Report: Mass Grade Inflation Found in NYC Public Schools

Published December 22, 2015

Grade inflation is rampant in New York City’s (NYC) public schools, reports a new study by StudentsFirstNY.

Even though most NYC public school students are failing state tests, they are receiving passing grades for coursework at their schools, according to the authors of “The Hidden Truth: Massive Grade Inflation Conceals Underperformance in NYC Schools.”

In schools where fewer than 10 percent of students pass state tests, 85 percent of students were passing their school’s coursework, the study found. This is not only happening in failing schools; it’s true for many of NYC’s public schools, according to the report.

StudentsFirstNY is calling for an independent audit of school coursework in the city’s public schools to ensure it is teaching at correct grade levels.

“The findings of this analysis underscore why state test results play a critical check and balance function—it’s only by reviewing both school coursework and state test results that parents have the full picture of how their children are performing,” the report states.

‘Indefensible’ Policy

Derrell Bradford, executive director of the New York Campaign for Achievement Now, says the grade manipulation taking place in New York City’s public schools is inexcusable.

“School districts build their myth of excellence on subjectivity and incompatibility of data,” said Bradford. “In New York City, they use the same tactics to cover up underperformance. It’s understandable if you want to dodge accountability, but it’s indefensible if what you want to do is educate kids.”

The report affirms Bradford’s assessment: “The School Quality Reports reveal grossly exaggerated pass rates on student coursework, giving parents a misleading picture of how their children are doing. Mayor de Blasio’s School Quality Reports would have you believe that roughly 85 percent of students in failing elementary and middle schools pass their coursework even though they are failing state exams. That 85 percent of students in schools with a 90+ percent failure rate on the New York State ELA exams manage to pass their ELA coursework belies logic. Either these schools are giving students below grade level work or they are accepting work product that does not meet grade level standards.”

‘Can’t Trust’ Student Grades

In a StudentsFirstNY press release, parents expressed their frustration with the grade inflation.

“My son recently got a 94 percent on his 10th grade science quiz, which I later learned was testing him on 5th-grade-level material,” said Automotive High School Parent Evelyn Rodriguez. “The school is trying to fool us into thinking everything’s fine, but I want my son held to the standards that are going to prepare him for life.”

“My son is in the second grade at [Public School] 305 in Bedford-Stuyvesant, and he’s getting good grades in school,” said Nakeia Porter. “There’s a big disconnect, and I can’t trust my son’s grades because I know only 3 percent of kids in the building are passing state tests. I would rather know from the school now that there’s a problem, rather than waiting for state tests to tell me if there’s a problem.”

“The de Blasio administration must think they can lull parents into complacency by having schools give kids good grades even though the students are underprepared,” said Tenicka Boyd, a public school parent and director of organizing for StudentsFirstNY. “Parents want an honest assessment of where their children are so they can take the necessary steps to help their child improve.”

Calling for Audit

StudentsFirstNY Executive Director Jenny Sedlis says until coursework grades are accurate, there is no way to fix struggling NYC schools.

“Mayor de Blasio says he will turn around struggling schools, but how can he get a true picture of what’s really happening when these schools are inflating students’ grades?” asked Sedlis. “The city needs to bring in an independent auditor to get to the bottom of this.”

Heather Kays ([email protected]) is a research fellow with The Heartland Institute and is managing editor of School Reform News.

Image by Violet Jiang.

Internet Info:

“The Hidden Truth: Massive Grade Inflation Conceals Underperformance in NYC Schools,” StudentsFirstNY, November 2015: