The other night my son chose one of my all-time favorite children’s books to read, “I Am Too Absolutely Small for School” by Lauren Child. The story follows a quirky little girl named Lola who, when informed by her brother Charlie that she will be starting school in the fall, comes up with many creative reasons why she needn’t go (among them that she does not need to learn to count to 100 because “I never eat more than ten cookies at one time”). Luckily, Charlie's counterarguments win over Lola in the end, and she finds that school is much more fun than she expected.

We’ve been reading the book quite a lot lately, and since both my boys are starting new schools this fall (Doodle heads to preschool, and Noodle to kindergarten) it’s no big surprise. Reading along as Lola successfully overcomes her fears is just one way for my kids to work through their own emotions about this big transition.

On my quest to find more good books about starting school, I had the pleasure of speaking to librarian Betsy Bird, Youth Materials Specialist for BookOps, the shared technical services organization of New York Public Library and Brooklyn Public Library. Here are some of her top choices. Check out your local library to see if you can find them on the shelves.

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Wednesday, 14 August 2013 10:04

Test prep didn't prevent score drop

Energy and optimism burst out of the 2011 video [view below] by students at Young Women's Leadership School in Brooklyn. Dancing and singing to the tune of Taio Cruz's "Dynamite," they proclaim, "Test prep goes on and on and on....I am brilliant. I have confidence. Gonna ace these tests."

This month, many city students will see such optimism ebb when they learn how they scored on the state's standardized reading and math tests. At Brooklyn's Young Women's Leadership, for example, only 24 percent scored well enough to be viewed as "passing" the English test, with less than 15 percent passing the math exam. In the first tests tied to the new Common Core standards, other schools, particularly in poorer parts of the five boroughs or with high percentages of black and Latino students, had similar results.

Individual student scores will become available on ARIS the week of Aug. 26, the Department of Education says. During that week, the department plans to have staff in selected libraries to explain the new tests and help parents access their child's scores.

Many families will get bad news. Some will see their child tumble a level or two; others will find their child, considered solidly proficient for the last few years, now falling to a Level 1.

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Wednesday, 07 August 2013 12:16

Test results: 7 in 10 kids below grade level

Today's release of the April 2013 state test results show that only 26 percent of New York City's 3rd through 8th graders are performing on grade level in reading and 30 percent are on grade level in math. While the city isn't far behind the state -- 31 percent of New York state students scored on grade level in both math and reading -- the numbers mean that 7 in 10 New York City students are below grade level when measured by the state's new Common Core aligned assesments. City officials emphasized that teachers and students will not be penalized for low scores.

Black, Hispanic, special needs kids and students learning to speak English fared especially poorly. The achievement gap remains a "daunting challenge," said Board of Regents Chancellor Meryl Tisch Wednesday.

At a press conference timed with the public release of data Wednesday morning, Tisch and Education Commissioner John King acknowledged the steep drop in proficiency levels. But they repeated the hopeful message sent by US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan yesterday: these scores set a "new baseline."

"I urge you to embrace the fact that this is a new standard; a significant standard has been created to adopt and adapt,” said Tisch of the Common Core realignment. 

King also advised New Yorkers to reset their expectations for the federally-endorsed Common Core alignment that the state is undergoing, which Duncan, Tisch and King say will make students better prepared for life after high school. “Assessment results today establish a new baseline,” said King. “Changes in scores are largely a reflection of the new Common Core standards that the Board of Regents adopted in 2010.”

The education officials explained the huge drop in scores across the board as a consequence of the higher standards they say the Common Core puts into place for New York's students. "It's important that people not look at these results as a remediation problem. This is an instruction problem,” said King. He is confident Common Core standards are the solution to that instruction problem. 

Michael Mulgrew, head of the UFT, criticized the magnitude of the drop in scores. "The scores should have dropped, but not to this level," Mulgrew said. 

Education historian Diane Ravitch also expressed concerns about the new Common Core aligned state exams. After reviewing the 5th grade reading exam, Ravitch said the test was similar in difficulty to that of the 8th grade reading test for NAEP (a national assessment given to 8th graders and 4th graders). "My reaction was that the difficulty level of the passages and the questions was not age-appropriate," she wrote on her blog.

Test results for some of the city's most popular schools are surprisingly low. For example, PS 234 is a sought-after downtown Manhattan school but, acccording to the state tests, only 64 percent of school's 3rd-5th graders are reading on grade level and only 60 percent are performing at grade level in math.

The citywide results

Citywide scores are available by school here. Higher income areas like Manhattan's District 2 continue to out-perform higher poverty areas like East New York's District 23. Scores at the city's elite gifted and talented programs continue to be high: 95 percent of students at Anderson are proficient in reading and 98 percent in math -- just a few percentage points below 99 percent proficiency rates in both reading and math last year. At NEST+M, 94 percent of students scored 3's and 4's in math, 95 percent scored 3's and 4's in reading. Every 4th grader performed on grade level in math at both Anderson and NEST+m.

