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Tuesday, 08 April 2014 15:17

Manhattan schools join anti-test protests

(This story first appeared on DNAInfo.com

More than 30 public elementary schools — including TriBeCa's top-ranked P.S. 234 and the Upper East Side's P.S. 59 — are set to participate in protests Friday to blast the state's standardized English exams.

The planned protests by schools in Manhattan's District 2 — which also includes Greenwich Village and Chelsea — are part of a growing anti-testing movement in some of the city's most esteemed public schools. Last week, a protest at Park Slope's P.S. 321 drew hundreds of teachers, parents and students who complained about age-inappropriate content and poorly explained multiple-choice questions that seemed to have no one right answer.

Now, the 31 Manhattan elementary schools are planning an even bigger demonstration at each of their schools Friday morning, to demand that the exams be released to the public as soon as they have been graded.

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Nearly one-third of the 14,600 rising kindergartners who sat for Gifted & Talented assessments in January and February found out today that they qualified for one of the city's district or citywide G&T programs. That's  about six percent fewer than qualified in 2013, according to Department of Education data released Friday afternoon. The number of children who scored in the 99th percentile--the score usually necessary for a chance at entry into one of the five coveted citywide G&T--programs also fell, from more than 1,450 last year to about 950 this year.

Even with the lower number of qualifiers, there are still three times as many top-scoring tykes than there are seats in the five most selective citywide programs which have only about 300 seats for incoming kindergartners. Further decreasing the odds of entry, qualifying siblings of current students get first dibs at those seats.

The gap in student performance between richest and poorest districts remains wide but there were gains in Harlem and Washington Heights. In Districts 4 (East Harlem), 5 (Harlem) and 6 (Washington Heights and Inwood) nearly twice as many students scored in the top percentile than did last year.

Parents were notified of their child's score today along with an application listing their progam options. Families who do not get their results by Monday, April 7, should call the DOE at 718-935-2009. Families have until April 21 to apply one of the gifted programs, but since schools are closed for spring vacation from April 14-22, parents have only next week to visit schools.  A list of open houses is posted on the DOE's website here. Letters of acceptance for regular, non-gifted, kindergarten programs will be sent during the spring break. G&T applicants won't find out until May 26 if they have been offered a spot.

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Q: My son is a senior in high school, so we have just finished with applications and testing and expensive test prep. Now I have to start worrying about my daughter, who will be entering ninth grade next year. When the New York Times magazine devotes its cover article to the "new" SAT test, it's got to be something major! I am in a panic!

A: Everyone needs to take a deep breath about the "new and improved" SAT.  The College Board is a business. It is a huge business. Yes, it is a .org and calls itself a "not-for-profit" entity. But that lack of profit comes after taking their multi-million-dollar revenues (from the PSAT, SAT, and AP exams) and subtracting their expenses. And among their expenses are tremendous salaries for those at the top of the organization. While the current head of the College Board has an annual compensation package of $750,000, his predecessor had a compensation package of $1.3 million. Many executives at the College Board have salaries over $300,000. You want to know why test fees have increased so much over the years?

All right, to be fair, the head of the ACT company gets $1.1 million. As I said, testing is big business.

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Monday, 16 December 2013 13:51

Pol still fighting to fill G&T seats

Politicians and parents in November petitioned the Education Department to let qualified children fill Gifted & Talented seats that remained empty after the October enrollment deadline. In a reply last week, the DOE refused the request, saying it would be "extremely disruptive" to schools and families to allow children to enroll now.

"Office of Student Enrollment (OSE) conducted multiple rounds of waitlist offers for available seats at G&T programs citywide," wrote a DOE official in a response to Councilwoman Gail Brewer and Assemblyman Daniel O'Donnell's November letter requesting the DOE allow qualified students access to empty G&T seats at two Upper West Side schools.

The DOE said that they had conducted "multiple rounds" of waitlist offers after too few families accepted offers to fill seats at PS 163 and PS 165. 

O'Donnell disputes the DOE's explanation. "I have heard from students who scored as high as the 96th to 99th percentiles on the test, and were still given no offer, although they ranked PS 165 and PS 163 as top choices in the initial process," he wrote in response to the DOE's letter.  

