The first week of middle school a few years back, I learned that two cherished rituals were soon to be stripped from our lives: bringing cupcakes to our children's class for birthdays and traveling to school together with them.
"Your kids are going to be taking the subway alone to school soon, deal with it,'' the principal told an auditorium full of parents on day one, as some cowered in fear and uncertainty.
Soon enough, parents got used to the subway ritual, after following close behind for a few days – just never close enough to be seen. The principal just laughed at the parent (me) who asked about bringing cupcakes, and it never came up again.
By the time your child starts high school, you are deep into what I call "The Age of Embarrassment" and long past cupcakes and drop-off worries. Still, you may be filled with uncertainty about what your role should be during these four critical years.
Islamic Circle North America's annual backpack giveaway to New York City school children began in late July and lasts through September. The group will give away a total of 5,000 backpacks stuffed with back-to-school supplies to children in need of any religious faith.
There are three giveaway events this weekend:
Saturday, 8/24, from 3 - 5 PM at the Douglass Housing Projects, 102 Street and Amsterdam Avenue in Manhattan
Sunday, 8/25, from 12 - 2 PM at ICNA Al-Markaz Masjid, 166-26 89th Avenue, in Jamaica, Queens
Sunday, 8/25, from 12- 2 PM at Albanian Islamic Cultural Center, 307 Victory Boulevard in Staten Island
Friday, 8/30, from 5:30 - 7 PM at the MAS Community Center, 25-15 Steinway Street in Astoria, Queens
Saturday, 8/31, from 1 - 3 pm at Masjid Taqwa at 1266 Bedford Avenue in Brooklyn
Sunday, 9/1, from 12- 2 PM at the ICNA Brooklyn Community Center 865 Coney Island Avenue in Brooklyn
Sunday, 9/1, from 2 - 4 PM at the Masjid Al-Ansar, 161-34 Foch Boulevard in Rochdale, Queens
The backpacks are free to any child in need. See ICNA.org for more information.
Students who are new to New York City public schools or who are re-entering city schools after a time away, may register at special enrollment centers beginning on Aug. 28 in all boroughs. The centers are open Monday-Friday, 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. through Sept. 18, with the exception of Sept. 2, Labor Day and Sept. 5 and 6, Rosh Hashanah. Regular Department of Education enrollment offices will be closed during that time.
All high school students should go to the enrollment centers, along with any elementary and middle school students who do not have a zoned school. Elementary and middle school students who have a zoned school should wait until the first day of school, Sept. 9, to register at the school, the Education Department said.
All special education students who have a current IEP (Individualized Education Plan) may enroll directly at their zoned schools on Sept. 9. Students without a current New York City IEP need to go to an enrollment center or to a special education site.
Our advice: do your research before you get to the enrollment center. Make up a list of schools that would be a good fit for your child. Read our school profiles on Insideschools and check out other reports about each school on the DOE's website. If you have doubts about your zoned school, know that there are other schools in every district that are alternatives. You can use our "advanced search" option to find "unzoned" schools, or look at the DOE's elementary and middle school directories online.
Beginning on Monday, Aug. 26, parents of children in grades 3 to 8 who took standardized state reading and math exams this year can find their child's test scores on ARIS, the Department of Education's online system for parents.
You'll need to know your student's id number and a password to log in. If you don't have that information, or you don't have access to a computer, the DOE will have staff available at a library in each borough to help you.
Here's the schedule (from the DOE's website):
If you need help but can't make it to one of the libraries, you may go to the DOE's office of family engagement at 49 Chambers Street, Room 503, between the hours of 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. Your school's parent coordinator may also help you.
I just read the news on your site about lower NYC ELA and Math standardized test scores. My son is a soon-to-be 8th grader and this news is devastating. I haven't yet seen his score but I know that many screened/selective high school programs require a minimum of 3 on state standardized tests. Will admissions policies change in these schools in recognition that kids were tested on new standards they never learned? What advice do you have in navigating the high school admissions process for those who will begin the process this fall?
Concerned Parent in Brooklyn
Dear Concerned Parent in Brooklyn,
As you know, as of this week parents can access their child's test scores on ARIS. In fact, DOE officials are at city libraries to help parents access the scores and to explain them. If you have questions about your child's test and want to review it, you can ask the principal to set up an appointment for this purpose. You have to fill out a request and a professional will show it to you. This year, only some of the exam questions and answers will be shown. For general information, some of the questions are available online.
Many parents have complained that the percentile range shown on ARIS is too wide to be of use to determine if their kids are eligible for some of the highly selective schools. So far there is no word as to when more specific percentile information will be available.
As of yet,there has been only a little discussion of how the schools will handle these very low scores. We do know that in the spring, just after kids took the state tests, a group of principals distanced themselves, vowing to ignore results of what they saw as faulty and unfair tests.
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.
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."
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.”
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)
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.
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.