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Caleb,* a 14-year-old middle school student in Flatbush, has a seizure disorder and learning delays — the aftereffects of a brain cyst he had removed when he was an infant. He sometimes writes backwards and reads six or seven years below grade level.
He should be in a special class with 12 children and a teacher certified in special education, according to his Individualized Education Plan (IEP), the legal document that lists the services his school must offer him. Instead, he is in a class of nearly 30 students, a mix of general education and special needs children. His mom says his teachers are doing their best to help, but they can't give him the attention he needs.
Caleb is the victim of a well-intentioned reform designed to end the unneccessary segregation of children with disabilities. Two years ago, the Department of Education declared that nearly all special needs children should be educated in their neighborhood schools, rather than being sent to special programs far from home. Across the city, children who were once assigned to so-called "self-contained" classes are now in classes with two teachers that mix general education and special needs children. Many of these children are thriving, school officials and advocates agree. But, by reducing the availability of self-contained classrooms, the reform has backfired for children who, like Caleb, need a smaller learning environment, advocates say.
Five-year-old J.P. started kindergarten at his neighborhood school in September. Like many kids, he had never been to school before. Two days into the year, his mother received a phone call from the assistant principal complaining that J.P.’s behavior was disrupting the class. His offense? Getting out of his seat and playing with his shoelaces.
While the rest of the class would attend the full day of school, J.P. would now only attend half-days indefinitely, the family was told. After consulting with Advocates for Children, his parents asked for a specific action plan to target J.P.'s behaviors so that he might be able to return to school full-time. At his IEP (Individualized Education Plan) meeting in November, school staff told them, “We’re not behavior specialists.”
The school’s actions were not only unfair; they were illegal. Schools are mandated by the state to perform "Functional Behavior Assessments" (FBAs) and develop "Behavior Intervention Plans" (BIPs) when the actions of a student with a disability or a student referred for an evaluation are impeding learning or leading to disciplinary action. The problem is, most school personnel (and parents) have no idea what these assessments are.
New York City’s Education Funders Research Initiative asked our parent organization, the Center for New York City Affairs at The New School, to identify key priorities for education reform under Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio. On Thursday, the Center for New York City Affairs released the results: a new report called "Building Blocks for Better Schools: How the Next Mayor can Prepare New York's Students for College and Careers," co-authored by Insideschools founder Clara Hemphill. The paper analyzes the successes and failures of Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s education initiatives—and proposes six key areas on which the next administration should focus attention and resources.
A top priority: Make sure young children can read. This is a first, crucial building block for school reform efforts.
Other priorities include:
- Use the Common Core to build a true, skills-based college preparatory curriculum.
- Revise the accountability system to use a wider range of measures, and to be more responsive to schools and families.
- Keep principals' control of hiring, budgets and curriculum—but provide them greater supervision and support.
- Strengthen neighborhood schools and create new structures to connect all schools—neighborhood, magnet and charters alike—within given geographic areas.
- Build early and ongoing support for college and career guidance.
This information just in from our friends at Advocates for Children:
"The NYC DOE's Office of Innovation is interviewing parents regarding their experience with the DOE's busing system for students receiving special education services in NYC. The purpose of these interviews is a collaboration between parents, the Office of Pupil Transportation (OPT) and the Division of Students with Disabilities to improve the special education busing experience for children.
Interviews will take place on Wednesday, November 20th between 4:30 & 6:00 PM at 10 Jay Street in Dumbo, Brooklyn. Interviews will last approximately 30 minutes and parent names will be kept confidential so people can feel comfortable speaking candidly.
No RSVP is needed. Just come to share your experiences."
There have been the usual horror stories this year, of children spending hours on the bus and buses that never arrived. Some buses even dropped off children at the wrong stop. If you have a tale to tell, here is your chance to tell it.
It seems like only yesterday that I was worrying myself sick about how my four-year-old son with special needs would make the leap from preschool to kindergarten. (For the record, he’s five now and doing fabulously!) For any child, the move to “big kid school” is a huge transition for the whole family, but for those of us whose children will be receiving special services, the process is fraught with that much more paperwork, research and worry.