Students who score 3 and 4 on the state tests are considered "proficient," at or above grade level. Of Asian 3-8th graders in New York City, 48 percent scored level 3 and 4 on state reading tests, and 61 percent scored 3's and 4's on math tests. Half of the city's white students scored 3 or 4 on math tests, and 47 percent were proficient in reading. Hispanic students scored far worse on the state tests with only 17 percent proficient in English and 19 percent proficient in math. Among African American students, 16 percent scored on grade level in reading and 15 percent in math.

English language learners performed surprisingly poorly on math tests - only 11 percent were proficient in math. Last year, about a third of English language learners scored at or above grade level in math. Only three percent of English Languge Learners are on grade level in reading this year. 

Special needs students also posted low numbers: eight percent scored 3's and 4's in math and 6 percent scored 3's and 4's in reading. 

Teachers and schools will not be punished for the low scores, Chancellor Walcott and Mayor Mike Bloomberg said today, speaking at another press conference. Schools will be graded on a curve for progress reports, state test scores will not affect promotion decisions for students and teachers won't be evaluated based on their students' test scores until the 2014-2015 school year.

New York City families and students will be able to access individual student scores in ARIS on August 26, according to the Education Department. The DOE also plans to set up ARIS centers in select libraries with staffers available to help parents access scores, though it has not announced which libraries yet.

The 70 percent of 3rd-8th graders who scored at level 1 and 2 on the state tests will need extra support to catch up to grade level and may be eligible for school-based extras like AIS (academic intervention services) and after-school tutoring. The state is also "rethinking our school calendar and our school schedule,” and considering a longer school day or school year and other ways of expanding learning time, King said.

What should parents think?

William Frackelton, principal of the Soundview Academy in the Bronx, advised parents to think of the scores in the context of a larger shift toward higher standards that are more in line with international education standards. "It's easy to personalize this but understand the nation as a whole is trying to recalibrate," he said.

He suggested that parents worried about how their child scored on the exams should consider tutoring and investing in other enrichment activities for their children as educational expectations are just going to continue to rise. "Extracurricular now becomes the norm and not an extra," said Frackelton.

Parents of rising 5th and 8th graders who are concerned about applying to screened middle and high schools should know that some screened middle schools and a few screened high schools have decided to strike state tests from their admission requirements. Others will likely adjust cut-off scores based on this year's test. "Principals are smart, they'll know how to look at other measures to bring students into their schools," said Stacey Walsh, principal of Brownsville Collaborative, a middle school in Brooklyn's Distrcit 23.

"Test scores are just one measure and what it measures is up for debate," Walsh said. "I have a feeling that it will bring back multiple measures and give us a better picture of who the students is."

 

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Tuesday, 06 August 2013 16:26

Duncan braces NYC for lower test scores

On the eve of the release of this year's New York state exam scores for 3rd-8th graders, city, state and national education officials attempted to cushion the blow of what is expected to be a significant drop in test scores.

City and state education departments have been warning parents for months that student proficency rates would drop this year, after the state introduced new tests aligned with the Common Core. The Common Core is a set of national education standards that have been adopted by 46 states and are supported by the nation's education secretary, Arne Duncan.

The drop was confirmed today by Duncan, who joined state Education Commissioner John King and city Chief Academic Officer Shael Polakow-Suransky on a conference call with reporters. They said that although test scores will dip, New Yorkers should take a long view and recognize that adopting the Common Core standards will better prepare students for success after high school. 

“As a country we’ve had low standards for decades,” Duncan said. “It is the right thing to move forward, it isn’t easy.” 

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Wednesday, 31 July 2013 10:32

Ask Judy: My school needs peer mediation

Dear Judy,

I'm a parent who'd like to introduce a Peer Mediation Program to my daughter's principal.  Can you provide information on any services that might provide training to staff members and students alike and are approved by the NYC DOE.  

PSP (Problem solving parent)

Dear PSP,

If your principal doesn't already know about peer mediation, it's a good job for you to introduce  it to him. But principals should know, peer mediation is among several recommended steps under the city's Discipline Code to solve programs without resorting to the most exteme punishments.

With peer mediation, kids work with each other to figure out why a specific problem occurred and how students can solve it. The program not only avoids violence, it develops leadership skills in the children who attend peer mediation training. There are programs which are apt for elementary, middle and high schools.

Like other great additions to a school, it won't  just spring into action.  If you really want peer mediation in your school,  you need to start preparing now. Contact not-for-profit organizations that do peer mediation training, find out what staff they use and how much your school may have to pay. Contact schools with successful programs, to find out what school staff is needed and how they keep the program going.

