My father, the occasionally high profile defense attorney Ronald Rubinstein, graduated from Samuel J. Tilden High School in Brooklyn in 1956. Fifty years later, the NYC DOE began the process of phasing out the school and replacing it with three small school on what is now the Tilden Educational campus.
The NYC DOE recently released the 2012 high school progress reports, and my father was proud when I told him that one of the schools in his old building was rated as the ‘best’ high school in all of New York City, a school called ‘It Takes A Village Academy.’ Then I had to tell him the rest of the story.
There are now around 450 high schools in the five boroughs of New York. About 100 of them didn’t get progress reports at all, for one reason or another. Of the remaining 350, I was disappointed, but not surprised, that the school I teach at, Stuyvesant High School — often on lists of the top schools in the entire country — was ranked as the 59th best school in the city. This, despite the fact that nearly 25% of our students get accepted to Ivy League schools, that we had the most Intel semi-finalists in the state, and our average SAT scores at around 2100. Our rivals, Bronx Science and Brooklyn Tech were ranked 31st and 139th respectively.
I decided to take a close look at the progress report for the top rated ‘It Takes A Village Academy’ and found that the progress reports are even more of a sham than I had determined from my earlier analysis of them. This year, to the credit of the DOE, the progress reports have much more detailed information about how students actually did on different tests. On page 8 of the progress report it has this:
So this school, which got an A not just in ‘progress’ but in ‘performance’ too, has horrific Regents scores. And as far as ‘rigor’ goes, notice that while 139 students took the Algebra Regents, a test that 8th and 9th graders generally take, only 80 took Geometry, and 24 took Algebra II / Trigonometry. Their ‘college readiness’ stats show that few students got over 75% on even the highly curved Algebra test. Also notice how few students even take any science Regents.
But the real amazing numbers here are their SAT scores. Though only 55% of the students in the cohort took the test, presumably the top 55%, their scores were 325 in math, 325 in reading, and 345 in writing. To put these scores in perspective, you get about 300 in each section for writing your name. According the The College Board, the scores for these students are in about the 5th percentile.
I also noticed that the Harlem Children’s Zone Promise Academy I High School was ranked in the 99th percentile as the 5th best school in the city. HCZ is known for being not just a school, but an ‘anti-poverty’ program where millions of dollars are spent providing health clinics and other ‘wraparound’ services. I definitely approve of this comprehensive approach, but based on their scores, I do not think we can declare them a ‘miracle school’ just yet.
Their Regents scores are better, but notice that they have 0 students taking Geometry, and hardly any taking any science. They don’t have their students take the SAT, but their ACT scores are 52 percentile for math, 24th percentile for English, 19th percentile for reading, and 24th percentile for science. Definitely better than the #1 rated ‘It Takes A Village,’ but I really wonder if these scores help to support the case that ‘poverty is not destiny.’
I also thought it would be interesting to see what the statistics were for the lowest rated high school, the ironically F rated ‘Academy For Social Action: A College Board School.’ This school is one of the 24 schools that is now slated for closure. While their Regents scores were extremely low, I noticed that they actually had higher SAT scores than the top rated school. They had a 373 in math, a 362 in Reading, and a 356 in writing, which are about the 10th percentile. Now they only had 37% taking the test so it is hard to make an exact comparison to the 55% the other school did, but still this is pretty strange.
The ‘Harlem Village Academy’ High School run by Deborah Kenny actually got a C rating though, for unknown reasons, their progress report is not available online. The KIPP high school has not gotten a rating yet since they are just having their first graduating class this year.
Now of course I don’t take these low test scores to mean that these are necessarily ‘bad’ schools or that they should be closed and their teachers fired. But still it is pretty amazing that schools with such low achievement can be ranked so high on any metric. And for other schools to get closed on the same crude metric is shameful.