NEW ROCHELLE, NY — The best way to drive high-performing students out of the City School District of New Rochelle (already well underway since the rash of school violence in 2018) is to abandon clear measures of academic performance and thus make it more difficult for those students to compete at highly competitive post-secondary institutions.
Since 2018, parents have voted with their feet, especially high-performing Black families, by placing their children in private schools. Moving out of New Rochelle or — impossible to measure— not moving to New Rochelle at all.
In what can only be described as a deliberate attempt to accelerate the “brain drain” in the public schools, New Rochelle High School’s leadership is reviewing how New Rochelle High School can represent students’ performance in a less transparent way, this according to a newsletter sent to the school community last week by the City School District of New Rochelle.
The review is being attributed to remote learning necessitated by COVID-19 and Hurricane Ida. In fact, such a review has been under discussion for years, back to the days of Reggie Richardson and Dr. Brian Osborne, and has everything to do with obscuring academic success of some students and nothing to do with pandemics and flooding.
The primary purpose of proponents in changing or eliminating the traditional grading system is to deliver “equity” and “inclusion” as a way for the District to water down or eliminate grades and thus gut what proponents believe is an unfair system that largely benefits affluent students, and in particular white students.
Principal Dr. Dagoberto Artiles, in a letter addressed to New Rochelle High School Families, said that as a result of remote learning, “efficiently identifying each student’s class ranking became imprecise.”
Why would that be?
Students have continued to take classes, receive grades, earn credits and graduate since March 2020. The grades can still be compiled and class rank still calculated. So, what possible causal connection could exist between remote learning and “imprecise” class rank?
There are two explanations: an explosion in students taking courses Pass/Fail and students and teachers cheating or otherwise undermining the grading system.
Since COVID-19 first closed schools in March 2020, New Rochelle High School gave students the option to take any class Pass/Fail.
Weighting a GPA for a student with a transcript filled with P/F grades is highly problematic.
If the P/F grades are not used at all in calculating class rank, that rewards students who took mostly P/F classes (and penalize those who did not) because they had the option to do far less work than in graded classes allowing them to concentrate their efforts in the graded classes thereby boosting their performance in classes that count towards GPA.
If the P/F grades are used in calculating class rank, the question becomes how that is done; what letter grade does a P/F grade convert to in order to make a class rank calculation? An “A”? A “D”? Something in between? Same with assigning number grades in a letter grade system.
A rather obvious solution is based on the fact that in order to know a student passed or failed a course a teacher would have to know whether each student got the minimum grade to pass. The teachers should have all the grades for each specific assignment or exam, so a grade could be calculated even if the number grade does not appear on the transcript.
Short of whistleblowers coming forward with hard evidence (as has happened), there is no simple way to confirm allegations of cheating. A deep dive into the data might show patterns that suggest or even prove cheating but such an undertaking is unlikely. Despite the lack of hard evidence, many in the school community believe that during remote learning, cheating was and remains widespread.
To place this in context, prior to the pandemic, there was another widely used form of remote learning called “credit recovery” using a system called Apex Learning Systems. During the years of using Apex — a remote learning system — New Rochelle High School administrators, staff and students directly engaged in massive academic fraud. There is no reason to believe that cavalier attitude towards academic integrity has changed.
The claim that grading was “imprecise” over the pass two academic years, is a way of admitting that during remote learning teachers did not or could not properly teach material and students were not required to meet traditional academic standards making grades worthless as measures of academic performance.
Dr. Artiles’ “solution” is to suspend class rankings for the 2021-2022 school year.
He explains in his letter that NRHS has traditionally ranked its graduating class using grades earned during the first three years of a student’s high school career.
He then makes an illogical leap to claim the suspension of class rank during the current school year is “because of the factors listed above” and “our determination to create the best possible outcomes for graduating seniors”.
He fails to explain precisely why grades earned through remote learning are the basis for tossing out those grades when it comes to measuring academic performance by individual students and ranking them.
Dr. Artiles says the school profile explains “the rationale supporting this decision” which is nothing more than the reductive argument that because New Rochelle High School changed its grading system in a way that undermined grades as a tool to measure students academic performance grades cannot be used as a tool to measure students’ academic performance and calculate class rank.
