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A look at the city's most popular middle schools

Written by DNAinfo Tuesday, 28 October 2014 12:34

The Brooklyn School of Inquiry accepted just two percent of the kids applying to its sixth-grade class last year. That makes it the most competitive middle school in the city, according to data obtained by DNAinfo New York.

The gifted and talented K-8 school in Bensonhurst — known for progressive teachers who eschew textbooks in favor of hands-on experiences — received more than 3,100 applications for just 66 spots in its sixth-grade class last fall. Nearly all of those spots went to kids who were already attending the school's fifth grade.

"It's a small school," principal Donna Taylor said of the popularity of BSI's sixth grade. "The students have the attention that, quite frankly, kids at that age need."

The Brooklyn School of Inquiry is not the only public middle school that rejects far more applicants than it accepts. 

Missing ticket? You can still take the SHSAT

Written by Pamela Wheaton Friday, 24 October 2014 14:50

If you haven't gotten your ticket for this weekend's specialized high school exam, don't panic. You'll be able to sit for the test without it, according to the Department of Education. The DOE posted a notice on its website saying that all scheduled students will be "welcomed and tested" even without a ticket. It also posted a list of test locations and times (pdf) for every middle school.

This week, some schools reported they had trouble printing tickets and others said they didn't get the tickets at all.

At Mark Twain middle school, it took the staff a day and a half to print out 350 tickets for its 8th-graders because of a glitch in the system, said Parent Coordinator Delgermaa Ganbaatar. "It has been very stressful. The system couldn't handle all the requests at once." The school finished printing at noon Friday, she said, and got them into the hands of students before they went home. Mark Twain sends more students annually to Stuyvesant High School than any other middle school.

The Specialized High School Admissions Test that thousands of 8th-graders will take this weekend has long been a multiple-choice exam scored by a machine. But there are indications that the new exam students will take starting in in 2016 might have an essay component.

Last month, the city issued a Request for Proposals for a new SHSAT, which is the sole determinant of whether a student gets into one of the eight academically elite high schools. The current contract with Pearson runs out in 2016 so the city must put the test out for bids and sign a new contract with someone to create a test for fall 2016 and beyond.

The new RFP tells prospective bidders that including hand-scored "constructed response and/or essay response" questions would be "desired but not required." If the test does have essays, the RFP goes on to say, the bid must include "information on the items themselves and on how and by whom the items would be scored."

Later on, the document refers again to "shorter written and/or essay responses," saying bidders may "optionally address" them.

I am the proud parent of a bright, creative, and unique daughter with learning disabilities. Like many children with high-incidence disabilities, my daughter outperforms in certain academic areas and underperforms in others. From kindergarten until 3rd grade, she relied on these skills and managed in a general education classroom with some extra services. She had caring, committed teachers, well versed in different learning styles. 

By the second week of 3rd grade, however, it became clear that she would have problems. The rapid implementation of Common Core Standards combined with an unsympathetic classroom teacher made her deteriorate—academically, emotionally and socially. The principal told me that an integrated co-teaching (ICT) class—with two teachers, one a special ed expert—did not exist for her grade. I tried to switch to a nearby public school with more services, but because of 2011’s special ed reform, I was told she now had to be served by her zoned school, and they were giving her all that they could. 

Ahh, it’s that time of year again. The pumpkins are out, and sunscreen and sandals have given way to light jackets and boots. There’s no denying it: gifted and talented testing is upon us.

Two years ago, I documented my elder son’s attempt to penetrate the exciting, if somewhat notorious world of gifted and talented testing in New York City. Several Pearson debacles and rejection letters later, our son ended up happy and thriving at a wonderful neighborhood school. And although the G&T testing experience taught me a great deal and yielded a few laughs, I secretly vowed then that unless my youngest son was clearly a savant—say, reciting Chaucer and analyzing Bayesian statistics—I’d spare him the hours seated with strangers asking him weird questions.

My husband disagrees. In his opinion, “Delta Force”—my sweet little powerhouse of a 4-year-old—gets the shaft in everything. He wears his brother's old shoes and gets less attention, so how dare we deny him this opportunity. "And besides," he explained, "I want to know how smart he is." 

It's the thick of college application season, and your child is diligently churning out common application essays while simultaneously studying for four or five advanced placement exams and researching scholarships, right?

Well, maybe not.

In households of high school seniors across New York City right now, (including my own) there's likely a good deal of procrastination—along with frustration and anxiety about the endless array of essays and electronic forms to fill out. Tasks include the dreaded and still over-complicated federal FAFSA, a federal form with 108 questions and 72 pages of instructions that determine financial aid—all guaranteed to take weeks off your life. (Here's a tip, though: For help, check out this how-to guide from the Center for New York City Affairs at The New School.)

Good riddance to A-F school grades!

Written by Nicole Mader Thursday, 02 October 2014 10:14

Say goodbye to the controversial school grading system developed under former Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Starting this school year, parents will no longer be able to judge schools by their A to F rankings, which were designed to be a simple way to see whether their child's school was succeeding or failing.

Instead, Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña wants parents to look beyond test scores to see what is actually happening inside their children's classrooms and promises the Department of Education will do the same. "Schools are not restaurants," quipped Fariña, "they have unique qualities that need to be captured in different ways."

Fariña announced the new plan for evaluating schools yesterday at PS 503/PS 506 in Sunset Park. She said that before the end of the calendar year, new School Quality Snapshots will be released for all schools and available online for parents to read. They will highlight key results from several different data sources the DOE already collects, including the annual school survey and the Quality Review conducted by experts who visit the school. While test scores will still be included, they will not be the sole focus, nor will they be used to penalize a school that does poorly.

Not the usual suspects: Our middle school picks

Written by Laura Zingmond Tuesday, 30 September 2014 11:52

Here's help for 5th-grade parents now in the throes of the hunt for middle school. Insideschools combed the city for good middle schools that are not among the usual favorites—those popular screened and highly competitive programs that everybody applies to. What we found are solid neighborhood and non-selective options in every borough. Overall, we were less concerned with a school’s test scores than with its tone and environment, and the quality of its instruction and leadership. Several on the list serve kids in grades 6–12. These schools seem to do a particularly good job with struggling and average students, and their leaders tend to not fret too much over middle school stats so long as they believe they are laying a foundation for higher achievement in the upper grades. Of course there are topnotch schools that are not on this list, but many of those are the schools that already receive many more applicants than they can accept!

Middle school admissions season kicks into high gear this week for parents of 5th-graders. You can meet school representatives at evening district fairs beginning Tuesday, Sept. 30. Middle school directories for 2014-2015 are online and hard copies are available at elementary schools.

Now is the time to sign up for school tours and open houses! The Department of Education website lists some open house dates here. If you don't see the school you want to visit listed, check its website or call the school to find out. In some popular schools, especially in Manhattan where there is active school choice, many tours are already fully booked. If you're shut out, try contacting the parent coordinator to see if additional tours will be added. Be sure to ask about admissions requirements when you visit schools. The directory listings are not always specific.

In addition to fairs, some districts hold informational nights where principals talk about their schools. Check with your district's family advocate to see if one is scheduled. (You can find their names and contact information on our district pages.) So far we've heard about forums in District 15 on Oct. 16District 3 on Oct. 16 and District 1 on Oct. 29. District 21 is offering a middle school admissions workshop on Oct. 22

Applying to high school in New York City is a confusing process. Here's a summary of our Sept. 23 panel discussion busting the myths. You can also view the entire discussion on video at the bottom of this page.