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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.
After an outcry by parents, the Education Department changed its plan about where to move The STEM Academy, the citywide gifted and talented program in Queens. Last week, in a meeting with parents, DOE officials said that the school would be "split-sited" at two locations, the lower grades going to PS 76, the upper grades to IS 126.
Parents were upset, not only about the two different locations, but also because PS 76 is located far from public transportation and already houses a program for autistic children. Parents said the G&T program would take space from the program for special needs children, a prospect that made them uncomfortable. Instead, STEM families proposed that the school move to PS 17, which has room for more students and is closer to the subway.
Yesterday, the DOE agreed, presenting a new proposal to parents and principals at the affected schools. Under the new plan, the school would still be located at two different schools, but grades K-4 would go to PS 17, not PS 76. Grades 5-8 would still go to IS 126.
"We’ve worked extremely hard over the past several months to identify space to extend and create a stand alone citywide STEM program," the DOE press office said in a statement. "We always try to incorporate feedback from school communities, and we’re glad we can accommodate a K-8 program in Queens with this proposal."
"We are not thrilled with the split site but unfortunately there is not a lot of room in district 30," STEM parent Michal Melamed wrote in an email to Insideschools. "We are thrilled with how quickly the DOE changed its mind."
The plan to move and expand the STEM program, now housed at PS 85, will have to be approved by the Panel for Educational Policy. In January, Chancellor Dennis Walcott gave the go-ahead for STEM to become a K-8 school with its own administration. Since then the DOE and parents have been looking for a location.
"The city is planning to divide the K-8 version of P.S. 85's citywide gifted program between two buildings, including one that is far from the nearest subway stop, upsetting parents who have been pushing for an expansion of the popular STEM Academy, parents said.
During a meeting at P.S. 85 Wednesday night, DOE officials told STEM parents they want to split-site the G&T program into two new schools — co-locating its younger classes at elementary school P.S. 76 and siting the middle school grades at I.S. 126, at 31-51 21st St., both identified by the city as underutilized.
STEM is currently a K-5 program housed at P.S. 85, at 23-70 31st St. in Astoria. The building doesn't have enough space to allow the program to expand through eighth grade, the DOE has said.
In the few days between the end of the state ELA exams and the start of this week's math tests, Brooklyn New School Principal Anna Allanbrook and her teachers reflected on testing in general, and this year's longer, harder, reading exams in particular. Here's an edited version of her letter to families about testing.
by Anna Allanbrook
The test was indeed harder than in the past, for a few reasons. On Day 1, the day of the multiple choice exam, there were many questions that appeared to have more than one answer. One principal from another school in Brooklyn joked that she would need to go to summer school as there were so many questions, which she thought had more than one correct answer.
The other problem was its length. Back in the 1990s, students spent one day doing an ELA test and one day doing a math test. Now, they must be tested for three days for each subject. The test is 70 minutes long for grades 3 and 4 and 90 minutes for grade 5. For some of our students, this was still not enough time. For students who were given extended time to take the test (due to IEP or 504 mandates), it was far too much time to spend sitting and thinking and writing. After the second hour of the third day, (and following two and a half days of pretty impressively sustained effort), one student had had enough. He only had two questions left, but he couldn't keep going. He banged his head on the desk so hard everyone in the room jumped.
Last week students in grades 3-8 sat for state standardized reading exams that were longer and harder than in previous years and, for the first time, aligned with the Common Core reform. Some students even ended up in tears, teachers said. This week, the same students are bracing for three days of math exams: Wednesday-Friday. An 8th-grader (who wishes to remain anonymous) from the Center School in Manhattan reflects on his testing experience last week and gives it -- and his performance -- low marks. Here's his report.
Because our principal has so much faith in her students, we all approach standardized tests without worry. I went into this one thinking it would be just like all the others I have taken -- not too hard. It turned out, on the whole, to be harder than it has been. It wasn't unbearable for me, even though I barely had enough time to complete some sections. The stories were quite long. Many were two pages, some three. I had to constantly look back, to reread several times, and that took time. A lot of the answers seemed to be equally valid and [based on] somebody's opinion, not fact.
(story updated 4/20/2013 & 4/21/2013 with numbers of affected children)
Pearson, the test company that administers the city's gifted and talented tests, miscalculated the scores for thousands of children, the company has acknowledged.
Pearson announced the mistake in a letter to parents late Friday afternoon, April 19, on the very day that parents were supposed to submit their applications. The application deadline has been extended until May 10, Chancellor Dennis Walcott said, and parents will get the results of rescored exams by April 29. Affected families will receive an update from the Education Department this weekend.
