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Parents are learning this week whether their children will be sent to summer school based on their performance on 2013 state reading and math exams for grades 3-8. The initial good news that the numbers of students recommended for summer school is not higher than usual, according to principals.
"I'm imagining that we'll have the same number of students [attending summer school] as in previous years," said Christina Fuentes, principal of PS 24 in Brooklyn. "Other principals I've talked to said they did feel that the cut scores were adjusted [for the harder exams]."
This year there have been widespreads concern about the harder exams, which for the first time were aligned with the new Common Core standards. Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott tried to alleviate those concerns in a letter to parents before exams were administered in April. He acknowledged that tests would be harder, but, he said, scoring a level 1 out of 4, would not mean automatic holdover for children as it has in previous years. Instead, he wrote, the DOE "will look at students' overall scores-how many questions each student got right. Students with the lowest scores will be recommended for summer school."
Many New York City families who send their children to neighborhood elementary schools are in for a rude awakening when their child reaches 5th grade and they learn that choosing a middle school is not so straightforward. Applying to middle school can be just as nerve-wracking and time consuming as applying to college.
“Kind of feels like you’re going to see Oz behind the curtain,” said a Cobble Hill dad in District 15, whose 5th grader didn't get accepted by any of the schools he applied to. “Who is making these decisions? The DOE? The middle schools?”
The answer? It depends on where you live.
Unlike high school admissions – a mostly uniform, citywide process – the middle school process is decentralized and different rules apply in different districts.
Today is the first day of Regents exams for New York students; testing continues through June 20. Wondering what it all means? Schoolbook's Patricia Willens interviewed Kim Nauer, who directs the education project at the Center for New York City Affairs at the New School and is an Insideschools contributor. Here's the scoop on the current state of the exams and what the future holds.
"Why does the state give the Regents tests? What is the goal?
We actually have one of the oldest exams systems in the country. It was always meant to be an exit exam so that we know that students have a certain amount of knowledge before leaving high school. And it’s still that. In fact that role has become more important because with the focus on standardized testing the Regents are essentially the standardized tests for high school. They are a series of tests that gives the state confidence that we’re actually graduating students with a minimum level of knowledge to succeed in the world.
What are the minimum and maximum numbers of Regents a student can take?
In New York State there are five Regents exams you are required to take. You must score a 65 or over to pass. The exams include English, which kids typically take in their junior year, one mathematics exam, two social studies exams — Global History/Geography and U.S. History and Government — and then one science exam. Usually, kids take Earth Science or Living Environment. That’s typically what kids do in New York City and they graduate with what’s called a Regents Diploma. They can’t graduate without it. There are exceptions or accommodations for some special education students."
Read more from the education project at the Center for New York City Affairs, including a guide for students and parents filling out the FAFSA.
Almost one-third of the families whose four-year-olds applied for pre-kindergarten did not win a spot in any public school program, according to the Education Department, which sent offer letters to families this week.
This spring, 30,118 kids applied for 23,405 full and half-day seats in public schools and 29.4 percent of them did not get an offer. That percentage is slightly lower than last year, when 30.3% did not get pre-k offers for school-based programs.
The DOE is offering about 1,500 more school-based, full-day seats for the 2013-2014 school year than it did last fall, and the city plans to continue to grow the number of pre-k seats by a total of 4,000 in the next few years, the DOE spokesperson said. But even those additional seats would not satisfy this year's demand. Furthermore, the number of families seeking public school pre-k seats is trending up: from 28,815 in 2011 and 29,072 in 2012 to more than 30,000 this year.
If your child is one of the nearly 7,000 kids who did not get a pre-k offer, you still have some options. About 1,500 full-day pre-k seats remain unfilled at public schools, according to the DOE. Nearly all of the half-day morning seats are filled but 600 seats remain unfilled in afternoon pre-k programs. A list of schools with open seats is available on the DOE website [PDF]. And thousands of seats are still available through programs in Community Based Organizations (CBOs), according to a DOE spokesperson, who said that more than 60% of the city's pre-k seats are provided by CBOs.
Q: Even though my daughter is just going into 9th grade, I feel like we're already behind in the college process. Some of my friends have started their kids on SAT prep now, in 8th grade. Will my daughter have an advantage in also starting early on this? What else can I do to help her be ready for college?
A: It is NOT a good idea to start prepping for standardized tests this early. Junior year – 11th grade – is the appropriate time. First of all, test scores are NOT the most important part of a student's college application. Emphasizing test scores sends the wrong message. Students who start on test prep too early will be absolutely sick of the test before 11th grade, and they may also sour on the whole topic of college if you start stressing it too early.
Students who applied in the second round of high school admissions will learn on Friday, June 7, where they were matched, according to middle school guidance counselors, who will distribute the responses at school. In some cases, students have already gotten letters from high schools directly, letting them know they have been admitted and alerting them of open house dates.