O'Donnell will continue to press the DOE to open up seats. He says that schools and families do not find the post-October 31st enrollment disruptive. 

Karen Alicea-Dunn has been trying to get her son, Dylan, who scored in the 96th percentile on the G&T exam, into PS 163's G&T program for two months. In November, the school told Dunn that Dylan could enroll in the general education program -- but not the G&T. Dunn isn't worried about switching elementary school programs mid-year. "I'm ready," she said.

In late November, WNYC reported that at least 24 schools citywide still have room for more kids in their G&T programs.

Download a copy of the DOE's letter response to Brewer & O'Donnell here [PDF].

Download a copy of O'Donnell's letter here [PDF].

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If your child is one of the 210,000 students in grades 3-8 who scored a Level 1 or 2 on last spring's state ELA or math exams, you should know that schools are offering families 30 minute one-on-one conferences with their child's teachers from now through January.

The $5 million Department of Education initiative was prompted by advocates from the Coalition of Educational Justice (CEJ), said Megan Hester, a community organizer with the Annenberg Institute for School Reform which works with CEJ. 

Hester said that when scores came out last summer some CEJ parents wondered whether they should be alarmed at their child's low test scores and what they could be doing about it.

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Monday, 28 October 2013 11:57

With new mayor, could SHSAT be history?

Last weekend, Oct. 26-27, thousands of 8th graders buzzing with the pressure of months (sometimes years) of preparation sat for the two-hour long specialized high school admissions test (SHSAT). Could this be the last year that entrance to a specialized high school hinges on one incredibly high-stakes exam?

If Bill de Blasio is mayor, that's a real possibility.

De Blasio, whose son attends Brooklyn Tech, told the NY Daily News that the high-stakes SHSAT should not be the only factor determining specialized high school admissions. “These schools are the academies for the next generation of leadership in all sectors of the city, and they have to reflect the city better,” de Blasio told the newspaper.

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Monday, 30 September 2013 12:06

Report looks at why kids aren't college-ready

High school graduation rates are higher than ever before but college completion remains frustratingly elusive for New York City's public high school graduates.

Barely half of students who enroll in CUNY schools graduate with a Bachelor's degree in six years; fewer than one in five of the students who enrolled in city community colleges in 2009 earned a two-year Associate's degree by 2012. Many city high school grads begin college at a disadvantage: not even a third of New York City's class of 2012 earned high enough test scores to avoid remedial courses at CUNY, which has been nicknamed the "13th grade."

A new report from the Center for New York City Affairs (Insideschools' parent organization), Creating College Ready Communities: Preparing NYC's Precarious New Generation of College Students, explores why so many New York City high school grads struggle to earn college degrees. It gives recommendations on how the city's Department of Education and schools could improve college preparation in K-12 enabling students to have a better chance of success. The report follows four years of research by the Center in 14 low-income city schools which were working to improve their college numbers.

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Monday, 09 September 2013 11:38

High School Hustle: What are we fighting for?

No matter how you feel about the end of summer (I am always sad and counting the days until the next one), this week marks the start of what may be a four-year fight for parents of high school freshmen.

A fight to make sure they get the right classes, the right teachers and even a lunch period. A fight to make sure they get support for what could be a tough adjustment from middle school.

A fight to make sure they are ready for college; too many U.S. students are not.

For New York City public school parents, it's likely an ongoing battle -- even at some of the city's best and most sought-after high schools.

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Fourth and 5th-graders who scored 4's (the highest level) on both the 2013 state reading and math exams may apply now through Sept. 16 for seats in district and citywide gifted and talented programs for this school year, 2013-2014. Unlike the younger elementary grades which base admission to G&T programs on asssessments including the OLSAT, admittance in the upper elementary grades depends solely on state standardized test scores. Like the younger grades, demand far outweighs supply!

Seats are scarce, especially for 5th grade, and some districts have more openings than others. There may be a very few seats at citywide gifted programs, which require a higher score, as well as the district programs.

To find out whether your child is eligible, check his test score now available on the ARIS parent link. For parents without internet or computer access, the DOE has set up stations at local libraries this weekwhere parents can see their children's scores.

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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.

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