Even when a statistic delivers good news, it can rapidly become “bad news” if that stat is seen as distorting or obscuring reality.

Such is the case for New York City’s public schools. As today’s N.Y. Times reports:

A whopping 97 percent of New York elementary and middle schools received A’s or B’s on the city’s school report cards this year, highlighting the rise in scores on standardized tests but raising questions about the usefulness of the grading system.

It’s a question of what one is measuring. If one is measuring students’ test score gains, these schools and the staff who work at them deserve accolades. Unfortunately, a term like “school report card” implies to many parents and taxpayers that something else is measured, like the overall quality of a school.

And that’s where a figure like 97% collides with public perceptions of school quality.

To many New Yorkers, that percentage doesn’t pass the smell test. In the future, school officials might consider using a term such as “school progress grades” instead of “school report cards.”