Come Back To Jamaica

The New York City reform model is centered upon closing ‘failing’ schools and opening new ones. Some of these ‘failing’ schools have been pillars of their communities for decades. One such school I read about in The New York Times is Jamaica High School in Jamaica, Queens. This large high school opened in 1925. But it is in the process, now, of being shut down.

New York City rates schools on an A to F scale and if a school gets an ‘F’ or a ‘D’ or three consecutive ‘C’s, then it runs the risk of getting shut down.

I thought I’d take a look at the last Jamaica High School progress report to see if there was anything ‘interesting.’ What I found is that Jamaica High School, in the 2009 to 2010 school year did very well on the regents component of their ‘progress’ score. They ranked, in fact, 164th out of 424 schools.

In this post, I’ll explain how the ‘Weighted Regents Pass Grades’ are calculated and how Jamaica High School fared quite well on this metric.  Below is from Jamaica High’s 2009-2010 progress report.  The left bar graph is the comparison to their peer group and the right graph is the comparison to all city schools.  Click on the image to enlarge it.






The ‘progress’ grade is designed as a way to not punish schools with low starting scores.  If students improve from their starting scores, that is progress.  Now, the ‘Weighted Regents Pass Rate’ is a number that can be anywhere from 0 to about 2, with a score of 1 being ‘average.’  The way it works is that before a regents, the odds of each student in the school passing that regents is calculated.  So they take a students grades, ethnicity, and other factors and decide that only one out of five kids like this one are expected to pass the regents.  If that kid passes that regents, five points are added to the school’s cumulative score.  If he fails it, the school gets zero points for that kid.  Another kid is less disadvantaged so they calculate that one out of two kids like him are expected to pass the regents.  If he passes, the school gets two points, if he fails it the school gets zero points for that kid.  Then, the total points are divided by the number of kids.

So imagine a school with 500 kids where every kid is the same, and they all have about a one in five chance of passing that regents.  If the school does as expected, 100 will pass and 400 will fail.  The 100 kids earn the school 500 points, which when divided by 500 becomes exactly 1.  Another school has 500 kids who all have a one in two chance of passing the regents.  Two hundred and fifty of them pass and two hundred and fifty fail, so the two hundred fifty kids get two points each for 500 points which, when divided by 500 is also 1.  If more than two hundred fifty pass, the score will be higher than a 1, and if less pass, the score will be less than 1.

A score of 1 means the students did exactly as expected.  A score of higher than 1 means the students outperformed the expectations.  When you look at Jamaica High School’s Weighted Regents Pass Rates on the five regents, only one of them is below 1.  The five scores were:  English .98, Math 1.4, Science 1.15, U.S. History 1.34, and Global History 1.15.  Looking at the bar graphs, you can see that they outperformed their peers and also all the city schools on all five tests, particularly U.S. history, where they were nearly two standard deviations above the mean.

When I calculated their average score, weighing, as the city does, the comparison to the peer schools as 75% and all city schools 25% and then compared that final score to the other 424 schools I found that Jamaica ranked a very respectable 164th out of 424.

Now, I’m not saying that this ‘Weighted Regents Pass Rate’ is a valid statistic.  But I am saying that if the New York City DOE wants to use it as a way of shutting down certain schools, it must also use them as a way to keep schools open that do well on that metric.

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5 Responses to Come Back To Jamaica

  1. Dennis Jensen says:

    For the record: While it is true that ground was broken for the new Jamaica building in March 1925, students did not move in until 1928. However, even that is not the beginning, since the school existed in other buildings before that and was first chartered in 1892. Its unchartered history has roots going back to 1854.

    Dennis Jensen, JHS Librarian, Retired (1993-2005)

  2. Pingback: Remainders: Analyzing Jamaica High’s progress report scores | GothamSchools

  3. michael says:

    The DOE wanted the large building to house the Charter schools that are now in the building. Test scores had nothing to do with closing the school. It’s alot cheaper to close a school down then it is to build a new one to house their Savior Charter Schools.

  4. James Eterno says:

    Thank you for doing this analysis.

  5. Dennis Jensen says:

    I see you’re following the money, but go further. When the savior schools die, as economics says they must, they, or the large schools, will not rise again. Instead virtual schools will be wheeled in, touted as better and cheaper, and the big buildings on their valuable land, which we won’t need anymore, will be sold off to developers.
    Sounds like paranoid conspiracy theory, I know, but there you have it. I have no evidence. But one day years ago I got a call at JHS from some pushy dame who wanted to know how many acres was the campus?

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