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.
The Department of Education's announcement yesterday that it will accelerate the removal of light fixtures that may be contaminated with polychlorinated biphenyl (PCBs) from more than 730 school buildings by December 2016 is an important victory for New York City school children and their families.
Prompted by a lawsuit brought by parent and advocacy groups, the city agreed to halve the timeline for the PCB removal from flourescent lights.The clean-up was supposed to be done by 2021 but the city will expedite the process to be completed in the next 3.5 years.
The renegotiated timeline is a result of more than two years of litigation brought by New York Lawyers for the Public Interest (NYLPI) on behalf of New York Communities for Change. The advocacy groups sued the DOE in 2011 over its intentions to remove the PCB contaminated fixtures over a ten year period. In March, a federal judge ruled against the city's motion to dismiss the suit, admonishing the city for its "foot-dragging" and "spurious" arguments over the clean-up of school buildings. In a stinging decision, the judge said that he was troubled over the city's dismissive attitude to potential health risks faced by children in schools with PCB-contaminated light fixtures. The settlement will require the DOE to provide semi-annual progress reports and the NYLPI and the court will continue to monitor the city's work until the last light fixture is removed.
I know that kids are required to go to school a certain amount of hours and days. Can you tell me how many hours of school are required and if they are different at different grades?
Your question opens a complex set of issues – bound up in state law and regulations, allocation of state aid and New York City's own variations, developed with the United Federation of Teachers and codified in their contract.
Students in New York state are required to attend school from age six. (In NYC the age is five, except that parents can choose to opt out of kindergarten and start their six year olds in 1st grade instead.)
When figuring out the length of the school day and hours of instruction, keep in mind that state laws define minimum hours. Increased number of days and hours are allowed, provided that the union agrees. Charter schools are not bound by these rules, indeed most charters have extended instruction time, and many non-charter public schools do as well.
The kids in Manhattan's richest neighborhoods are even more gifted than we imagined two weeks ago--and poor kids still don't make the grade.
At least that's according to the latest results of the city's Gifted & Talent exam--recalculated after Pearson testing company botched the original grading of the exam.
The new data shows that 40 percent more prospective kindergartners in District 2, which includes the East Side of Manhattan and the West Side south of 59th Street, qualified for citywide gifted programs than they did in April--593 compared to 418. Children must score in the 97th percentile or higher to be considered for a citywide gifted program.
However, there are far more children who qualify than seats: Citywide, 2,771 children made the cut, but there are only about 220 kindergarten seats available in the city's five citywide gifted programs after seats are assigned to qualifying siblings who get first dibs.
The rescoring didn't help many kids in low-income districts. The numbers went ever-so-slightly above the originally reported test scores – just four prospective kindergartners from District 7 in the South Bronx qualified for the citywide program, only two more than Pearson originally reported. In District 23 in the Ocean Hill - Brownsville section of Brooklyn, five qualified, compared to just one two weeks ago.
This year, The DOE adopted a new assessment -- the Naglieri Non-verbal Ability Test -- in an attempt to level the playing field for families who don't have access to tutoring for their four year olds. Children from low-income neighborhoods -- such as D7 and D23 -- are historically under-represented in G&T programs.
In total, 4,700 more children qualified for district or citywide G & T programs than originally reported. Out of the 36,000 kids entering kindergarten through 3rd grade who took the G & T test, 32.4% made the cutoff for either district and citywide programs, according to the DOE’s updated numbers. Children who score in the 90th percentile are eligible for district gifted programs.
Here are detailed break downs of the revised test score results, via the DOE: test scores by district (PDF), test scores compared to last year (PDF), and the district tallies of kids who scored in the 99th percentile (PDF).
As the May 10 deadline for parents to rank gifted and talented applications approaches, one Insideschools message board became a hotbed of anxiety. “Do you know what G&T is supposed to do with kids who get accepted to a G&T school but have IEP's requiring ICT placement?” asked one parent. “My son also has an IEP and is in ICT and is G&T. No place for him....” echoed another. The questions about inclusive gifted classes didn’t stop.
Parents want it, educators applaud it, and the DOE supports the idea—at least in theory. But a year after special education reform, there is still not a single combined G&T/ICT class in the city. No one seems to understand why.
"Twice exceptional” or "2e" kids are cognitively gifted children who also struggle with learning and attention disorders. Many of these students' Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) call for an Integrated Co-Teaching (ICT) class, which has two teachers, one of whom is trained in special education. The special education reform rolled out in all schools last year is meant to allow students to attend their school of choice and still receive needed special services, including these team-taught classes.
"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.
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.
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.
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.