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I’ve heard that . . .
When I hear that phrase, I know what follows: a rumor. Sometimes the rumors are new, sometimes they have been around the block before, but they usually have one thing in common – they are not true.
While the rumor mill becomes a little quieter over the summer, when it’s back-to-school time it grinds louder. And for some reason, there are so many rumors about the college process! Here are some of the “I’ve heard” stories concerning standardized testing, namely about the SAT and ACT.
I’ve heard that the ACT is easier than the SAT.
No, they are both challenging tests. They are different tests, but they assess the same skills.
Beginning on Monday, Aug. 26, parents of children in grades 3 to 8 who took standardized state reading and math exams this year can find their child's test scores on ARIS, the Department of Education's online system for parents.
You'll need to know your student's id number and a password to log in. If you don't have that information, or you don't have access to a computer, the DOE will have staff available at a library in each borough to help you.
Here's the schedule (from the DOE's website):
If you need help but can't make it to one of the libraries, you may go to the DOE's office of family engagement at 49 Chambers Street, Room 503, between the hours of 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. Your school's parent coordinator may also help you.
I just read the news on your site about lower NYC ELA and Math standardized test scores. My son is a soon-to-be 8th grader and this news is devastating. I haven't yet seen his score but I know that many screened/selective high school programs require a minimum of 3 on state standardized tests. Will admissions policies change in these schools in recognition that kids were tested on new standards they never learned? What advice do you have in navigating the high school admissions process for those who will begin the process this fall?
Concerned Parent in Brooklyn
Dear Concerned Parent in Brooklyn,
As you know, as of this week parents can access their child's test scores on ARIS. In fact, DOE officials are at city libraries to help parents access the scores and to explain them. If you have questions about your child's test and want to review it, you can ask the principal to set up an appointment for this purpose. You have to fill out a request and a professional will show it to you. This year, only some of the exam questions and answers will be shown. For general information, some of the questions are available online.
Many parents have complained that the percentile range shown on ARIS is too wide to be of use to determine if their kids are eligible for some of the highly selective schools. So far there is no word as to when more specific percentile information will be available.
As of yet,there has been only a little discussion of how the schools will handle these very low scores. We do know that in the spring, just after kids took the state tests, a group of principals distanced themselves, vowing to ignore results of what they saw as faulty and unfair tests.
Energy and optimism burst out of the 2011 video [view below] by students at Young Women's Leadership School in Brooklyn. Dancing and singing to the tune of Taio Cruz's "Dynamite," they proclaim, "Test prep goes on and on and on....I am brilliant. I have confidence. Gonna ace these tests."
This month, many city students will see such optimism ebb when they learn how they scored on the state's standardized reading and math tests. At Brooklyn's Young Women's Leadership, for example, only 24 percent scored well enough to be viewed as "passing" the English test, with less than 15 percent passing the math exam. In the first tests tied to the new Common Core standards, other schools, particularly in poorer parts of the five boroughs or with high percentages of black and Latino students, had similar results.
Individual student scores will become available on ARIS the week of Aug. 26, the Department of Education says. During that week, the department plans to have staff in selected libraries to explain the new tests and help parents access their child's scores.
Many families will get bad news. Some will see their child tumble a level or two; others will find their child, considered solidly proficient for the last few years, now falling to a Level 1.
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.”
The next mayor must ensure fair funding for underserved schools and reduce focus on standardized tests, according to A+ NYC, a coalition of education reform organizations. Yesterday A+ NYC released the PS 2013 Education Roadmap, a proposal for the next mayor's first 100 days in office.
Rather than view students simply as test-takers, the next mayor needs to look at the "whole child," who needs to be mentally and physically healthy, and develop social skills, they said.
A+ NYC held a highly attended July 24 event at Brooklyn Borough Hall to promote its proposal. Natasha Capers from the Coalition for Educational Justice (CEJ) spoke to hundreds of parents, highlighting the proposal's "whole child" philosophy. "Optimal learning cannot happen without healthy bodies and safe spaces...we know this from research," Capers said.