The DOE set up a hotline for G&T score-related questions. Call 1-888-705-9417.
The mistakes affected 4,735 children, or 13.2% of test takers. "Of these, 2,698 students (7.5% of test takers) who didn’t previously qualify for G&T now qualify for district programs; 2,037 students (5.7% of test takers) who previously qualified for district programs now also qualify for citywide programs," the DOE said.
A coalition of parents from the five citywide gifted and talented schools is petitioning the Department of Education to open more programs because hundreds of children who test in now are not getting seats.
This year 1,863 incoming kindergartners scored between the 97th and 99th percentile on the G&T assessments which makes them eligible for the selective citywide programs. Yet there are only an estimated 281 kindergarten seats at the citywide schools. That number diminishes further - to about 222 open slots, according to unofficial parent counts - after factoring in qualifying siblings who get first dibs. [There may be even more top qualifiers. NBC Local News reported Wednesday that 400 tests have yet to be scored!]
"We’ve met hundreds - even thousands - of parents who are interested in citywide schools but there is a lack of seats," said Joli Golden, a member of the Parents Alliance for Citywide Education (PACE) which was founded in 2011 to advocate for gifted education. "Parents are clamoring for those schools."
Children in grades 3-8 will spend three days -- April 16-18 -- taking state standardized reading exams. Next week, the same children will spend three mornings taking math exams. For some parents, that's just too many tests.
Around the city, families are asking: is there any way to opt out of the exams? And just what are the consequences for students who don't take the tests? Shael Polakow-Suransky, The city's Department of Education chief academic officer, has been busy speaking to parent groups about this, most recently on Staten Island. Chancellor Walcott, acknowledging the "heightened anxiety" over this year's exams advised school principals to cool it with the test pressure.
In response to all the questions about this year's tests, aligned for the first time with the new Common Core Standards, the DOE posted Yearly Testing guidelines which include the topic of "opting out."
On the eve of next week's state ELA exams for grades 3-8, Chancellor Walcott is urging principals to "turn the pressure down" on teachers in the wake of "heightened anxiety" about this year's high stakes tests.
Walcott and State Ed Commissioner John King have been saying that the 2013 state tests will be more difficult to pass because for the first time they are aligned with the new Common Core standards which many schools have just began to implement. Some teachers say they have not had adequate curricula and learning materials to prepare for the new standards.
In his weekly letter to principals, Walcott acknowledged the anxiety surrounding the upcoming ELA and math exams. He writes: "...a natural reaction would be to turn the heat up on your teachers, who tend to respond by turning the heat up on their students," he writes. "Instead, to the greatest extent you can, I’m asking you and your team to do the opposite, and turn the pressure down."
Even with the expected drop in student scores, "roughly the same number of students will attend summer school as in previous years," he said . "And teacher evaluation and school accountability will adjust accordingly so no one is punished by the change in assessments."
Earlier this week, Walcott visited Academy of Arts and Letters in Brooklyn with King and Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch, to see how that school was implementing the Common Core. He praised the leadership for "cultivating a caring culture" that other principals should follow.
See the full text of his letter after the jump.
For the first time in four years, fewer than 1,000 incoming kindergartners scored in the 99th percentile on the city's gifted and talented exams, but there are still more than twice as many top-scoring tykes than there are seats in the five most selective citywide programs. Of the 13,559 rising kindergartners who sat for G&T assessments in January and February, just under seven percent -- 921 -- scored in the 99th percentile on the nationally-normed tests.
Despite the introduction of a non-verbal exam meant to increase the number of low-income children who qualify for G&T programs, the gap in performance persists between rich and poor districts.
Scoring between the 97th-99th percentile on the G&T assessments means a child is eligible for a citywide program. But there are fewer than 400 seats for incoming kindergartners. Further decreasing the odds of entry, qualifying siblings of current students get first dibs at those seats.
On April 6 and 7, 8th and 9th graders who did not get a match in the first round of high school admissions -- or are unhappy with the school they were assigned to-- may attend the Round 2 Fair (pdf) at Martin Luther King Jr. Educational Campus in Manhattan from 11 am to 2 pm. Families will meet representatives from the 20 or so new high schools opening in September, plus established schools that still have openings.
Some of the new schools are also holding open houses before (and, in some cases, after) the April 12 application deadline; either in their assigned buildings or at different venues. Here's a listing of the open houses we know about so far. We'll add to it as we get new dates. (Remember that dates may change so confirm with the school's website, or by phone, before heading out.)