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Pamela Wheaton is one of the founding members of Insideschools. Since 2002 she has served as deputy director, project director and managing editor. She edits the blog, reviews schools, leads workshops about school choice and oversees editorial content. She collaborated with Clara Hemphill on a series of guides to New York City’s best public schools. Previously Wheaton was a producer of PBS television programs and a reporter and editor at the Buenos Aires Herald. Her two daughters graduated from New York City public schools.
Families with four and five-year-olds signing up now for testing for elementary school gifted and talented programs may already know there is going to be a new, harder test for applicants this year. But there are other significant changes as well which affect both new applicants and students already enrolled in G&T programs who may want to make a switch. We spoke to Robin Aronow of School Search NYC who follows the G&T and school admissions scene. Here are some changes she noticed.
- No guarantees: There is no guarantee of a placement even if you score at the 90th percentile or above. In the past, incoming kindergartners and 1st graders were assured of a spot in a district program providing they scored in the 90th percentile and the family listed all district options on their application. That is no longer the case. High scores will trump low ones and there is a possibility that not all students will get placed.
- Scoring: Unlike previous years, scores will be issued both in percentiles and in composite scores. There will be many composite scores within a percentile creating greater differentiation. Percentiles will determine eligibility, but composite scores will determine the placement priority. In the past, only percentile scores were considered for both eligibility and priority.
- Siblings: Sibling priority (meaning an older sibling is enrolled in a particular G&T program at the time the younger one starts) is now
secondary to the score. In the past all eligible younger siblings got placed first; now only if composite scores are equal, do youngersiblings get placed before other applicants.
- Sibling applications: Siblings applying at the same time are considered separately. In the past, if both siblings qualified, the
higher scoring sibling brought in the lower scoring one. This new procedure applies for twins and other "multiples;"
now they are considered independently based on each's composite score. If twins have the same score they will be placed together.
- Transfers: Students already enrolled in a G&T program may apply to transfer from one district G&T program to another, or from one citywide program to another through filing a Placement Exception Request or PER, at an enrollment office. In the past you could not transfer from one district or citywide program to another. Preference will be given to families with a "hardship," such things as a move to a different district, a sibling enrolled at another school, safety or medical issues. There's no guarantee that you'll get a transfer.
- Openings due to attrition: You can accept an offer at a G&T program and still be considered for a school you ranked higher if it becomes available due to attrition. Last year once you accepted a district program, the process was over for your child.
- Applying out of district: This year you can apply to programs outside your home district, but priority is given to in-district families. An
exception is made for people who live in a district that does not offer a G&T program. (There are four of them this year.) In that situation, out-of-district applicants will be given priority in one or more of the programs in a neighboring district.
If some uptown Manhattan parents have their way, District 6, which covers northern Harlem, Washington Heights and Inwood, would no longer have zoned elementary schools. The district's Community Education Council (CEC), a parent panel which has some authority -- along with the Education Department -- to decide school zones is hosting meetings this week to hear what parents think of thiree different proposals to change the zoning..
Bryan Davis, a parent on the CEC and a proponent of the de-zoning, says the plan is designed to give all parents equal access to all schools and to empower them to make their own choices, according to DNAInfo.com. But, if recent meetings are any indication, parents are concerned that the plan to give them choice, could actually backfire. Parents who move to a particular zone because of the school could find themselves closed out of that school, and instead have to travel to a distant neighborhood.
While school choice has become the norm for high school, and middle schools in many districts under Mayor Bloomberg, the only district that has no zoned elementary schools is tiny District 1 on the Lower East Side. District 6 has more than twice as many students as District 1, according to the DOE statistics from 2011. District 1 has 17 elementary schools, many enrolling fewer than 400 pupils. District 6 has 25 schools, half of which enroll more than 600 students. There are already about a half-dozen schools in District 6 which are unzoned and have their own application but proponents of the new plan say many district residents don't know about those options.
As the DOE and the parent council consider the proposal, parents can weigh in. There's a meeting on Oct. 18 from 7 to 10 p.m. at PS 48, and on Oct. 19 from 8:30 to 9:30 a.m. at PS 278. The council's zoning committee will host public hearings on Oct. 17 from 6 to 8 p.m. at the building shared by PS 192 and PS 325; on Oct. 25 from 6 to 8 p.m. at PS 115 and on Nov. 1 from 6 to 8 pm at PS 98.
Click here to download the District 6 proposals.
What's on your child's school lunch tray this week? Want to improve it?
Check out LUNCH LINE, a mobile app and website which launched this week, created by students at City-as-School High School. LUNCH LINE allows you to post pictures and comment on your school's daily school lunch page and to join or start a school group to organize improvements and advocate for better food.
"It's a tool for parents," said City-as senior Emma Jenney who was one of 12 students in Naima Freitas' biology class last spring who designed the app with the help of an outside programmer and designer. "It's exposing school food in America right now which has been kind of a hidden thing."
As part of the project, students visited elementary school lunchrooms to see what young children eat and how much they throw away, she said. The students compared the average cafeteria meal offerings to those provided at some 30 schools which subscribe to Wellness in the Schools programs. Wellness schools offer alternative menus. They use the same ingredients as those provided by the Education Department's Office of School Food, but they prepare the meals differently. And they train the kitchen staff on how to cook healthier meals.
If your child is entering kindergarten-3rd grade in fall 2013, you may sign up now to test for one of the city's 80 elementary gifted and talented programs. Online and in-person registration is open from Oct. 10 to Nov. 9; testing takes place in January and February in public schools.