Your local kindergarten orientation meeting is a good place to start learning about how services transition from preschool to kindergarten. During the first three weeks of December, the Department of Education is hosting citywide meetings in all boroughs for families of students with disabilities entering kindergarten in September 2014. Here are a few meeting tips from someone who has been there:
The school year is young and some parents are still puzzled by their child's class placement. This week's Ask Judy answers two questions: one about Integrated Co-teaching, and another about bridge classes.
My niece is in 1st grade. Her school sent a letter home yesterday stating that her class is an Integrated Co-teaching class. According to the UFT website "students with disabilities receive instruction alongside their nondisabled peers with special education support." What does this mean? Does this mean my niece has some type of special need? If a school determined that a child has special needs shouldn't parents be notified? Is this the normal that all classes are integrated? Please clarify.
A new program rolling out in New York City aims to bridge the "digital divide" and get low income students connected to the internet at home. About one in four, or 2.2 million New Yorkers, are without internet access at home and most of those New Yorkers are low-income and minority, according to EveryoneON, the organization running the Connect2Compete program that gives access to discounted internet service and low price computers.
Mayor Bloomberg held a press conference in front of a class of 7th-graders on the Upper West Side's MS 258 on Wednesday to promote the Connect2Compete program, which is already underway in other major cities like Chicago. He was joined by Carlos Slim Domit, son of Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim Helú, former NBA Knicks star John Starks, Education Department Chancellor Dennis Walcott and the principal of MS 258, John Curry.
"What we are doing today is getting together to try to provide the same opportunities to you and to other students," Domit said. He explained that more than 60 million Americans are not connected to the internet (as opposed to 35 million who are not connected in his home country, Mexico) and many of those 60 million are people of color. Domit's family foundation is a partner of Connect2Compete and working to decrease those numbers in Mexico and the US.
Today's release of the April 2013 state test results show that only 26 percent of New York City's 3rd through 8th graders are performing on grade level in reading and 30 percent are on grade level in math. While the city isn't far behind the state -- 31 percent of New York state students scored on grade level in both math and reading -- the numbers mean that 7 in 10 New York City students are below grade level when measured by the state's new Common Core aligned assesments. City officials emphasized that teachers and students will not be penalized for low scores.
Black, Hispanic, special needs kids and students learning to speak English fared especially poorly. The achievement gap remains a "daunting challenge," said Board of Regents Chancellor Meryl Tisch Wednesday.
At a press conference timed with the public release of data Wednesday morning, Tisch and Education Commissioner John King acknowledged the steep drop in proficiency levels. But they repeated the hopeful message sent by US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan yesterday: these scores set a "new baseline."
"I urge you to embrace the fact that this is a new standard; a significant standard has been created to adopt and adapt,” said Tisch of the Common Core realignment.
King also advised New Yorkers to reset their expectations for the federally-endorsed Common Core alignment that the state is undergoing, which Duncan, Tisch and King say will make students better prepared for life after high school. “Assessment results today establish a new baseline,” said King. “Changes in scores are largely a reflection of the new Common Core standards that the Board of Regents adopted in 2010.”
The education officials explained the huge drop in scores across the board as a consequence of the higher standards they say the Common Core puts into place for New York's students. "It's important that people not look at these results as a remediation problem. This is an instruction problem,” said King. He is confident Common Core standards are the solution to that instruction problem.
Michael Mulgrew, head of the UFT, criticized the magnitude of the drop in scores. "The scores should have dropped, but not to this level," Mulgrew said.
Education historian Diane Ravitch also expressed concerns about the new Common Core aligned state exams. After reviewing the 5th grade reading exam, Ravitch said the test was similar in difficulty to that of the 8th grade reading test for NAEP (a national assessment given to 8th graders and 4th graders). "My reaction was that the difficulty level of the passages and the questions was not age-appropriate," she wrote on her blog.
Test results for some of the city's most popular schools are surprisingly low. For example, PS 234 is a sought-after downtown Manhattan school but, acccording to the state tests, only 64 percent of school's 3rd-5th graders are reading on grade level and only 60 percent are performing at grade level in math.
The citywide results
Citywide scores are available by school here. Higher income areas like Manhattan's District 2 continue to out-perform higher poverty areas like East New York's District 23. Scores at the city's elite gifted and talented programs continue to be high: 95 percent of students at Anderson are proficient in reading and 98 percent in math -- just a few percentage points below 99 percent proficiency rates in both reading and math last year. At NEST+M, 94 percent of students scored 3's and 4's in math, 95 percent scored 3's and 4's in reading. Every 4th grader performed on grade level in math at both Anderson and NEST+m.
