PS 24 gets an ‘F’ for its learning environment


PS 24 was the only local school that saw its letter grade drop when the Department of Education released the annual elementary and middle school Progress Reports on Tuesday.

The majority of Riverdale, Kingsbridge and Marble Hill primary and middle schools received more favorable Progress Reports this year than last fall. The reports show all of the schools that earned “A”s last year –– PS 7, The Bronx New School, PS 51, The New School for Leadership and the Arts, MS 244 –– were ranked at the top of the alphabet again. A spike in state test scores helped PS 310 jump from last year’s “D” to an “A.”

PS 24’s overall grade on the report, which purport to measure schools performances by comparing them to other similar schools, slumped from last year’s “B” to a “C.”

The DOE arrives at the final score by grading schools in three categories: school environment, based on attendance and on surveys taken by parents and teachers; student performance, based on the results of the 2012 math and English standardized state tests; and student progress, which measures the change in state test scores from 2011 to 2012. Schools earn additional credit for making large gains with high-needs students.

PS 24 earned an “A” for students’ performance on state exams. It got a “C” in the student progress section, which accounts for 60 percent of the grade. And it was slapped with an “F” in the learning environment section after parents indicated the community didn’t communicate well and teachers reported strife with the administration on the Annual Learning Environment Survey.

Assistant Principal Manny Verdi said he felt good about the “A” PS 24 earned on the student performance section, which he described as the most “objective” measure of academic success. He said the more students that pass state math and English Language Arts exams, the harder it is to meet DOE’s improvement parameters next year, which he blamed for the mediocre student progress score. 

He described the “F” as the work of a faction of teachers who strove to give the school as many negative points as possible on the survey because they were dissatisfied with some of the administration’s staffing decisions.

“People are voting negative because they don’t like some of the changes we’ve put in place,” he said, noting that PS 24 has cut several non-mandated positions including an early childhood academic intervention specialist and special education positions. “I get the feeling that people were aspiring to those positions and those positions no longer exist.”

Mr. Verdi believed “those grumblings” were behind the 3 percent of teachers who indicated on their questionnaires that they considered student alcohol and drug use on campus a problem. 

“The bottom line is when I walk around the school I see children who are happy and on task and teachers who are engaged,” Mr. Verdi said. 

Among the seven area schools that improved were PS 310 in Marble Hill, which posted the largest gain. It leapt from a “D” to an “A,” scoring an “A” in each category. Its dramatic improvement on state English Language Arts and math tests contributed heavily to this improvement. PS 310 improved the 29.9 percent of students meeting ELA standards during the 2010-2011 school year to 44.5 percent in 2011-2012. The portion of PS 310 student meeting or exceeding state math standards rose from 52.7 percent to 59.7 percent.

The Multiple Intelligence School, PS/MS 37, Robert J. Christen School, PS 81, Sheila Mencher Van Cortland School, PS/MS 95, the David A. Stein Riverdale/Kingsbridge Academy, MS/HS 368 middle school, PS 207 and PS 360 and all earned one letter grade higher this year than in fall 2011. 

RKA Principal Lori O’Mara said there was a lot of work behind the middle school jumping to a “B” from a “D” two years ago.

“In addition to the valuable contributions of the teaching staff, I attribute the success to the many changes in the past few years such as the RKA Way, Overcoming Obstacles, curricular revisions, and extended day programming including academic support and clubs,” she wrote in an e-mail.

The DOE has decreased the weight given to state exam results for middle schools this year. Instead of 85 percent of the grade being based on ELA and math exams, the percentage dropped to 80 percent and 5 percent was based on how many students passed core subjects. 

Community Education Council District 10 President Marvin Shelton said the change may have hurt local schools. He said he looked at Progress Reports skeptically because changes in the peer groups the DOE uses to compare schools’ progress can significantly alter schools’ grades, which also rely heavily on one year of state exam results.

He said he was watching to see if schools labeled “focus schools” by the state because of achievement gaps had improved their grades. 

One, AmPark Neighborhood School, PS 244, earned the same grade as last year, a “C.” The other five focus schools improved.