Handbooks explaining the G&T programs and admissions requirements are online now and include sample tests. This year, in an attempt to increase the diversity of students who qualify, the Education Department changed one of the exams which determines entrance. The DOE will administer the Otis-Lennon School Ability Test, or OLSAT, as usual, but kids will also take the Naglieri Nonverbal Ability Test (NNAT) instead of the Bracken School Readiness Assessment. The Naglieri will count for about two-thirds of the score, the OLSAT, one-third. In previous years the OLSAT counted for 75 percent.
The percentage of students who qualify for G&T programs from low-income neighborhoods and districts is significantly lower than those qualifying from middle class areas. This year four districts -- two in the Bronx and two in Brooklyn -- did not have enough students qualifying to offer a kindergarten G&T program.
The city hopes the new nonverbal test will help level the playing field because it does not rely on language skills and, theoretically, is harder to prep for. However, some experts say that hope is unfounded. According to a Wall Street Journal article this week, tutoring companies say the NNAT is "harder than the tests the city has previously used." It can be confusing to children who "don't understand what they're supposed to do," one professor said.
Too many ingredients in this alphabet soup?
The NAACP on Thursday will file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights, charging that the exam-only admissions policy for New York City's eight specialized high schools is discriminatory against Black and Hispanic students, is not "educationally sound" and has not been proven to be a reliable predictor of student success at the elite schools. They call for "multiple measures" to be considered for entrance to specialized high schools.
Joined by the LatinoJustice PRLDEF and The Center for Law and Social Justice at Medgar Evers College and other community organizations, the NAACP is challenging the long-standing New York state law which specifies that students are to be admitted to specialized schools on the basis of a single exam. The law gives the city's Department of Education the latitude to create more exam schools and, in the past decade the city added five smaller schools to its roster of specialized schools.
According to the NAACP, the city's Education Department has "never conducted a study to determine whether the test is a valid tool" and whether "there is any relationship between students' test results and learning standards" in those schools. Furthermore, the complaint says that other elite high schools and colleges around the country use "multiple measures" when considering applicants, such as grades, teacher recommendations and the demographics of the schools they attend.
After four years of blogging for Insideschools about the challenges of finding an appropriate education for her autistic son, Marni launched her own blog about daily family life, with autism thrown into the mix.
Marni's posts are always funny and heartfelt. (Now, I wonder what she would have to say about today's news: overcrowded special ed classrooms in the age of "reform"?)
The special education reform rolled out in all schools this fall is very much "a work in progress," according to two prominent experts: Kim Sweet, executive director of Advocates for Children (AFC) and Maggie Moroff, of AFC and the the ARISE Coalition.
The reform's goal of educating disabled children in their neighborhood schools is laudable, write the two in an article for City Limits, but now the emphasis must shift to accountability and ensuring that children's needs are actually being met in the schools that enrolled them.
Sweet and Moroff call upon the Education Department to do three things. First, provide intensive, ongoing, elbow to elbow support and training to school staff working with special needs children. Second, come up with an immediate plan to better inform parents about the reform and give families guidance on what to do if their school lacks "the expertise or capacity to meet their children's needs." Third, publicly report the successes and failures of the reform's first phase - two years in 260 pilot schools. What were the best practices? What was the impact of the reform at those schools?
Read the article "On Special Ed, School Dept. Must do its Homework" in City Limits.
It's only the second week of school but 8th grade parents in the know are already signing up to tour popular high schools.
One enterprising dad began emailing parent coordinators before school started and found out that he and his daughter snagged one of the last spots on a September tour of a large Brooklyn school.
Other parents waited by their computers at noon on the day after Labor Day to register for the Bard High School Early College tours and assessments in Manhattan and Queens. Registration began promptly at 12:01 pm.
How do you sign up for the tours and visits? Unfortunately every school does things a bit differently. The giant high school directory has an "Open House Information" section. Some schools like Bayside High School in Queens and Curtis High School on Staten Island give dates and times, but many do not. They simply say to contact the school.
The aim of the special education reform--being rolled out in all schools this year--is to educate special needs children in the least restrictive settings possible, and, preferably, in their neighborhood schools.
Is that what's actually happening? Not in all schools, according to Advocates for Children. Before school started, the group heard from 40 parents of incoming kindergarten students with disabilities whose zoned schools could not provide the type of class or services that the child needed. According to a statement issued by Advocates for Children, some schools are just not ready to accommodate all special needs students.
The first day of school is too soon to tell whether those 40 students and others actually will get the services they need, said Maggie Moroff, a special ed expert at Advocates for Children and head of the ARISE Coalition. But, she said, "we are cautioning families to make sure what they agreed upon in their IEP [Individualized Education Plans] meetings last spring is not being changed to reflect what the school has to offer but to reflect what the student needs."
Advocates posted guidelines for parents to help them navigate the first days and weeks of the school year.
In another red flag for special ed reform, some parents are just now finding out that the aides who helped their children last year are no longer available. The city is now contracting with agencies to provide workers rather than hiring the aides directly, according to NY1 reporter Lindsey Christ. Because the agencies take a percentage for their work, aides who were paid $20 an hour last year, would now be paid only $10. The city says these new contracts will save money. According to NY 1, the 49 companies that contracted with the city to provide workers "will keep close to half of what the DOE pays them per hour to staff schools with therapists and aides. In other words, taxpayers shell out $18 an hour for educators who make just $10 an hour."