Carmen Farina announces schools won’t be judged by letter grades

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BROOKLYN (PIX11) -- The New York City Department of Education issues grades to all of its 1.1 million students, a practice that is not going to change.  But it also issues a grade for each of its 1,700 schools in order to give families and the rest of the public an idea of how each of its schools is performing.  That practice is coming to an end, according to an announcement Wednesday from the schools chancellor.  She also said that assessments of schools will become more in depth, and thereby help the communities they serve become better.  However, some parents, and even a principal, disagree.

On the DOE's website currently, every school in the city has a grade, A through F, listed for all of the world (literally, since it's online) to see.  That assessment does not give a full enough picture of each school's learning environment, according to the leader of the world's largest public school system.

"This is a new era of support and collaboration," said Carmen Farina, New York City schools chancellor, regarding the new schools assessments, which are called school surveys.  Farina said, during a specially planned program at P.S. 503, that the surveys, as opposed to the letter grades the schools have been receiving since 2007 as part of yearly progress reports, will foster six important qualities.

"Rigorous instruction, supportive environment, collaborative teachers, effective leadership, strong family ties and a culture of continuous learning and trust," Chancellor Farina said.

However, not everybody is convinced that the new system Farina and her team have devised will yield the results she seeks.

"Whatever you say you think the right thing is to do, do it," said Bernard Gassaway, the principal of Boys and Girls High School in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn.  "In other words, practice what you preach."

Gassaway's school has been given an F grade by the DOE for the last three years because, he told PIX11 News, the department allows the poorest, least prepared and most challenged students to be concentrated in a handful of schools, including his.

If that situation doesn't change, according to Gassaway, the new school surveys won't be of any help.  "They're eliminating one monster, but they're more likely to create another one," Gassaway said.

One parent, at least, who heard the chancellor's speech on Wednesday, disagreed.  "We're trying to bond and bring the family together," said Yunilda Gil, "back in the old days."

Gil is the PTA president at P.S. 503, and she maintained that the school surveys, which will include feedback from parents and teachers, as well as reporting more traditional metrics like test scores and attendance, are an improvement on the assessment system that was in place before the letter grades began to be issued for schools.

A school parents group, however, pointed out that prior to the letter grades system, conditions in New York City public schools were far worse in most academic areas, including  graduation rates, reading levels and attendance rates.

"I don't see how having A, B, C, D and F are confusing," said Sam Pirozzolo, vice president of the New York City Parents Union, a public education advocacy group.

He agreed with parents like Yunilda Gil, the P.S. 503 PTA president who supports the new system, that the chancellor's new surveys hearken back to a previous time.  He disagrees, however, on that being a good thing.

"Revisiting old failed policies and putting a new name on them," Pirozzolo said, "is not a way to success."

Farina's schools assessment plan, however, has already begun to be implemented, according to the DOE.  It is expected to be fully in place by next year.

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