Students who are not happy with their assignment may appeal for another school. Appeal forms will be available on June 7 from guidance counselors and must be filled out and submitted by June 14.
Unlike previous years, the appeal results will not be available by the end of the school year, June 26, but instead will be sent by mail to families sometime in July. The high school admissions process was delayed this year by Hurricane Sandy when thousands of students were displaced from school and the enrollment office was scrambling to find places for them.
Although this year's appeal forms are not yet available, in past years the main reasons appeals are granted are for safety, travel distance from school, health concerns or administrative errors on the student's application. In addition, students can fill in other reasons. The DOE does not say how many students file appeals and how many are granted.
In 2012, 75,690 8th graders applied to high school and 68,465 got one of their choices. That left about 10 percent of students without a spot and they entered the second admissions round. Other students who wanted to apply to a new school, or to a different school, also entered Round 2.
The Department of Education tried to school uptown parents at a pair of meetings Monday and Tuesday, which aimed to address issues surrounding the possible unzoning of District 6.
Speaking before packed houses of parents Monday night at the District 6 Community Education Council headquarters and Tuesday morning at P.S. 8 Luis Belliard, an education department spokesperson laid out what would happen if children in Washington Heights and Inwood were no longer zoned to neighborhood schools.
Yael Kalban, a spokeswoman for the DOE's office of portfolio planning and management, insisted that there was no firm proposal for dezoning the district on the table. She said she was asked by the CEC to attend the meetings merely to explain what unzoning is.
"We're here just to talk about what an unzoing could look like," Kalban said. "We're just here to have a discussion, there's no proposal on the table."
[This is just the most recent of many conversations about de-zoning districts that the DOE has had with CECs this spring. Last week, some parents in District 5, also in Harlem, expressed vociferous opposition to a plan which will come up for a vote on June 13. In Fort Greene, Brooklyn, members of the District 13 CEC have also been approached by the DOE to consider 'de-zoning' the schools, a representative said, but CEC members said they were not interested. District 4, in East Harlem, heard a presentation on May 24 [pdf]. In addition, districts 14, 16, and 17, have been having conversations about de-zoning, according to Lisa Donlan, a member of the District 1 CEC. The plan to de-zone is up for a vote in District 12 in the Bronx next week, she said. All the targeted districts are relatively low-performing districts. ]
The NYCDOE will mail decision letters for public school pre-kindergarten (pre-k) applicants this week and families who were matched to a pre-k program may register at schools from June 5 to June 19.
Families who applied online will receive email notification as well as letters in the mail. Parents should contact the school to arrange a time to register.
To register, bring your child and these required documents:
Insideschools update: On June 7, the court ruled in favor of the city, allowing the DOE to send out admissions offers to families. In a statement on June 10, the DOE said, "We're very pleased with this decision. Now the DOE can move forward with matching students to Gifted and Talented programs and making offers in time for the new school year." Letters will be sent by "mid-June," the DOE said on June 10.
Offers of coveted gifted and talented spots have been put on hold after a lawsuit challenging the Department of Education's methodology was filed.
It's the latest glitch in this year's admissions process. Applications have already been delayed twice after multiple scoring errors by testing giant Pearson.
Now offers are on hold at least June 7, when the four parents who filed a lawsuit against the DOE, are due back in Manhattan Supreme Court for arguments. [Originally families were supposed to get their program offers the week of May 20. The delay in assigning G&T seats to students also affects kindergarten families on waitlists at neighborhood schools who snag seats after families choose gifted programs.]
The parents — two of which had children with perfect scores — claimed that the admissions process was flawed in the way it calculated student eligibility and in giving priority to siblings of current students, a practice designed to keep families together. After siblings are placed, the rest of those who qualify are placed in a lottery.
Valerie Watnick, who blogs for Insideschools.org on environmental issues affecting schools, released a new book this month: This Sh!t May Kill You: 52 Ways to Make Smarter Decisions and Protect Your Family from Everyday Environmental Toxins.
The book contains 52 action items to help safeguard your family from environmental toxins, including a section dedicated to schools. Professor Watnick is the chair of the Law Department at Baruch College, where she teaches environmental law and business law.
Watnick, a public school parent, is a former co-president of the PTA at PS 199, one of the first city schools that was found to have light fixtures contaminated with polychlorinated biphenyl (PCBs) in 2008. She has subsequently written about efforts to rid the schools of the contaminated fixtures, including a lawsuit brought by New York Lawyers for the Public Interest that accused the Department of Education of "dragging its feet" to remove suspect fixtures from more than 730 schools. Last week, a settlement was reached and the DOE announced it would accelerate the removal process, completing it by 2016.