So what is the deal with the letter grade that the schools get from the DOE? It is not a rating of the school's quality as a whole and even if it was I would be sceptical because a single grade rating is too rigid and one dimensional to tell the story of whether the school is right for you or not. There is a great simple explanation from the fabulous Clara Hemphill on Inside Schools. Clara suggests that you look more closely at the School Survey results which you can find on the school's page within the DOE's website. I also think that you should consider the Quality Reviews, what your friends and neighbors say, and mostly - your own eyes. Also, many of these schools are so new or the demographics are changing so rapidly that the data is non-existent or behind (remember that you have to wait until a population reaches 3rd grade before you will see how they test).
These reports are trying to figure out how well the school is taking its most struggling learners and helping them to succeed - not the students in the school as a whole. This is important to determine because we have many kids in the city whose needs must be addressed but it is not necessarily helpful as a blanket measure for parents to determine how well the school is addressing the needs of their on-grade and above-grade learners - these kids are not considered in this letter grade. The schools are also compared to their "peer" schools and the progress and performance grades are mostly determined by the year's test scores of those challenged learners. There are two problems here. First, the demographics in several neighborhood schools are changing rapidly, so the "peer" rating may be way out of wack and the test scores which begin in 3rd grade relate to a different peer group. Second, the Board of Regents has been rescaling the test for the past two years and the test scores have been fluctuating wildly - same kids, same teachers, same curriculum, wildly fluctuating numbers. How can you track progress when the metric that you are using has been all over the map for the last 3 years?
A school may wave around their A grade at their open house. Good for them. They may be doing a good job with their struggling learners. A lower grade may be a warning to them that they need to change the way that they address those specific learners or it may just be a giant hurdle of paperwork that they have to cross the following year. How can you trust a rating that fluctuates so wildly in stabile schools?