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Four NYC students finalists in top science competition

Written by Admin Tuesday, 06 November 2007 07:32

How about some non-G&T, non-progress report, uncontroversial news to get us through the day? Four students from the city's public schools have been named finalists in the prestigious Siemens Competition in Math, Science, and Technology; each will receive scholarships of up to $1,000. One finalist attends Stuyvesant, and the other three go to Francis Lewis High School in Queens. Nine other city kids were named semifinalists -- from Stuyvesant, Bronx Science, Hunter, NEST, and Midwood. The kids have one more round to make it through before the national finals, held at the end of November at NYU; the top prize is a $100,000 scholarship. New York City hasn't had any winners since 2003, when the grand prize winner was a Stuyvesant student whose research focused on the biochemistry of memory in the brain.

BSRA a back door to more tests, more data?

Written by Admin Tuesday, 06 November 2007 04:11

More soon from last night's Gifted & Talented public meeting, but I just wanted to draw attention to one thing I've been meaning to note that finally got addressed — a little — in the very last question, at 9:30 p.m. The Bracken School Readiness Assessment, which students will take (along with the OLSAT) to get into gifted programs, is billed by its publisher as a tool that "helps determine if a child may have an underlying language disorder that requires further evaluation." I'm not a psychometrician, but a test that looks for delays doesn't sound like the ideal tool to identify giftedness. Deputy Chancellor for Teaching and Learning Marcia Lyles said last night that the BSRA will be used to look for disorders as well as giftedness in 2008-09, when it will be administered to all kindergartners.

So I'm wondering if the expansion of access in the new gifted proposal (especially since the 95th percentile cut off is sure to shrink the actual number of seats in many places) isn't really a way to target students for extra help (a good thing) and/or to establish a baseline from which to generate data about younger kids' performance and improvement to pour into the school report cards.

TONIGHT (11/5): G&T public meeting

Written by Admin Monday, 05 November 2007 12:45

If Gifted and Talented admissions is on your radar, you probably don't need any reminding that tonight is the first public meeting to discuss the chancellor's new G&T admissions proposal. But in case you've been overcome by the progress report news today, here's your reminder. 6-9 p.m. at Fashion Industries High School. See you there. Map.

And now the grades are out

Written by Admin Monday, 05 November 2007 09:13

You can check out an excel file with all of the schools' grades over at the DOE's website. Fifty schools got F's, and 23 high schools' grades have not yet been finalized. (At Pissed Off Teacher's school, the original grade is being revisited because the principal complained.) New schools that haven't yet graduated a class also don't have grades.

Read the DOE's explanation of how the grades were calculated and then let us know what you think of the rankings. Do you see any surprises?

Student Thought: Report Card Report Card

Written by Admin Monday, 05 November 2007 07:54

B

What does this grade mean?
Your [The Department of Education's Report Card program's] overall score ranks within the 45th-85th percentile among accountability strategies for an incomparably large school system. Although this is a step in the right direction for accountability and is necessary in a system this large, some of the factors you grade schools on are a little misguided.

School Environment- Out of 15%
A large problem with your report card is the meager amount of influence this section has on the overall score. Attendance should be seen as a major indicator of school performance. Students who go to bad schools will probably go to school less often and vice versa. If students are in the habit of going to school it is more likely that they will progress academically and proceed to the next level of education. Surveys should also play a larger role because parents, students, and teachers have great insight into schools' output.

Student Performance- Out of 30%
High-stakes testing is not a great way of measuring results. Test-taking requires an entirely different skill-set from learning. Its emphasis also reduces the amount of actual teaching and learning that takes place in our schools. However, it is still the most feasible way of assessing student performance and deserves to be a factor (albeit a smaller one) in a school's overall grade.

Student Progress- Out of 55%
Measuring student progress is a toughie and the McGraw Hill period assessments are a great way of doing it. Maybe with ARIS you can track a student's grades and how they've improved or worsened over time. Also: Tracking a student's progress from 8th to 9th grade is ridiculous and impossible. Puberty and the transition to high school make expecting all students (especially boys) to progress academically is unrealistic. After being a really good student in middle school it took me until my sophomore year to really get back on track. This section should bear less weight.

Additional Credit
I have to agree with Errol Louis on this one. It is a step in the right direction. Hopefully these assessments will show over time that principal empowerment is a good idea (as it has been at LaGuardia). Accountability is necessary. These report cards help spread the information to the public and let parents get a better picture on how their school is doing. However, the factors of assessment and their weights need heavy revision. Also, the system of relative letter grades will help the DOE and the other education wonks out there learn more about the benefits of competition between public schools in a system as large as New York's.

Joel Klein's new report card system gets a B. It's an interesting and well-intentioned concept but like Joel Klein's other programs, it is most definitely a work in progress.