Capers cited cuts to the arts and after school programs and rising class sizes as damaging to students' education from the "whole child" perspective. She also noted that the number of police personnel in schools is 70 percent higher than the number of guidance counselors, a statistic she believes needs to change.
Evening workshops about the high school admissions process for 8th graders and their families begin this week. Enrollment officials from the Department of Education wll lead information sessions and answer questions about the types of high school programs offered and how to apply. All sessions run from 6:30-8 p.m. Insideschools will be there too!
The first workshop is Tuesday, July 16 at Prospect Heights High School in Brooklyn; on Wednesday, July 17, there will be a workshop at New Dorp High School on Staten Island and on Thursday, July 18, the Manhattan info session will be held at Fashion Industries High School.
Workshops about the city's nine specialized high schools, which admit students based on an exam or audition, also begin next week. The first session is at Staten Island Tech on Wednesday, July 24, followed by Brooklyn, at Prospect Heights, on Thursday, July 25. The following week, the specialized workshops will be at Fashion Industries onTuesday, July 30; Francis Lewis in Queens on July 31 and the final one at Lehman High School on Thursday, Aug. 1.
Summer specialized high school test sign up & prep
Specialized high school handbooks, including a sample test, will be available at the information sessions. Most students do some prep work or take a course before sitting for the 2 hour and 30 minutes test, which is given in October to 8th and 9th graders.
Some community organizations offer free test prep. One such group is La Casa Azul Bookstore in East Harlem, which is working with a local tutoring company to offer a 20 hour preparatory course, according to the DOE. For more information, email info.lacasaazul@gmail.
Incoming 9th and 10th graders who moved to New York City after last fall's specialized high school exam may sign up for the August 26 SHSAT exam, and the audition for LaGuardia High School, beginning on July 15 at enrollment offices. The last date to sign up is Aug. 21. See more information here.
Wondering where/how to begin your high school search? Check out our "how to apply to high school" video series.
Several parents whose children boycotted the state tests this spring complained that their children are being held back and forced to go to summer school—despite their teachers’ recommendations that they be promoted to the next grade.
The parents held a press conference with City Councilman Robert Jackson on steps of the Department of Education headquarters at the Tweed Courthouse on Thursday to protest high-stakes testing and the city’s promotion policies.
This spring, New York State instituted more difficult standardized tests designed to conform to the Common Core Learning Standards. According to DOE policy, children who scored in the bottom 10 percent of test takers would be required to attend summer school unless their teachers prepared a portfolio demonstrating they had mastered the material.
Parents said the schools had difficulty preparing portfolios, and the DOE did not evaluate the portfolios adequately.
“Children [who opt out of testing] are perceived the same as children who received a low score,” even if they are high-performing students,” said Andrea Mata, a public school parent and member of the parent advocacy group Change the Stakes. “This is the second year in a row my child has not been promoted in June.”
Gretchen Mergenthaler said her son opted out of testing in 5th grade to protest what she saw as excessive test prep. Although his teachers put together a portfolio of his work, it soon became clear “the DOE has no clue what a portfolio is. I find it very sad that the teachers who know him and his work best are completely left out.”
Peter Nunez, whose 3rd grade son opted out of testing, stopped by the school to ask about the portfolio procedures. “They waited until just last week to tell us they don’t know how to do the portfolio. But two days ago, we were called in to tell us it was constructed and my son failed the portfolio, [even though he had good grades all years.] We went to the superintendent who said she never received the portfolio.”
DOE spokeswoman Erin Hughes from the DOE disputed the parents’ claims. “We have said all along that no individual student would be disadvantaged because the state made the tests harder. Summer school is important for students who are falling behind and need additional instructional time. This year, the Department has recommended that the students with the bottom 10 percent of scores go to summer school. These students likely scored at a level one on the state’s proficiency scale and will benefit from the extra summer learning.”
The results of Regents exams came as a nasty shock for some students this year. Students from some of the city's top, screened schools--including Eleanor Roosevelt and NYC Lab School--failed exams or scored far lower than they expected in subjects they usually ace, their parents told Insideschools.
