Bloomberg Issues Final Letter Grades for New York City Schools

November 14, 2013

Nothing came to epitomize the era of education reform under Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg like the A-through-F letter grades he gave New York’s schools.

Educators obsessed over them, hoping their schools would avoid being marked for closing. Principals pored over them, knowing that fluctuations in test scores could determine end-of-the-year bonuses. Parents in some neighborhoods proudly ignored them, arguing that a single letter could not sum up the quality of a school.

On Wednesday, the Bloomberg administration released its last batch of grades for more than 1,600 public schools. Across the city, 63 percent of schools received A’s and B’s, and there were signs that schools were better preparing students for college.

But the announcement came with a sense of acquiescence, as Mr. Bloomberg, who staked his legacy on taking control of education in the city, prepares to hand over the school system to Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio, an ardent critic of the mayor’s policies who has pledged to do away with the letter grades.

Mr. Bloomberg on Wednesday emphasized the system’s value for parents. “Getting it down to something that they can use, I think, is not making it too simplistic but, quite the contrary, I think it’s making it useful,” he said at an unrelated news conference, according to WNYC.

Mr. de Blasio has denounced the letter grades, which were introduced in 2007, as blunt instruments that do not convey a nuanced portrait of a school’s strengths and weaknesses.

Lis Smith, a spokeswoman for Mr. de Blasio, said on Wednesday that letter grades offered “little real insight to parents and are not a reliable indicator of how schools are actually performing.”

Mr. de Blasio has said he would continue to make available the detailed report cards that accompany the letter grades given to schools each year, though he would convene a panel of parents and educators to determine whether they should continue in the long run.

Across the country, 14 states give letter grades to schools, according to the Foundation for Excellence in Education, a group founded by Jeb Bush. Advocates of the practice argue that letter grades — a glaring F, for instance — help nudge schools toward better performance in a way that vague pronouncements of proficiency do not. They also say the ratings help identify schools that are making gains with struggling students, so their strategies can be shared. Some states and cities have experimented with alternatives to letter grades, including star ratings and Roman numerals. Michigan uses a color-coded system, rating schools as green, lime, yellow, orange or red.

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