Students who score 3 and 4 on the state tests are considered "proficient," at or above grade level. Of Asian 3-8th graders in New York City, 48 percent scored level 3 and 4 on state reading tests, and 61 percent scored 3's and 4's on math tests. Half of the city's white students scored 3 or 4 on math tests, and 47 percent were proficient in reading. Hispanic students scored far worse on the state tests with only 17 percent proficient in English and 19 percent proficient in math. Among African American students, 16 percent scored on grade level in reading and 15 percent in math.
English language learners performed surprisingly poorly on math tests - only 11 percent were proficient in math. Last year, about a third of English language learners scored at or above grade level in math. Only three percent of English Languge Learners are on grade level in reading this year.
Special needs students also posted low numbers: eight percent scored 3's and 4's in math and 6 percent scored 3's and 4's in reading.
Teachers and schools will not be punished for the low scores, Chancellor Walcott and Mayor Mike Bloomberg said today, speaking at another press conference. Schools will be graded on a curve for progress reports, state test scores will not affect promotion decisions for students and teachers won't be evaluated based on their students' test scores until the 2014-2015 school year.
New York City families and students will be able to access individual student scores in ARIS on August 26, according to the Education Department. The DOE also plans to set up ARIS centers in select libraries with staffers available to help parents access scores, though it has not announced which libraries yet.
The 70 percent of 3rd-8th graders who scored at level 1 and 2 on the state tests will need extra support to catch up to grade level and may be eligible for school-based extras like AIS (academic intervention services) and after-school tutoring. The state is also "rethinking our school calendar and our school schedule,” and considering a longer school day or school year and other ways of expanding learning time, King said.
What should parents think?
William Frackelton, principal of the Soundview Academy in the Bronx, advised parents to think of the scores in the context of a larger shift toward higher standards that are more in line with international education standards. "It's easy to personalize this but understand the nation as a whole is trying to recalibrate," he said.
He suggested that parents worried about how their child scored on the exams should consider tutoring and investing in other enrichment activities for their children as educational expectations are just going to continue to rise. "Extracurricular now becomes the norm and not an extra," said Frackelton.
Parents of rising 5th and 8th graders who are concerned about applying to screened middle and high schools should know that some screened middle schools and a few screened high schools have decided to strike state tests from their admission requirements. Others will likely adjust cut-off scores based on this year's test. "Principals are smart, they'll know how to look at other measures to bring students into their schools," said Stacey Walsh, principal of Brownsville Collaborative, a middle school in Brooklyn's Distrcit 23.
"Test scores are just one measure and what it measures is up for debate," Walsh said. "I have a feeling that it will bring back multiple measures and give us a better picture of who the students is."
On the eve of the release of this year's New York state exam scores for 3rd-8th graders, city, state and national education officials attempted to cushion the blow of what is expected to be a significant drop in test scores.
City and state education departments have been warning parents for months that student proficency rates would drop this year, after the state introduced new tests aligned with the Common Core. The Common Core is a set of national education standards that have been adopted by 46 states and are supported by the nation's education secretary, Arne Duncan.
The drop was confirmed today by Duncan, who joined state Education Commissioner John King and city Chief Academic Officer Shael Polakow-Suransky on a conference call with reporters. They said that although test scores will dip, New Yorkers should take a long view and recognize that adopting the Common Core standards will better prepare students for success after high school.
“As a country we’ve had low standards for decades,” Duncan said. “It is the right thing to move forward, it isn’t easy.”
We had a number of questions this week from parents who are confronted with “Promotion in Doubt” letters, or “PIDs” as they are known in DOE lingo. These letters are sent to families of children who are at risk of repeating a grade or who may be failing a course needed to graduate. Here are three recent questions from parents who received a PID letter.
1.Why did I get a promotion in doubt letter, when my daughter's teachers have said that she is doing well and on target for graduation?
2. My kindergartner’s teacher says my son is making good progress according to the terms of his IEP, so why the letter?
3. I never heard this before from my child’s teachers and here it is almost the end of the school year and I'm just now getting the letter?
Here's some advice to these and other parents with similar problems.