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Last week students in grades 3-8 sat for state standardized reading exams that were longer and harder than in previous years and, for the first time, aligned with the Common Core reform. Some students even ended up in tears, teachers said. This week, the same students are bracing for three days of math exams: Wednesday-Friday. An 8th-grader (who wishes to remain anonymous) from the Center School in Manhattan reflects on his testing experience last week and gives it -- and his performance -- low marks. Here's his report.
Because our principal has so much faith in her students, we all approach standardized tests without worry. I went into this one thinking it would be just like all the others I have taken -- not too hard. It turned out, on the whole, to be harder than it has been. It wasn't unbearable for me, even though I barely had enough time to complete some sections. The stories were quite long. Many were two pages, some three. I had to constantly look back, to reread several times, and that took time. A lot of the answers seemed to be equally valid and [based on] somebody's opinion, not fact.
On the eve of next week's state ELA exams for grades 3-8, Chancellor Walcott is urging principals to "turn the pressure down" on teachers in the wake of "heightened anxiety" about this year's high stakes tests.
Walcott and State Ed Commissioner John King have been saying that the 2013 state tests will be more difficult to pass because for the first time they are aligned with the new Common Core standards which many schools have just began to implement. Some teachers say they have not had adequate curricula and learning materials to prepare for the new standards.
In his weekly letter to principals, Walcott acknowledged the anxiety surrounding the upcoming ELA and math exams. He writes: "...a natural reaction would be to turn the heat up on your teachers, who tend to respond by turning the heat up on their students," he writes. "Instead, to the greatest extent you can, I’m asking you and your team to do the opposite, and turn the pressure down."
Even with the expected drop in student scores, "roughly the same number of students will attend summer school as in previous years," he said . "And teacher evaluation and school accountability will adjust accordingly so no one is punished by the change in assessments."
Earlier this week, Walcott visited Academy of Arts and Letters in Brooklyn with King and Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch, to see how that school was implementing the Common Core. He praised the leadership for "cultivating a caring culture" that other principals should follow.
See the full text of his letter after the jump.
Dear Judy: My son was accepted to Beacon High School. He is very happy and is already making plans as to what he will do at the new school. I don't come from the U.S. and my question is: Is it a good school? How can I help him prepare for his first year? He doesn't know yet what profession he wants to pursue when he goes to college.
I am glad to hear that your son is pleased with his high school placement. Beacon is a very good school and it will prepare him well for university studies. Universities in the United States do not require students to choose what they will focus on until they are well into the second year of the four years they will spend there. High school years can be used for exploring many subjects and possible careers. That's why, to graduate, students must earn 44 credits for academic courses in math, science, social studies, English, a non-English language, art, music and physical education. Beacon is a member of the New York Performance Standards Consortium, and, as such students are exempt from taking most state exams called Regents. Instead, course credits are based on detailed projects called portfolios which students present to their teachers and peers.
Beacon graduation requirements are online. You can compare these to the city's Department of Education requirements listed on the website. And, when the time comes, there is a very helpful guide to preparing your child for college: Your Children Can Go to College...Yes They Can!" [PDF] which was developed by the New York Immigration Coalition. It's available in English and Spanish.
But, right now, turn your attention to helping your child prepare for entering 9th grade in September. Like many city high schools, Beacon will have a summer orientation, where your son will visit the school, get any summer assignments and suggestions as to how to prepare for 9th grade. There may be a reading or writing assignment. There he will also meet other 9th graders. If your son is to travel to school via public transportation, help him learn the route and practice the trip. He should time the door to door travel during early morning --when getting there on time is so important. The school may be able to help you get in touch with other students traveling from your neighborhood.
Finally, as summer winds down, try encourage him to follow a sleep schedule that he will need to arrive at school ready to learn.
Good luck to your son for a great high school experience.
If you’re unhappy with your neighborhood school, you may want to enter a lottery for a charter school. The deadline is April 1--so hurry. In most cases you can submit an application online. Get an application on the New York City Charter School Center website, on the individual schools' websites or at the school. (Some charter schools are open this week, even though the public schools are on Spring break.)
But which school? Here are tips for making your choice.
Parents can submit an application to serve on one of the city's 32 district community education councils or the citywide high school, special education, District 75 and English LanguageLearners councils, through March 27.
Here's the information from the Department of Education.
"APPLY TO SERVE ON AN EDUCATION COUNCIL
Education Councils are education policy advisory bodies responsible for reviewing and evaluating schools’ instructional programs, in some cases approving zoning lines, and advising the Chancellor. Education Councils play an essential role in shaping education policies for the New York City public schools. Each council consists of nine elected parent volunteers who provide hands-on leadership and support for their community's public schools. Council members hold meetings at least every month with the superintendent and public at-large to discuss the current state of the schools in the district.
Community councils represent students in grades K-8 in 32 education districts. The four Citywide councils include the Citywide Council on High Schools, Citywide Council on English Language Learners, Citywide Council on Special Education, and the District 75 Citywide Council. The chance to run for a seat on one of the 36 Community or Citywide Education Councils only happens once every two years and parents are encouraged to take advantage of this opportunity to support their schools. For more information on the roles and responsibilities of Councils and to learn how to apply for a Council seat, visit NYCParentLeaders.org. The Frequently Asked Questions section provides brief answers to common questions. Parents can also call the Division of Family and Community Engagement at 212-374-4118.
