Annotation: How to Read a School Progress Report

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Elementary and Middle Schools

  • SCHOOL ENVIRONMENT (worth 15%): This score consists of the Learning Environment Survey, which measures how parents, teachers and students feel about school safety, respect, curriculum and expectations (worth 10 percent) and the annual school-wide attendance average (worth 5 percent). WHY IT'S GOOD: It captures important qualitative information about the school, such as the level of engagement and parent satisfaction. Attendance, an important predictor of student success, is included here. DRAWBACKS: A significant indicator such as attendance should probably count more than 5 percent.
  • STUDENT PERFORMANCE (worth 25%): This score measures the proportion of students who met state standards on reading and math tests in grades three through eight. WHY IT'S GOOD: State tests are a good gauge of whether students can read and understand short passages and solve basic arithmetic problems. DRAWBACKS: State tests do not measure broader knowledge of history, science or the arts. Neither do they measure important analytical skills like how well children can use a library, read longer books, write research papers, form opinions or speak in class. Schools that focus on test prep may get good scores even if they fail at these broader goals—and their students could be ill-prepared for high school work.
  • STUDENT PROGRESS (worth 60%): This score measures how much progress fourth through eighth graders made on state reading and math tests from the previous year, with a focus on raising scores of children in bottom third. (worth 60 percent). EXTRA CREDIT: Schools get extra points for gains among special needs children and those who are learning English (worth an additional 15 points). WHY IT'S GOOD: Focusing on the progress each student makes rather than actual test scores is an important attempt to show the "value added" of a school. DRAWBACKS: The state tests are not designed to measure growth, which reduces the reliability of this measure. It is also subject to wide year-to-year fluctuations, particularly for students who are very low or high performing. And the progress made by an elementary school principal turning a school around may not be reflected for four to five years, as a principal's first kindergarten class isn't incorporated into the score until the class reaches fourth grade. (The DOE is attempting to reduce the volatility of this indicator by changing the way this number is calculated in 2010.)
  • THE PEER INDEX AND PEER SCHOOLS: This measure is designed to compare schools to others with similarly challenging populations. Each school is given a number from 1 to 100 reflecting the proportion of black and Hispanic children and those eligible for free lunch, special education services and English as a Second Language. (The peer index for middle schools is based on children's fourth grade test scores, not demographics.) The Progress Report measures a school's standing against these peer schools and against all schools citywide serving the same age group. WHY IT'S GOOD: It attempts to compensate for the fact that children from these groups typically have more difficulty in school. DRAWBACKS: Principals say student mobility (including the number of children in homeless shelters, in foster care, or those whose formal education has been interrupted) is a more significant indicator than race or free lunch eligibility. Schools that make inappropriate referrals to special education may have an advantage.


High Schools

  • SCHOOL ENVIRONMENT (worth 15%): Identical to the lower grades, this score includes the results of the Learning Environment Survey, which measures how parents, teachers and students feel about school safety, respect, curriculum and expectations (worth 10 percent) and the annual school-wide attendance average (worth 5 percent). WHY IT'S GOOD: It offers important qualitative and quantitative information. DRAWBACKS: Attendance may deserve more weight.
  • STUDENT PERFORMANCE (worth 25%): This score measures the proportion of students who graduate on time and within six years. It includes a weighted diploma rate, in which schools get extra credit for graduating special needs students. Schools also get extra credit for giving more demanding Regents or Advanced Regents diplomas. WHY IT'S GOOD: Graduation rates are a key indicator of a school's success. This measure also helps ensure that special needs children are not ignored. DRAWBACKS: The graduation rate does not measure the rigor of the academic program. Schools that offer only introductory courses may get the same credit as schools that offer a rich college prep curriculum.
  • STUDENT PROGRESS (worth 60%): This score measures how many students pass their classes each year and how many pass Regents exams needed for graduation. Schools get extra points for students in the lower-third who pass their classes. WHY IT'S GOOD: The report reveals the proportion of students who are "off-track" for graduation. Students who successfully complete ninth grade (and each grade thereafter) are significant more likely to graduate, so placing emphasis on how many classes students pass makes sense. The weights also focus attention on how well the school works with lower performing students. DRAWBACKS: Merely counting credits earned doesn't reflect the rigor or pace of courses. One teacher may pass all students regardless of how little work they do, while another may be more demanding. The measure also encourages a questionable practice called "credit recovery," in which students can be given credit for a course they failed (or didn't attend) by doing often minimal makeup work.
  • THE PEER INDEX AND PEER SCHOOLS: High schools are compared with others whose entering students have similar scores on eighth grade reading and math tests. Extra credit is given for overage students and those receiving special education services. So a peer index number of 3.0 would mean that the average eighth grade reading and math scores were a low Level 3. WHY IT'S GOOD: This measure is far superior to the elementary school peer index. By eighth grade, children's levels of achieve-ment in reading and math are well-established. Whatever the limitations of the state tests, children who score poorly on them are unlikely to graduate from high school without significant remediation. DRAWBACKS: This index does not include students who start school mid-year. Neither does it include students who have registered for New York City public schools for the first time and have no school records. Principals say these new students tend to be assigned to large high schools and tend to have lower levels of academic achievement.