"The scoring is bizarre -- it doesn't make any sense," said the parent of an "A" student at Lab who scored a 77 on the English Regents. "She had a 98 average going into the Regents and she is exceptionally literate. She got a 96 on the Global Regents." Because of glitches in scoring, many students did not get the results of the Regents exams until the last day of school, June 26.
This parent--like many others, as reported by GothamSchools--plans to appeal her daughter's score but couldn't find information on how to do so. Here's how: If you suspect there has been an error in grading the exam, let the principal know as soon as possible--in writing, or via email--that you want the exam to be rescored.
"Students, parents, and school administrators may request an appeal to a Regents exam score if they have a concern about the accuracy of their students results," Simone D'Souza, director of the data and research office at the DOE, wrote Insideschools in an email. "Students and parents should direct appeals through the principal and school administrators direct appeal requests to their superintendent. Any part of an exam can be appealed and exams may be appealed regardless of a student's performance on the test."
Some parents question whether principals will be willing to go through procedures to have a test rescored. After all, a student may retake a test later to try for a higher score, one principal told a parent. That's not an acceptable answer to some parents who feel there may be a larger problem with the exams this year.
"I'm willing to accept that my kid had a bad day," said the Lab parent. "I'm not willing to just sit and take it without the opportunity to review and appeal if warranted."
What are the consequences for low, but passing, scores on Regents exams? Students who score below a 75 on the ELA Regents and lower than 80 on the Algebra Regents may have to take remedial courses if they attend a CUNY school. Outside of New York state, most colleges and universities don't even consider the Regents exams when deciding whether to admit a student. However, parents say there are other considerations.
"It makes your high grades in class seem highly inflated," said the Lab mom. "The lower scores could cost a potential scholarship."
Principals will be able to get copies of the exams, so if you want to review your child's exam, ask your principal to show it to you. If your principal drags his or her feet, you may want to call your superintendent.
If you want to read the fine print, here's what the DOE's press office sent us, quoting the official Regents Exam Review and Appeals Procedures:
· For exams that were scored non-electronically, schools will have completed exams shipped to them by Friday, June 28.
· For exams that were scored electronically, schools will be able to view completed exams online in early July; more details are forthcoming regarding how principals can access these scores. In addition, schools will receive DVDs with completed exams in July.
In accordance with New York State guidelines, students, parents, and school administrators may request an appeal to Regents exam scores. School administrators should direct appeal requests to their superintendent, and must include the exam subject, administration month and year, impacted student(s)' NYC ID numbers, and rationale for the request. Upon receipt of the request for appeal, the superintendent will determine whether the exam(s) in question will be submitted for rescoring and inform the principal.
· Appeals regarding seniors will be prioritized for review; until the appeal is resolved principals should use the student's original score in making determinations regarding student diploma status and participation in commencement ceremonies.
· For appeals that require rescoring, all rescoring will be completed by licensed, trained teachers from outside the impacted student(s)' school. The rescoring process will be overseen by the superintendent and the DOE's Office of Assessment. Appeals impacting more than five students or five percent of test-takers (whichever is greater) in an exam subject area will be sent to the State Education Department for permission to rescore, in accordance with State guidelines. Please note that per State guidance, the score generated from the rescore is generally considered final, regardless of whether it is higher or lower than the student's original score.
· Once the rescore is completed, the superintendent will communicate the final decision to the principal. The Office of Assessment will update the score(s) in ATS as relevant and communicate the change in score to the State Education Department.
In accordance with New York State guidelines, parents and students may review students' Regents exam answer papers in the presence of the principal or his or her designee, and may receive copies of answer papers on request. If a school receives a request from a parent or student to review a student's exam answer papers, the school should set up time for the student or parent to view the exams once the exams become available.
Note: Regents scoring appeals procedures as outlined above are not the same as appeals of a Regents exam score to earn a diploma. To submit a Regents score appeal to earn a diploma, students must meet very specific eligibility criteria; for more information on eligibility requirements and the procedure for submitting an appeal to the superintendent, see the DOE's High School Academic Policy Reference Guide Appendix C.