By Dan Rivoli
Ericca Winfield has a son in 4th grade at P.S. 84 Lillian Weber. She says the school has improved dramatically since her son started kindergarten there. Parents are more involved, the education and teachers have improved and her son is in a dual-language program.
Despite what she sees as an improvement, P.S. 84 went from receiving an A on its report card from the city, to being knocked down to a C this year.
“I can’t say I would give it a C,” Winfield said after school let out one afternoon.
P.S. 84 is not alone. It’s one of five schools that received A’s and B’s from the city last year, but C’s and D’s this year.
Of the 23 Upper West Side schools the city graded—high school grades will be available in November—all but five pulled A’s and B’s.
Four schools—P.S. 84, P.S. 75 Emily Dickinson, P.S. 163 Alfred E. Smith, P.S. 191 Amsterdam and M.S. 256 Academic and Athletic Excellence—were knocked down to a C. Another West Side school with a C grade, P.S. 333 Manhattan School for Children, received a B last year.
P.S. 166 The Richard Rogers School of the Arts, was the only D grade on the Upper West Side. Last year, the school got a B.
The Department of Education uses three criteria for judging schools: state test scores, attendance rate and a school environment survey given to parents, students and teachers. After last year’s report card gave 84 percent of city schools an A grade, the Department of Education is limiting the top grade to only 25 percent of schools. The department has also put in a floor so that schools with A grades last year could only drop as low as a C. This was due to the state raising the bar on its standardized tests, meaning that more students would have failed it, according to a recent Daily News article.
Noah Gotbaum, the president of the Community Education Council for the district that covers the Upper West Side and West Harlem, said that parents may not take the school grades seriously if it changes dramatically each year.
“They know these schools are much more than these random test scores and grades,” said Gotbaum, who is a critic of Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s education policies. “If there’s a concern out there, the concern is that the Department of Education will use them to shut down or change the school significantly without understanding what’s going on in the school.”
Indeed, the low grades come with real consequences, even if parents believe their child’s school is at the top. Schools that received a C, D or F grade for three years are at risk of closing or having the Department of Education change the leadership.
“If a school drops from an A to a C that should be a cause for concern,” said Matt Mittenthal, a Department of Education spokesperson.
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