New York Mayor Bloomberg Announces Final Letter Grades to Schools

                                                                                                  New York- Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg issued for the last time his last series of letter grades given to at least 1, 600 public schools last Wednesday, granting high As and Bs to more than half of schools that were nurturing students in preparation for college.

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Mayor Bloomberg is about to bequeath his position over to Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio, who vocally opposes Bloomberg’s letter system. De Blasio plans to eradicate the letter grades, claiming that the process is a crude and unjust way to judge educational institutions’ performance.

The letter grades system started in 2007 as a tool, Bloomberg says, that would help especially for parents, saying at a news conference not related to the matter, “Getting it down to something that they can use, I think, is not making it too simplistic but, quite the contrary, I think it’s making it useful.” Spokeswoman for mayor-elect de Blasio, Lis Smith, said that “[the letter grades offered] little real insight to parents and are not a reliable indicator of how schools are actually performing.”

As a replacement for the grades, Mr. de Blasio claims that he would retain the report cards that come with the letter grades given to schools, but will confer with parents and educators if they should continue such system.

According to the Foundation for Excellence in Education, founded by one Jed Bush, 14 out of 50 states use the letter grades system to evaluate school performance. Supporters of the system claim that extremely low grades give extra motivation for schools to improve, in comparison to non-exacting ways to evaluate institutions. Said grades will, they claim, also give recognition to schools that are doing well, which could help in letting their educational tactics be known for others to follow. Other evaluation systems include star ratings, use of roman numerals or even color-codes, as with Michigan. In the case of New York, schools are given report cards, containing test scores, demographics, and compliances with state standards.

The report cards do not have a final judgment, nor an evaluation of how students write their essay types. In order for schools with a healthy number of disadvantaged students to be judged on an equal playing field, Michael Bloomberg upgraded the grading system with the help of data experts that devised a way for innately substandard schools to not be penalized. It resulted to a very complicated grading system, one of the most elaborate in the US. It compared and contrasted schools with a common range and quality of student population and monitored their annual progress instead of evaluating them in totality.

From the very beginning, teachers and parents alike greatly opposed Bloomberg’s report cards, expressing negative feedback towards the way it prioritized grades to determine which schools stay open, and for taking notice to test scores as determinants of progress. Last academic year, the report cards comprised of grades as well as attendance rates and surveys from students, parents and educators. This did not stop Bloomberg from using the system even on restaurants, or lower government offices from evaluating their employees with the letter grades.

The letter grades system was not always perfect. Most (97 percent of them to be exact) schools in 2009 suspiciously received very high marks, which called for modifying the formula year after year to improve the system. Unfortunately the oppositions still did not die down. “Bloomberg and his team tried to build a system that was as robust as they were able to design, but in schools, unlike in financial markets, there is a lot of sentiment,” said Frederick M. Hess. Hess works as an education scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. He also adds that, “No matter how sophisticated or smart the systems are, they’re ultimately vulnerable to those concerns.”

Shael Polakow-Suransky claims that New York has improved in attempting to give the report cards a little more distinction and improvement by using varied methods of evaluation apart from using standardized tests, such as class projects and grades. Furthering this system, New York has shifted its attention to how students are prepped for college, evaluating schools on how much of their graduates are still in college after three semesters, wherein most officials say most students give up. The system also uses the Common Core standards in evaluating performances on math and reading, rendering poor results and making it imperative for New York to modify the formula yet again to adjust to the level of difficulty of the exams.

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De Blasio will be steering clear from the trend of closing schools on account of poor report card grades. The education department will not be shutting down schools on the basis of this year’s performance.

Having the last set of grades is met with mixed opinions. When some faculty saw it as an end to an educational dark age, some hoped that New York will not lose sight of the importance of evaluating the performance of schools. Park Slope, Brooklyn’s Public School 321 principal Elizabeth Phillips, the principal for over 15 years, claims that her school never failed to receive high grades annually, but they were completely meaningless.“They fluctuate dramatically, from year to year, even when there are no significant changes in the instruction, or the leadership or the teaching staff,” she said.

In West Village Public School 3, parents look forward to de Blasio and his expected alterations to the system. After two years of receiving Cs, it finally received it’s A this academic year. Dana Abraham, a co-president of Public School 3’s PTA, said, “It does not paint the entire picture of any school.”

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