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Thursday, 25 July 2013 11:15

A+NYC presents roadmap for next mayor

The next mayor must ensure fair funding for underserved schools and reduce focus on standardized tests, according to A+ NYC, a coalition of education reform organizations. Yesterday A+ NYC released the PS 2013 Education Roadmap, a proposal for the next mayor's first 100 days in office. 

Rather than view students simply as test-takers, the next mayor needs to look at the "whole child," who needs to be mentally and physically healthy, and develop social skills, they said.

A+ NYC held a highly attended July 24 event at Brooklyn Borough Hall to promote its proposal. Natasha Capers from the Coalition for Educational Justice (CEJ) spoke to hundreds of parents, highlighting the proposal's "whole child" philosophy. "Optimal learning cannot happen without healthy bodies and safe spaces...we know this from research," Capers said.

Capers cited cuts to the arts and after school programs and rising class sizes as damaging to students' education from the "whole child" perspective. She also noted that the number of police personnel in schools is 70 percent higher than the number of guidance counselors, a statistic she believes needs to change.

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As many of my friends predicted, the decision of where to send Noodle for kindergarten has largely been made for me: After all the drama of G&T and charter school lotteries, we are right back where we started —  at our zoned elementary school, PS X. Despite all the research, school tours and panel discussions, not much has changed except my blood pressure. But even though I know that PS X is a good school—some would say very good—I can’t fight the feeling that something better is out there.

For me this something better is PS Y— a smaller, newer school that is out of zone, but ironically, one block closer to my apartment. Despite its good reputation, PS X has me a bit worried. In this large school, I worry that my high needs son may get lost in the shuffle. PS Y is half the size, and prides itself on special ed. Because PS Y is so new, they don’t yet have a waitlist of in-zone students, and when I called on a whim after my application was rejected in April, I was surprised to hear from the plucky parent coordinator that Noodle might have a shot at getting in.

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Wednesday, 26 June 2013 04:07

Spread the word! Free summer meals

As a former food stamp recipient and a mom who uses great savvy to feed my three kids, I was encouraged and empowered at this week’s Hunger Crisis Forum to hear Margarette Purvis, president and CEO of Food Bank for New York City say: “No one should feel shame just because they don’t have enough money [to adequately feed their family].” The Hunger Crisis Forum took place the same week that the annual Free Summer Meals Program [PDF] kicks off.

An all-female panel of CEO’s discussed rising food prices and the increasing number of parents struggling to feed their families. In fact, they said, many educated and middle class families find themselves using the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) for the first time.

At least 80% of students in NYC public school qualify for free lunch. In response to the growing need, the United States Department of Agriculture is spending $400 million on the Summer Meals Program which starts in New York City on June 27. Yet only 16 percent of eligible children are expected to participate. Why? According to speakers at the forum, that "stigma" and "embarrassment" often keep people from taking advantage of the services.

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Monday, 17 June 2013 18:09

29 new dual language programs to open

The city plans to open 29 new dual language programs in elementary, middle and high schools in September, according to a list of new programs released by the Department of Education. New York City's public school students speak over 185 languages at home, as reported in the city's recent Internal Budget Office audit of city schools, and there are dual language programs in at least a half-dozen of those languages.

Dual language programs offer English speakers the opportunity to learn a second language alongside native speakers of another language who become proficient in both English and their native tongue. Ten percent of the city's more than 150,000 English language learners were in dual language programs in 2011, according to the IBO. 

Spanish is the second-most common language spoken at home -- nearly a quarter of New Yorkers are native Spanish speakers -- and many of the city's new and established dual language programs are in Spanish.  But the programs opening this fall will expand the city's dual language offerings to include three languages not offered previously in elementary school. The Polish enclave of Greenpoint, Brooklyn will get a Polish dual language program at PS 34 Oliver H. PerryPS 214 in East New York will open a Bengali program; and PS/IS 30 Mary White Ovington in Bay Ridge will start an Arabic program. A handful of new Chinese programs are in the works for the fall, as well. 

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There were thousands of disappointed families when the city finally mailed offers to elementary Gifted and Talented programs on Friday. This year a record number of children - close to 5,500 -- qualified for the five more selective citywide programs, yet only about 300 offers were made, according to the Department of Education. That means there were slots in citywide schools available for only about five percent of eligible students.

Overall, the chances of snagging a seat in either a district or citywide G&T program were slim, especially in districts where there were high numbers of eligible students. Only 68.5 percent of eligible kindergartners got an offer. Since all G&T programs begin in kindergarten, the odds of getting a seat decrease each succeeding year. For 1st grade, 51 percent of applicants received an offer; in 2nd grade, 34 percent got an offer and in 3rd grade, only 29 percent. In total, just 54 percent of applicants in those grades were offered a seat, a significant decrease from the 72 percent offered a seat in 2012. After 3rd grade, placement in G&T programs is based on standardized state test scores.

Parents must accept their offers and register by June 28 (two days after the last day of school) or forfeit their seat.

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