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As I planned to relocate to New York City to begin a fellowship at Columbia University this fall, a housing specialist advised me to move into School District 3 because it had “better options” for my 12-year-old daughter.
By the time I established residency — a prerequisite for enrolling in the city’s public schools — the “better options” in District 3 had been filled to the hilt.
On our third visit to the makeshift enrollment center in the auditorium of the High School of Fashion Industries on 24th Street (the first time we were turned away because we lacked a lease; the second time there was a “transmission error” as my daughter’s records were being faxed over) we secured a referral to Community Action School.
But after an interview with the school’s assistant principal, my daughter — who earned almost entirely A’s and B’s at her last school — was rejected in favor of another student for what was purportedly the last remaining seat.
There's good news for parents who don't want to send their kids to kindergarten before their 5th birthday. The Department of Education is proposing a change in enrollment allowing for more flexibility in the placement of five and six year-olds. In the past, the DOE has been rigid in its rule that a child's birth year determine his grade placement.
The change to the city's enrollment regulation gives district superintendents the final say in deciding whether a child who turns six during the calendar year must enter 1st grade or whether kindergarten - or a different grade - is more appropriate. Parents will have to provide medical, or other documentation, making the case for placement in a different grade.
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."
In 2012 about 28,000 students took the Specialized High School Admissions Test and only 5,229 were offered seats at the exam high schools. Up against these odds, hundreds of hopeful rising 8th graders attended the Department of Education’s July 30 specialized high school workshop to learn about the admissions test and the specialized schools.
“I’m not going to kid you, this is not an easy test,” said DOE representative Leonard Tretola, who gave an overview of the admissions process to the crowd at Fashion Industries High School in Manhattan. Trerotola advised that applicants closely review the specialized high school handbook, which “clearly explains everything you need to know about the admissions and testing process.”
There’s no downside to taking the exam, known as SHSAT. Trerotola suggested reading to prepare for the exam, but parents concur that your chances of acceptance are slim without doing test prep. Trerotola also covered the timeline for the specialized high school admissions process, which can be found here.
It's summertime and many families are on the move. Whether moving from one borough to another, from the city to the suburbs or to New York City from another state, which school a child will attend is a huge factor in family plans. This week’s inbox was full of questions from families on the move. Here are a few of them.
Can I still go to my charter school?
Q: We are moving to Yonkers in the summer and were wondering if our son can continue attending the Bronx charter school that he has been going to since 1st grade.
A: Yes, your son may continue to attend the city charter school. Here is what the Department of Education Office of Charter Schools told me in an email:
"If a family moves out of the five boroughs, but wants to continue sending their child to a charter school in the city, then the charter school would bill that district the cost of the per-pupil allocation of that school.
Similarly, if a child moves to the city, but chooses to continue attending a charter school outside of the city, then the charter school would bill the district of residence for the allocation for that student"
There is a big BUT:
"If a student moves out of the state, then the family would have to pay tuition and the school would not receive per pupil dollars."
At a public forum Tuesday night in Washington Heights, Community Education Council 5 President Sonia Jones said her council plans to vote "no" on a resolution to de-zone when it meets on June 13th.
Jones said CEC 5 is submitting an anti-de-zoning resolution to clearly state its position on record: “Teachers, parents and principals are standing with CEC 5 against de-zoning,” Jones said while sitting on a panel at the Public Forum on Elementary School De-zoning, hosted by Councilperson Robert Jackson, head of the City Council's education committee.
Jones acknowledged that the idea of “choice” sounds appealing, but, she said, “you don’t get to choose what school your child really goes to, because there is someone in the office who decides where your child goes.” Jones advised District 6's Community Education Council, which is also considering a de-zoning proposal, to “slow down.”
A group of 15 principals from across the city announced this week they will no longer be using results from a controversial new state test as part of their middle and high school admissions criteria.
In a letter to parents, students and school communities, the principals — from Manhattan, Brooklyn and The Bronx — explained their dissatisfaction with the Common Core, which they said did not live up to their expectations.
"Inauthentic tests and test prep are taking away time for quality instruction and authentic learning and testing," the letter stated.
Fourteen-year-old Marc Brandon Gross, is what's called a “2E,” or twice-exceptional, child: he is a talented singer, dancer and actor who can memorize a script in two days that would take most people two weeks to learn, says his mother Maria Gross. But Marc has trouble communicating and socializing because he is on the autism spectrum.