Covid-19 Statement / Class Rank
Due to school closures and changes in grading policies in 2019-2020 and 2020-2021, New Rochelle High School will not report an exact class rank. Students will be given a percentile rank. In 2019-2020, students had an option to receive a numerical grade or a P (pass) or an IN (incomplete) in courses not completed or passed. In 2020-2021 students received a numerical grade or an NC (no credit) in courses not completed or passed. New York State regents exams were waived. for both years, reflected by E (exemption).
Dr. Artiles says that instead students will be ranked by percentile (i.e., 5%, 10%, 15%) because the college-application process is underway.
If the high school does not have reliable grades, if a large number of grades are Pass/Fail, if there was widespread cheating and so the high school cannot calculate class rank then on what basis can students be ranked by percentile which is simply a “basket” to place students in a percentile range based on their by class rank.
And what does the college-application process being underway have to do with mathematical computations to determine each student’s class rank, a process that covers almost an entire school year. Especially considering that class rank is only important to the relatively small number of students pursuing secondary learning at competitive or highly competitive colleges and universities.
Given the history of academic fraud at New Rochelle High School, the only way to know if the percentile ranking is accurate is to make public a list of each student by percentile and the basis on which they were placed in a particular percentile (their class rank). Barring that, there will be no way to know that the percentile ranking is not manipulated and falsified. For example, that one-third of students are listed as ranked in the top 5% percentile to make hundreds of students look better on paper. If the response to that request is “it’s confidential but trust us” the school community will know the percentile system is just another academic fraud.
Tossing out grades or a massive shift to Pass/Fail or doing away with class rank is clearly not the “best possible outcome” for students applying to competitive colleges and universities — in fact, it is the worst possible outcome. It serves to obscure the academic standing off all students which is best for students who would otherwise rank lower and worst for students that would otherwise rank higher. It is yet another push to discourage high performing students from New Rochelle High School.
The school profile states the Class of 2021 had 657 Graduates of which 59% intend to pursue a post-secondary education at a Four-Year Colleges. Unstated is the number of students applying to competitive or highly competitive schools.
At 657 Graduates, each .05 basket includes 33 students. The thirty-third ranked student is thus the same as the Valedictorian. There is no way to measure the top student so a Valedictorian can be any of the Top 33 students. Spread out further, say over the 20th percentile, that represents the Top 132 students. The normal distribution of academic performance is flattened to the point of being meaningless.
In his letter, Dr. Artides announced that in the 2022-23 school year, the District will convene a “PreK-12 committee to amend the grading policy and submit it to the New Rochelle Board of Education for review and approval.”
The high school will have its own committee with parents, students, teachers, central office administrators, high school administrators, and the PTA to revise the current ranking procedures to align with the soon-to-be revised grading policy. The NRHS committee will be composed of at least two parents, two students, at least three faculty members, the director of guidance, a high school assistant principal, the principal, a central office administrator and a Board of Education liaison. The ranking committee will provide recommendations later in the 2021-22 school year, with the intent of implementation for the 2022-23 school year.
On what basis students would be qualified to be part of rewriting standards of academic performance is not explained. Same for parents.
And how are 2 students or 2 parents in any way representative of many thousands of students and parents in New Rochelle?
And why would a new grading policy change the straightforward process of doing simple math to calculate a GPA and thus class rank?
Before appointing more and more committees, isn’t the school community — not to mention the property owners who pay for all this — entitled to some detailed, logical and compelling argument as to why a grading system and associated class ranking which has served the school community well for a very long is to be abandoned based some unstated theory that the existing system is “bad” and the new theory is “good”.
All of this is to the side of the question as to why two people, the Superintendent and the High School Principal, who between the have less than 6 months experience in the City School District of New Rochelle, would radically alter measuring student achievement.
By definition there are more average to lower performing students in a school than high-performing students and so more students (and parents) will support policy changes that will hide their lack of academic achievement at the expense of students who take the more challenging courses and get the better grades.
This approach —to water down grades and obfuscate academic success — starts as a race to the middle, becomes a race to the bottom and ultimately ends as a stampede of parents of high performing students pulling their children out of the public schools.