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Applying to middle school? Our advice & our picks

Written by Laura Zingmond Tuesday, 25 November 2014 14:17

Busy is the family that has a 5th- and 8th-grader: middle school and high school applications are both due on the same day, Dec. 2!

If you are a parent of a 5th-grader, this may be your first experence with school choice.  Options and selection methods vary greatly from district to district. Some districts have mostly zoned schools, others have none and some have a combination. It can be hard for families to figure out.

The biggest change this year for some Brooklyn and Queens districts, is that schools can no longer accept students solely on the basis of their state test scores. Top schools—such as Christa McAuliffe in Bay Ridge or The Academy at PS 122 in Astoria—must now consider other factors such as attendance, lateness and report card grades in addition to test scores. Selective programs for high achievers in other areas—such as Districts 2 and 3 in Manhattan, or District 15 in Brooklyn—will maintain the same "screened" application process, that may include interviews and auditions in addition to test scores and report cards.

If you're confused, the Department of Education has laid out some of the changes on its middle school page, listing the new admissions policies (PDF) for middle schools that previously admitted students by test scores. But for particulars, you may want to contact the school.

High school applications are due on Tuesday, Dec. 2. Have you made your list yet?

If you are still undecided where to apply, or how to rank your 12 choices, we've got last minute tips for you. 

We have been visiting high schools all fall, updating our reviews and adding new slideshows. Read our school profiles and check the comments section too. Wondering what other students and parents, and even teachers, think of the school? Our InsideStats section tells you that.

If you're looking for a school with a specific theme, or one that's close to home, check out our new high school search on your desktop or mobile device. You can search by borough, subway line, middle school grades or keyword, sifting through hundreds of high schools to find the best matches.

Here are our suggestions of what to consider as you apply.

By now many families of high school seniors have probably seen the scary article in last Sunday's New York Times. You know, the one that details the panicked quest for college acceptances causing many students to feel they need to file 20 or 25 applications just to have a chance.

I have a 3-word response:

Get a grip.

You don't have to file 20 to 30 applications. Usually 8 to 10 will do, and will offer you a choice of acceptances. But you need to be willing to listen to some advice:

This weekend, thousands of 8th and 9th graders will be presenting art portfolios, delivering monologues, dancing and singing in an effort to win admission to the elite “Fame” school, Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music and Art and Performing Arts. But some parents and faculty say that the performances the students have been preparing for months may have less influence than the state English and math tests they took last spring.

Parents of several students who applied for admission last year said their children did well on their auditions but were rejected on the basis of their academic performance or attendance. Students applying to the school in September 2014 were the first seeking admission since Dr. Lisa Mars, a former assistant principal at Townsend Harris High School,became principal in 2013. The school's admissions director, Mark Neidorff left last spring after four years in the job.

LaGuardia is one of the city's nine specialized high schools, whose admissions process is set by the state. But while the other eight admit students entirely on the basis of an exam, the state law says children applying to LaGuardia "shall be required to pass competitive exams in music and/or the arts in addition to presenting evidence of satisfactory achievement."

Math & science 101 for parents: Our guide & videos

Written by Lydie Raschka Wednesday, 12 November 2014 12:17

Are you confused by your child's math homework? Is science an afterthought in your child's school? Take a look at our parents' guide to math and science, including what to look for in the classroom. We give you questions you can ask during parent-teacher conferences as well as suggestions of what to do outside of school!

Insideschools will help you find out if your children are getting the math or science instruction they need in pre-kindergarten through 5th grade—and what to do about it if they aren't.

Our two short videos, one on math, one on science, will give you an idea of what to look for in your child's classroom. 

New School Quality Snapshots are breath of fresh air

Written by Nicole Mader Tuesday, 11 November 2014 13:20

On Monday the Department of Education released new School Quality Reports for every city school, fulfilling its promise to abandon the labeling of each school with a single letter grade. For parents who appreciated this simple shorthand when seeking out the best school for their children, this new system may appear daunting. But for anyone who ever wondered how those grades were calculated or why some fluctuated wildly when all appeared stable on the ground, the new system will be a breath of fresh air.