Marc is thriving as a freshman Talent Unlimited High School -- a sign that children with special needs can be successfully integrated into the city's selective high schools. “They bend over backwards to make sure his needs are met,” says Gross.
While Marc should be a poster child for the Department of Education's new push to enroll more special needs children at the city's selective high schools, his mother is angry that the city is bending the rules for admission to schools like his. Marc passed the demanding audition for the musical theater program last year, but some of the students admitted this year did not.
“That's not right. It's not fair, especially not fair to my kid” who played by the rules, Gross says. At Talent Unlimited, more than 45 students (including 13 special needs students) were admitted who either did not audition or didn't meet the school's audition standards.
Gross contacted Insideschools to tell Marc's story after hearing that the city placed more than 1,300 students in 71 of the city’s selective high schools as part of a double-pronged effort to match more students to their round one high school picks and to ensure that schools meet the city’s new special education quotas.
Marc has speech and language disabilities as well as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). The school offers intensive support: he is in team-teaching classes with two teachers, one of whom is certified in special education. He gets extra help in math and English. The school also provides after-school academic tutoring. The guidance counselor arranged a special peer support group to help Marc work on his socializing skills.
Marc's family expected him to attend high school at School for Language and Communication Development (SLCD), the school for special needs children where he went from kindergarten through 8th grade. But a guidance counselor at SLCD suggested he try out for a public performing arts high schools.
Just like thousands of other aspiring performing artists, Marc practiced for weeks and attended rounds of auditions to try out for four of the city’s audition schools: Talent Unlimited, Frank Sinatra, Professional Performing Arts School and LaGuardia. All four schools require auditions for entrance but do not have academic screens. Yet, this year DOE officials said the city assigned students to both Talent Unlimited and Frank Sinatra based on test scores, rather than artistic ability.
Competition at the city's performing arts schools is fierce; 1,500 students typically audition for 125 seats at Talent Unlimited.
Gross is proud to say her son went through the “appropriate channels of auditioning,” and was awarded a seat. And now Gross is concerned that the admission of dozens of students who did not meet Talent Unlimited’s audition standards – or did not even try out – will compromise the integrity of the program.
Because of his IEP, Marc still struggles academically, Gross says, but he is excited to get up and go to school everyday. "My kid loves the school because everyone is at his level. They can sing, they can dance, and they can act."
Watch video of Marc performing at Talent Unlimited, courtesy of his sister Lauren Gross:
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."
Parents and administrators at Central Park East I and II say the Education Department undermined their efforts to grow into a middle school, giving away ideal "expansion space to a charter school just months after Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott said no space was available," DNAinfo reports.
Central Park East I and II are sister elementary schools that teach hands-on, progressive learning. For the last four years, one or the other has been asking the DOE for space to expand and have been given various reasons why the DOE would not grant them permission.
"Every year it's another excuse," former Central Park East 1 principal Julie Zuckerman told Insideschools this week at Castle Bridge, the progressive, dual language elementary school she founded in 2012 in Washington Heights.
Last year, the DOE told Zuckerman they would not allow an expansion because she was leaving to found Castle Bridge. This year, space is the issue, CPE I and II were told.
But the DOE is phasing out JHS 13, which shares the Jackie Robinson Education Complex with Central Park East 1 and Central Park East High School, opening up ideal space for the progressive elementary schools and high school to expand into middle school grades, parents say. Instead, in a surprise move, the DOE granted JHS 13's coveted space to East Harlem Scholars Academy I & II. East Harlem Scholars Academy I is already sharing the Jackie Robinson building and plans to move into its own building once it's constructed. It will use the extra space in the Jackie Robinson Complex to expand into a middle school: East Harlem Scholars Academy II, according to DNAinfo.
Zuckerman said Upper Manhattan is saturated with charter schools and is seriously lacking progressive school choices. "In Northern Manhattan, there's not a progressive middle school," she said.
CPE II mom Raven Snook said she and other parents are planning to rally in support of CPE I and II growing to include a middle school at the Wednesday, Feb. 27 hearing at the Jackie Robinson Complex about the proposed expansion of East Harlem Scholars Academy. (For more information, download their flyer.)
For more on the story see DNAinfo.