Brooklyn Hebrew Charter School Gets F

450-Student Public Academy One of 6 in Nation

By JTA

Published November 14, 2013.
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A Brooklyn academy touted as the model for a national movement of Hebrew charter schools received an F on its New York City Department of Education Progress Report.

The Hebrew Language Academy Charter School, which opened in 2009 and has 450 students in kindergarten through fifth grade, is one of 23 New York City elementary and middle schools to get an overall grade of F for the 2012-13 school year.

The progress report letter grade, issued to all city public schools annually since 2007, is intended as an overall measure of student progress, performance, school environment and success in closing the achievement gap, according to a guide published by the city’s Department of Education. An F lands a school on a city watch list and makes it subject to possible closure.

In determining the overall mark, schools are measured against schools with similar demographics based primarily on the results of statewide English and math tests administered in grades 3 and up, as well as other factors. Improvement in the students’ test scores over the preceding year is the most heavily weighted factor in determining an overall grade.

Last year, the first in which it was graded, the Hebrew Language Academy received an overall grade of C, but an F on student progress and school environment. This year, the school environment grade jumped to a B and the student performance grade to a C.

“As frustrating as it is to be wrongly branded this way, we know anyone looking at HLA holistically — not on the narrow basis of how one out of six grades performed on one test — will see it as a great school,” Sara Berman, the chair of HLA and of the Hebrew Charter School Center, a network of Hebrew charter schools, said in an emailed statement to JTA. “Our parents are devoted to it, we have a long waiting list every year, and our independent internal assessments show meaningful progress across the board. ”

The academy is one of six charter schools nationally receiving funding and capacity-building assistance from the New York-based Hebrew Charter School Center, which was established by Michael Steinhardt and other major American Jewish philanthropists. Several other Hebrew charter schools in South Florida, and one in San Antonio, are not affiliated with the center.

The tuition-free, publicly funded schools, which are open to all regardless of religious background, teach Modern Hebrew and also offer instruction about Israeli and world Jewish cultures.

Robert Tobias, the former executive director of assessment and accountability for the city Department of Education, reviewed the academy’s progress report at the charter school center’s request and concluded that the grade does not accurately reflect the overall quality of the school. He also noted that the test-score data is based on only two grades.

Tobias told JTA he was not paid for the assessment.

“I see a school that is performing about average, certainly with respect to the city overall, a little less than average with respect to its peer groups, but that has done particularly poorly with its fourth-grade class — the first class in the school to undergo state testing,” he said. “It appears to me that the trend — if you can call two classes a trend — is on the upswing because you don’t see the poor performance of the fourth-grade cohort in the third-grade cohort.”

Kim Nauer, who researches education at the New School, also criticized the evaluation, telling JTA that the grading system is not “not nuanced enough” and “openly confusing.”

The academy is considered a “vanguard” school for the charter school center movement, cited for its “exemplary practices” in various areas, according to the center’s website. When the center’s Harlem school in Manhattan was recruiting parents last spring, it organized bus trips for prospective parents to visit the Brooklyn academy.


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