The application period, which began on February 13, has been extended! The new deadline is March 27, 2013. Parents interested in applying to serve on a Citywide or Community Education Council can apply online or submit a paper application:
Apply online at www.NYCParentLeaders.org now until 11:59 p.m. on March 27.
- Download paper applications at the DOE’s website or www.NYCParentLeaders.org and postmark by 11:59 p.m. on March 27.
- Paper applications are also available at the Division of Family and Community Engagement’s office located at:
49 Chambers St., Room 503
New York, NY 10007"
Center Park East parents lost their battle to open a middle school in 2013 but say they're heartened by Chancellor Walcott's promise to work with them to find space for a CPE middle school that will open by 2014.
It's no surprise that all of the DOE's proposals were passed at the March 20 PEP meeting, including a resolution to open East Harlem Scholars Academy II in the same buliding as Central Park East I and Central Park East High School. CPE parents had hoped to nab that soon-to-be-open space for a CPE middle school that would allow their elementary school children to continue to receive a progressive education after 5th grade. This is the fifth year in a row that the DOE rebuffed efforts by CPE I and CPE II to open a middle school. But uptown parents won't have to wait much longer for a progressive middle school.
Raven Snook, the mother of a CPE II student, told Insideschools that Walcott made a promise at the PEP meeting to find a site for the progressive middle school by this summer and open the school in fall 2014.
"While we were all disappointed that the March 20 PEP vote didn't go our way in terms of the co-location of two East Harlem Scholars Academy schools, we were all pretty thrilled when Dennis Walcott himself stood on the stage and promised we would indeed get a progressive middle school for fall 2014," said Snook. "So it was a bittersweet victory."
Education Department spokesman Devon Puglia confirmed Walcott's promise via email: "There will be middle school CPE seats available in 2014. We're continuing to engage with stakeholders in order to meet that goal."
Classes won't begin until a week after Labor Day next fall, giving students a few extra days of summer vacation. According to the 2013-2014 calendar posted by the Education Departments, classes will begin on Monday, Sept. 9. Students customarily return to school during the first week of September but because Rosh Hashanah falls early this year, the start of classes is delayed until the following week.
Teachers are expected to return on Tuesday, Sept. 3 to prepare their classrooms, and to attend mandatory professional development on Sept. 4. All schools will be closed on Thursday and Friday, Sept. 5-6, for Rosh Hashanah.
The first two days will be shorter for children in pre-kindergarten.
The last day of school is June 26, 2014. See the calendar, including holidays, here.
I have daughters in the 4th grade who are supposed to take the state exams this year. I'm told future middle schools will look at these exam results to determine acceptance. The stress my daughters are under during "test prep" is crazy. Is this exam really mandatory?
Fourth grade mother
Dear Fourth Grade Mother,
Yes, the standardized tests are required. Chancellor's Regulation A-501 makes that clear.
Whether or not you think that this system is right, I would advise you to have your daughters take the test.
Fourth grade tests are important because middle schools look at them to decide on admissions. Kids apply to middle school in the fall of 5th grade--before the results of the tests given in the spring of 5th grade are available.
Unhappy with your middle school choices? The Education Department plans to open 16 new middle schools next September. While choosing a new school over an established one is risky, at least two of these new schools look like promising options: School of the Future in Manhattan will open a sister school in East New York and the Eagle Academy for Young Men is opening another school in Harlem, in District 5.
Many of these new schools have yet to be approved by the Panel for Educational Policy (PEP) which will meet to vote on school closings and openings at its March 11 meeting. A few are screened programs but most are unscreened, giving preference to students who attend an open house or info session. Students who are eligible to attend the new middle schools will receive application information from their elementary schools, according to the DOE. Or you can contact the new schools to find out when their info sessions are being held.
Applications are due on March 6, a week before the PEP meeting. Kids who apply and are accepted to one of the new schools may choose between the new school and the middle school they originally applied to, according to the DOE.
State math and reading exams will be harder to pass this year, Chancellor Dennis Walcott warned parents, and more children will likely fail. For the first time the state-mandated tests will be aligned with the new Common Core standards and, Walcott says, "will be more difficult to pass." In a break from the past, however, failing -- scoring a level 1 out of 4 - will not mean automatic holdover for children in grades 3 to 8.
Instead, the chancellor said in a letter to parents, the DOE "will look at students' overall scores-how many questions each student got right. Students with the lowest scores will be recommended for summer school."
Since 2004 when Mayor Bloomberg ended so-called "social promotion," all students who scored a 1 on either the reading or math exam were sent to summer school. This year students who score in the bottom 10 percent will be required to go to summer school and retake the exams in August, NY1 reports. The city anticipates that the number of students requiring summer classes to be promoted to the next grade will be about the same as last year.
The yearly high-stakes tests also affect admission to selective middle and high schools. Cut-off scores for acceptance may be lower this year, but Walcott said, "students who earn the highest scores-even if those scores are lower than in past years-will still have access to screened middle and high schools."
Students this year will have to read and respond to longer and more challenging passages than in previous years. Third graders will be expected to read 500-600 word excerpts from books such as Roald Dahl's James and the Giant Peach or The Story of Ruby Bridges by Robert Coles. Eighth graders will read 900-1,000 word passages from classics such as The Adventures of Tom Sawyer or Richard Wright’s Native Son. Third and 4th graders will have less time to complete the math exams than on previous years' tests. Test guides for every grade's reading and math exams are posted on the state education department's website.
This year's ELA (English Language Arts) exams will be given on April 16-18; math tests will be the following week, April 24-26.