School report card grades coming out this week

Written by Admin Monday, 05 November 2007 03:12

It's a big week for the city's public schools — the DOE is releasing their report card grades. The grades, based on quality reviews, test scores, and student, parent and teacher surveys, range from A to F; a top grade can mean more money, while a failing grade — assured for 15 percent of schools — could cost principals their jobs. Some schools, such as IS 289 in Manhattan, are getting low scores despite high performance, according to a New York Times article, and others are getting high scores despite low student performance and bad reputations.

Gotham Gazette has a brief roundup of opinion, ranging from Daily News columnist Errol Lewis' defense of the grades as "exactly what parents need to know" to Diane Ravitch's criticism of them as "simplistic and misleading." And while principals certainly care about their schools' grades — after all, their jobs may be on the line — I think Clara Hemphill is right when she says in the Times that a grade alone are unlikely to change parents' opinions about schools — especially when the grade doesn't jive with a school's reputation.

Carnations in cabs and classrooms, but why?

Written by Admin Friday, 02 November 2007 09:56

Yesterday, thousands of city kids were pulled from class to receive and distribute flowers as part of an initiative to draw attention to the reason why more than 80,000 taxicabs now bear Technicolor flowers on their hoods. The car-art project, part of Garden in Transit, celebrates 100 years of taxis by showcasing flower decals painted by the city's children.

But so many people have been confused about the intentions behind the flowered cabs -- several have told the group they think the flowers are meant to "raise money for something somehow related to the 1960s," Garden in Transit told the Times -- that the group decided to launch a new campaign to clarify the first. Unfortunately, it might not have been any more successful: teacher Ms. Frizzle wrote on her blog, "I wonder if anyone took a moment to picture what two dozen 11-year-olds would DO with flowers for the last hour of the day while I was ostensibly teaching science class? ... I grant that I am not 100% sure WHY we got carnations today, and possibly it could have been handled better within the school, but still! Really!"

NYC schools built on toxic sites

Written by Admin Thursday, 01 November 2007 10:16

If you were paying attention to the news over the summer, you may have heard that Information Technology High School in Queens was constructed in an old warehouse on a toxic site. The DOE insisted that its tests showed the site is safe for students and teachers, but lawyers were seeking confirmation by independent scientists, and families were worried about their kids' safety.

Now Fox 5, which brought the InTech story to light, has put together a report about the "three most toxic school sites" in New York City. According to an independent environmental expert, Beacon High School on the Upper West Side, Manhattan Center for Science and Mathematics in East Harlem, and PS 156 in the Bronx are all sitting on top of potentially dangerous levels of various industrial chemicals. The DOE says all three sites are safe. Public advocates are pushing for legislation that would require the city to submit leased sites to public review -- the law already requires this of sites the city owns -- but the Bloomberg administration opposes such a regulation.

Update: We've heard that a retraction from Fox may be in the works about the Beacon site. From our source: "Fox won't do a retraction until the investigation is complete ... but the brownfield site was 2 blocks away and ... the EPA or whatever already gave the okey dokey" to the site. Beacon families, you can relax. No word on whether this is the case for the other schools in the original report.

Update 11/7: No retraction thus far from Fox 5 itself, but the expert quoted on the segment has issued a letter that says Beacon is safe. "There is no indication that any contamination resulting at the [nearby toxic site] is threatening the Beacon School due to the rigorous 'source-removal' clean up that was undertaken," the expert writes. Phew.

Insideschools' Jacquie Wayans on Brian Lehrer Show

Written by Admin Thursday, 01 November 2007 07:21

Jacquie Wayans, a school reviewer for Insideschools, appeared on the Brian Lehrer Show yesterday to discuss kids who are "talent rich and resource poor." Wayans and her two fellow panelists, a representative from the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation and the managing director of Uncommon Schools, which supports several charter schools in the city, discussed the special challenges facing low-income gifted children. Wayans described her own school experience and that of her kids, who attended TAG, a selective school that has many low-income students. Listen to the entire show online; her segment begins around minute 14:30.

DOE-sanctioned cell phones may be on their way to schools

Written by Admin Thursday, 01 November 2007 06:22

Is this just a case of the right hand not knowing what the left hand is doing? Or is there something else going on in the DOE's chief equality officer's plan to reward high-performing students with free cell phones -- perhaps a conspiracy by the DOE to prop up Motorola?

The DOE's chief equality officer, Roland Fryer, told an audience at Harvard (where he is a professor) last month that he hopes to give high-performing students cell phones -- but they won't be able to use during school hours, when cell phones are banned. Good grades and behavior would mean more cell phone minutes, Fryer said, and the phones won't cost the city any money, reports the Times today. The DOE's press office says the department is considering the idea, but "this is a proposal that neither the mayor nor the chancellor has signed off on," according to the Times article. They had better hurry -- Fryer is hoping to get the first Motorola phones, possibly with Jay-Z-penned ringtones, to kids as early as this month. The Times article doesn't address where kids will be able to stash their phones during school hours.