bryk, the president of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. Bryk found six areas of excellence common to successful schools: rigorous instruction; a supportive environment; a spirit of collaboration and team teaching; effective leadership, including a principal who models teaching; strong family and community ties; and a culture of continuous learning and trust.
“We’re no longer forcing change on teachers,” Fariña said. “We’re working together to effect change.”
A new school survey, which will launch in January 2015, will also use the Bryk framework to provide better data on school achievement and the challenges schools face.
Fariña recalled her days as a consultant in the Bloomberg administration, when she walked into an A school but observed little evidence of good classroom instruction and collaboration. And then, there was the frantic call she received from a principal whose school got a D.
“I knew for a fact that the school was full of engaged families, collaborative teachers and students participating in hands-on, interactive learning,” Fariña said.
Lulinda Grinaway, the chapter leader at PS 506, said she was inspired by the promise of a new way of evaluating and helping schools improve. “The chancellor really pulls you in with her common sense,” Grinaway said. “Teachers are hopeful, and I’m excited about the new partnership between the department and the UFT.”
Wilfred Hylton, a music teacher and the chapter leader at Brooklyn’s IS 265, the Susan McKinney Secondary School of the Arts, also welcomed the change.
The last letter grade his school received under the Bloomberg administration was a C, which Hylton said in no way reflected what students were able to achieve. That grade seemed particularly unfair at a time when the school was losing space to a charter school co-located in its building.
“We have a marching band that engages in drilling and discipline and has performed at Hampton University and Virginia State University,” he said. “We have phenomenal dance and drama programs and art classes. Those are intangibles you don’t see with letter grades.”