The new School Quality Reports are comprised of two separate documents, both intended to make the existing school data more transparent to parents and educators alike. The School Quality Snapshot is a short and straightforward tool intended for parents. Much like InsideStats on Insideschools' profile pages, it seeks to present the most relevant information for parents in a way that is easy to read and understand. On this document, you won't see any statistical analyses or weighted comparisons, only the raw test scores, graduation rates and school survey results that matter to parents most.

My son's teachers shun email

Written by Aimee Sabo Wednesday, 05 November 2014 11:36

I wasn't too happy in September when I found out my son's 1st-grade teachers have no email. The only other person in my life I can't email is my landlord, and I'm pretty sure he doesn't want to hear from me.

Last year in kindergarten, Noodle's 26-year veteran teacher had not only email, but a Twitter feed and Instagram account. So I was just plain confused when I read via a typed letter in my son's backpack on the first day of school that "all correspondence must be in written form." Huh? Like, with a pen?

At drop-off the next day, most parents' reactions were the same. "Notes get lost," one mom said, shaking her head. "When I write to the teacher, I want a record and I want it time-stamped." Another told a story of a former teacher who refused to receive emails from parents, but would on occasion email them when she needed something, like say, last-minute field-trip chaperones. "Why should parents have to function on a two-day time delay?" she asked.

Community Schools: A recipe for school turnaround?

Written by Nicole Mader Tuesday, 04 November 2014 15:53

Mayor Bill de Blasio on Monday announced his strategy to support the city's schools that are "most in need of help." In conjunction with some additional coaching, oversight and a longer school day, 94 "Renewal Schools" identified for their poor test scores, graduation rates, and School Quality Reviews will receive $150 million to become "Community Schools" that provide additional programs and social services to meet the needs of the "whole child, whole school, whole community."

Yesterday's announcement doubles down on de Blasio's campaign promise to establish 100 new community schools by the end of his first term. This summer, he repurposed state funds dedicated to attendance improvement and dropout prevention into a competitive grant to fund 45 new community schools. When those schools (to be announced soon) and the additional 94 Renewal Schools are underway, the number will far surpass de Blasio's goal and will establish New York City as the largest system of community schools in the nation.

All pre-kindergarten through 2nd-graders are eligible to be tested for the city's gifted and talented programs—but the overwhelming number of test applicants come from Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens. Bronx children are tested at the lowest rate in the city, and some say it's because efforts to reach them are lacking.

"Information is not being disseminated widely," said Bronx parent Jonathan Ettrick, whose two children attended citywide G&T schools in Manhattan.

The tests are free but parents must fill out a short form called a Request For Testing (RFT). Families may submit online or at an enrollment office. The deadline to sign up for G&T testing for the 2015-2016 school year is midnight, Nov. 7th is Wednesday, Nov. 12. The Department of Education announced on Nov. 6 that it had extended the deadline from Nov. 7.

College counselor: Deciding on a major

Written by Dr. Jane S. Gabin Wednesday, 29 October 2014 11:39

Q: I'm a high school senior looking at what university I might want to attend.  I would like to be able to look into courses for animation/digital arts, critical studies (for cinematic arts), game design, computer science, or computer engineering. I currently have no experience in any of those areas, nor do I know for sure if I want to devote myself to any of them. 

I want a university that will allow me to take courses to help me learn if I would enjoy a career in those areas, while also allowing me to complete entry level prerequisites, so I have the experience and knowledge to go for a major when I am ready. Unfortunately, I do not know what these courses are. I only know the names of the majors, and schools that offer all of those majors seem to be too expensive. How can I learn about prerequisites, and whether I would enjoy a job in that area?

A: You have excellent questions, and obviously you have been thinking seriously about the next step in your education. Many high school seniors are unsure of what they ought to choose as a major, and then they worry that a major might be a wrong choice when it comes time to look for a career.