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The Grand Illusion: Progress Reports and Overage Students

It doesn’t take a genius to realize that students who enter a high school overage/under- credited are the students least likely to graduate on time. And according to the NYC DoE, its Progress Reports are designed to account for exactly these kinds of demographic challenges. That way when the DoE tells the public a school is an A school or an F, the public can be assured that what is being judged is the quality of the programs and the staff, rather than the challenges with which students arrive.

Yet though the challenge of overage students is well known to the DoE, and though the Progress Reports are supposed to be a fair accounting of a school’s success, the Reports generally give A’s to the schools that serve fewer of these kids. Here, for example, is a chart of the A and D schools in the neighborhoods (districts) where the DoE is shutting high schools down. It shows the difference in the percentage of students who arrive at these schools overage.

A's and D/F's in the Districts of Closing Schools

The disparities in concentrations in and of themselves are alarming. After all, what kinds of policies create these kinds of disparities right in the same neighborhoods? Also alarming is the fact that the disparities are often between schools that Tweed recently created (with generally lower concentrations) and schools that it did not.

That’s all cause for concern. But just as troubling are the Progress Reports that assess these schools. Because whether DoE actively induced the disparities or the disparities just somehow happened, data-driven DoE must certainly have known about them. Yet they produced Progress Reports that bury the real needs of the schools behind a failing letter grade.

And that’s important. The DoE wants to shut schools, and it simply is not publicly palatable to shut schools on struggling students unless they can claim that the challenges these students face will be solved by their actions. In other words, DoE has to point to schools that seem against all odds to show stellar success. The closing schools movement runs on comparisons between beat-the-odds schools (DoE’s A’s) and schools that fail the test. But if the two sets of schools are not similar, what’s this really all about?

Source: DoE Progress Reports and the CEP Reports on each school’s DoE website. All can be found at schools.nyc.gov