P.S. 8 left back - School balks at failing grade

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Two months ago, P.S. 8 was called a success. Now it’s called a failure.

The Brooklyn Heights school received an “F” on its annual progress report shocking parents, politicians and even the school’s principal.

“I think it’s fair to say everyone was surprised,” said Nancy Webster, who has three children at the school. “The grade that the school received doesn’t mesh with my experience of the school as a parent who’s had a child there for six years.”

The school earned an F because it failed to sufficiently boost student achievement from last year, according to the city Department of Education (DOE).

“The school performed near the bottom of all schools citywide, particularly in the amount of progress made by its students over the course of the year,” DOE spokesperson Andrew Jacob said in a statement. “The school is sought after by many parents, but its scores also indicate that the community has significant concerns about its learning environment. The basic responsibility of a school is to enable its students to master standards and improve on their performance. Although some students performed well, P.S. 8 largely failed at these tasks last year.”

But parents aren’t so sure. Since progress report grades are based on how well students improve from the previous year, schools with high test scores year after year would show little progress, thereby lowering their grades.

“If you score 99 one year and then score 99 the next, you’re not making progress,” said Jake Maguire, spokesperson for City Councilmember David Yassky.

Seth Phillips, principal of P.S. 8, sent a letter to parents expressing his dismay with the school’s grade.

“P.S. 8 is not a failing school, far from it,” he wrote. “The hard work and dedication of our teachers, students and families make P.S. 8 an excellent example of how a school can spark the imagination of a child while providing a solid, well-rounded education which goes beyond report cards and standardized testing.”

The F grade for P.S. 8, located at 37 Hicks Street, was especially surprising since the DOE held a celebratory press conference in July to announce that the school would receive a new annex.

At the announcement, schools Chancellor Joel Klein praised the school, saying, “The annex will allow P.S. 8, which has grown in success and popularity in recent years, to continue growing, providing more children with the top-notch elementary education they need and deserve.”

Deputy Mayor Dennis Walcott said, “Student performance is improving and enrollment is growing at P.S. 8.”

With these statements still in their minds, parents can’t understand why the school would be deemed failing.

“It’s a shame because I think this highlights to the DOE that there might be different standards to equate to different schools,” said Diane Miller, who has two children at P.S. 8.

“I do think each school should show progress from grade to grade,” she continued. “I think it’s probably just weighted too heavily. It’s sad that for P.S. 8 they can’t take a look at what we’ve done over a long history. About five years ago, when Seth Phillips joined us, P.S. 8 was in threat to be closed down. Enrollment dropped down to 265 approximately. Now it’s 525.”

Maguire noted, “There’s a huge waiting list to get into the school.”

“I would rather look at trends over a succession of years as opposed to a single year,” Webster said.

Maguire called the rating system “misguided and very deceptive.”

“I think this is really a commentary on the DOE and the system that they’re pushing,” Maguire said. “They need to look at this and understand this as a clarion call for them to reform their evaluation because clearly it has some unexpected problems.”

There’s serious repercussions for schools that receive F grades for several years – they could be closed. But parents aren’t worried about P.S. 8.

“It’s not going to happen two or three years in a row at P.S. 8,” Webster said.

“I’m very disappointed in the F but I don’t think it’s a reflection of how the school and how my child is doing,” Miller said. “We still believe it to be a very successful school.”

At a meeting held earlier this week, Webster said there was “a tremendous amount of support for the school from the parent body and then a feeling that the school was going to move on, was going to try and learn as much from the progress report as it could and get back to the business of educating our children.”

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