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Fourteen-year-old Marc Brandon Gross, is what's called a “2E,” or twice-exceptional, child: he is a talented singer, dancer and actor who can memorize a script in two days that would take most people two weeks to learn, says his mother Maria Gross. But Marc has trouble communicating and socializing because he is on the autism spectrum.
Marc is thriving as a freshman Talent Unlimited High School -- a sign that children with special needs can be successfully integrated into the city's selective high schools. “They bend over backwards to make sure his needs are met,” says Gross.
While Marc should be a poster child for the Department of Education's new push to enroll more special needs children at the city's selective high schools, his mother is angry that the city is bending the rules for admission to schools like his. Marc passed the demanding audition for the musical theater program last year, but some of the students admitted this year did not.
“That's not right. It's not fair, especially not fair to my kid” who played by the rules, Gross says. At Talent Unlimited, more than 45 students (including 13 special needs students) were admitted who either did not audition or didn't meet the school's audition standards.
Gross contacted Insideschools to tell Marc's story after hearing that the city placed more than 1,300 students in 71 of the city’s selective high schools as part of a double-pronged effort to match more students to their round one high school picks and to ensure that schools meet the city’s new special education quotas.
Marc has speech and language disabilities as well as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). The school offers intensive support: he is in team-teaching classes with two teachers, one of whom is certified in special education. He gets extra help in math and English. The school also provides after-school academic tutoring. The guidance counselor arranged a special peer support group to help Marc work on his socializing skills.
Marc's family expected him to attend high school at School for Language and Communication Development (SLCD), the school for special needs children where he went from kindergarten through 8th grade. But a guidance counselor at SLCD suggested he try out for a public performing arts high schools.
Just like thousands of other aspiring performing artists, Marc practiced for weeks and attended rounds of auditions to try out for four of the city’s audition schools: Talent Unlimited, Frank Sinatra, Professional Performing Arts School and LaGuardia. All four schools require auditions for entrance but do not have academic screens. Yet, this year DOE officials said the city assigned students to both Talent Unlimited and Frank Sinatra based on test scores, rather than artistic ability.
Competition at the city's performing arts schools is fierce; 1,500 students typically audition for 125 seats at Talent Unlimited.
Gross is proud to say her son went through the “appropriate channels of auditioning,” and was awarded a seat. And now Gross is concerned that the admission of dozens of students who did not meet Talent Unlimited’s audition standards – or did not even try out – will compromise the integrity of the program.
Because of his IEP, Marc still struggles academically, Gross says, but he is excited to get up and go to school everyday. "My kid loves the school because everyone is at his level. They can sing, they can dance, and they can act."
Watch video of Marc performing at Talent Unlimited, courtesy of his sister Lauren Gross:
"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.
The Department of Education is forcing most of the city’s selective high schools to accept a certain percentage of special needs students, even, in some cases, if they don't meet the eligibility requirements. Both general and special education students were assigned to top performing arts programs even though they didn't audition, infuriating some parents whose children did.
Beacon High School, Eleanor Roosevelt High School, Professional Performing Arts are among the selective schools that have been assigned special needs students outside the regular admissions process, school officials said; Frank Sinatra High School and Talented Unlimited were among the selective schools that have been assigned general education students as well.
In all, the Department of Education has assigned students not chosen by the schools to about 70 different screened programs for the 2013-14 academic year, said Marc Sternberg, senior deputy chancellor for strategy and policy. Sternberg said most of these programs were assigned special needs children; a few schools with unfilled seats were also assigned general education students. In a follow-up story, the New York Post reported: "about 960 general-ed kids and 300 special-ed students were assigned," to 71 schools.
This policy is part of an effort to give children with disabilities more access to demanding academic and arts programs and to ensure that screened schools get the "right number" of students, said Sternberg.
“This is about equity and access,” Sternberg said in a telephone interview. “We want to make sure that all students across the spectrum have access to these very fine schools.”
Please help! My daughter is wait-listed for kindergarten at her zoned school. We will be calling the school to find out where she is on the wait list. Until we know she's in a school, what do we do next? She also scored in the 90th percentile for G&T. By looking at the stats it doesn't seem like she will be guaranteed a seat. Please let me know if you have any advice on what any parents in our position should do next as we can't afford private school. Any help is appreciated.
Don't fret and do be patient. I assume you plan to apply to a Gifted and Talented program, so wait until you find out if she got a spot. By the way, the deadline for G&T placement was extended until May 10 to accommodate those whose tests were temporarily misplaced and whose tests were mis-scored. That in turn will make notification of placements later than expected. It also means that your daughter's score may have changed for the better.. On the other hand, so many more children qualified that seats may be scarcer.
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.
Q: I was rejected by my #1 college choice – which I admit was a “reach” school. But what I don’t get is this: I was accepted by five other colleges, including another “reach” school! So maybe the college that turned me down made a mistake. What do you think my chances are if I ask them to reconsider? Should I tell them which other colleges have accepted me?
A: It is very, very rare for a college admissions office to change a decision. Decisions are always made by more than one person, and written notes are kept that explain (internally) why the decision was made. Unless crucial information was genuinely overlooked or considered in error (e.g. the admissions committee was looking at the wrong transcript when it voted – and this type of mistake rarely happens, if ever), they made the decision they wanted to make. Admissions committees are quite experienced in what they do, and they strive to make the best decisions they can for their college or university.
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."
In what's become an unfortunate annual occurence for New York City families, more than 2,300 children are waitlisted for kindergarten seats at 105 schools, according to the Education Department. Two of the hardest hit neighborhoods are Sunset Park in District 15 and Corona in District 24 in Queens. In both neighborhoods, the DOE is trying a new strategy to deal with overcrowding: opening “overflow” schools to absorb some of the waitlisted kindergarteners.
One overflow school will open in Sunset Park in the fall with three kindergarten classes. The new school, Sunset Park Avenues, is unzoned and will only accept children who are assigned to the school after landing on waitlists at other area schools.
“A portion of waitlisted students from 15K094 [PS 94] and 15K169 [PS 169] may receive alternate offers” to Sunset Park Avenues, DOE spokesman Devon Puglia confirmed. The families of kindergartners assigned to the school will get letters from the DOE’s Office of Enrollment, he said.