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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We had a number of questions this week from parents who are confronted with “Promotion in Doubt” letters, or “PIDs” as they are known in DOE lingo. These letters are sent to families of children who are at risk of repeating a grade or who may be failing a course needed to graduate.  Here are three recent questions from parents who received a PID letter.

 1.Why did I get a promotion in doubt letter, when my daughter's teachers have said that she is doing well and on target for graduation?

2. My kindergartner’s teacher says my son is making good progress according to the terms of his IEP, so why the letter?

3. I never heard this before from my child’s teachers and here it is almost the end of the school year and I'm just now getting the letter?

Here's some advice to these and other parents with similar problems.

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Thursday, 02 May 2013 11:38

Is there a place for G&T kids with IEPs?

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.  

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Wednesday, 03 April 2013 11:36

Kindergarten countdown: The IEP meeting

As the day of my son’s Turning 5 meeting drew closer, a cloud of anxiety hovered over our New York City apartment. I had braced for a fight several months before, when our school-appointed social worker refused to observe Noodle at pre-K because she was “too busy.”  Just applying to our zoned school had sapped all my strength. The parent coordinator took ill one week before the DOE deadline and had not left anyone in charge.

Thankfully, by the last hour of the last day for applications, a living breathing human was able to take my paperwork and I signed up Noodle for kindergarten. After an in-person meeting and more emails with the social worker, we seemed on better terms. She agreed to visit Noodle at preschool, and gave me the name of a behavior specialist who turned out to be quite wonderful.

So by the time I braved snowfall in late March to reach our IEP meeting, I wasn’t expecting any surprises. Everyone seemed to be on the same page for next year: an ICT classroom (a mix of gen ed and special needs kids with two teachers, one of whom has a special ed degree) and occupational therapy. I’d already waged a war in my own mind: Will ICT be academically challenging enough for my chess-playing 4-year-old? Will being in a class with other struggling kids give him more opportunities to model bad behavior?  But I’d moved past these stereotypes. I’d done my research, spoken to parents of ICT students and talked Noodle’s teachers’ ears off about what was best for him. I was ready for a truce.

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Parents whose children turn four this year may start applying for pre-kindergarten this week. Applications are available online now and the Education Department will host pre-K info sessions in all five boroughs this week, beginning in Queens tonight. Applications are due April 5.

Pre-K programs are housed in public schools or at local child care centers and community organizations, and are either half day (2.5 hours), or full day, (6 hours and 20 minutes.) The state mandates that each pre-k class may have a maximum of 18 students with two teachers. 

Applying for pre-K gives parents a first taste of New York City's competitive public school admissions process. Any child who was born in 2009 may apply, but admission is not guaranteed: Last year, 30 percent of the kids who applied for pre-K didn't land seats in DOE programs. 

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Wednesday, 27 February 2013 16:18

How wrong is it to do your child's homework?

Somewhere between my son's annual science fair last year and his most recent monthly book report, I have turned into that kind of parent. You know, the kind who becomes so attached to designing and building the paper-mâché volcano that their child's involvement becomes quite beside the point?

It started out innocently enough: my idea was for Brooks to write a song about "Scaredy-Cat Catcher," a chapter book we had been reading together. Yes, it was my idea, but in my defense, I only presented it because my son's idea was to repeat a project we had done the last time (which had been my husband's idea).

On the plus side, Brooks was very involved with many aspects of this perhaps overly-ambitious project. We read the book together twice over a period of a few weeks and outlined the basic storyline. And then Brooks came up with the chorus on his own: he simply started to improvise and I picked out one of his catchier melodic phrases that rhymed.

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Thursday, 07 February 2013 18:47

City schools score "F" in PE

Six in ten city schools have physical education classes only once or twice a week for 45 minutes, way below what the state education department mandates, according to a new American Heart Association (AHA) report based on a survey of public and charter schools in all five boroughs. 

It's the city's youngest students who are most likely to miss out on vital PE time, says the Women's City Club of New York (WCC), a non-profit civic organization, that advocates for more physical education in all schools. Elementary grades do not have enough teachers citywide to meet state PE regulations, based on WCC's analysis of Independent Budget Office data. Yet, according to New York state regulations, the youngest children are supposed to get the most exercise. The rules call for daily physical educaton for grades K-3, three times a week for 4th-6th graders and 90 minutes a week for older students.

Middle school students have enough gym teachers and high schools, which require students to earn two PE credits in order to graduate, have a surplus of PE teachers, according to the IBO data.

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Tuesday, 05 February 2013 15:26

Rally for more phys ed in city schools

City public schools with tight budgets and shared buildings struggle to provide adequate physical education, especially in our era of high stakes testing.

But prioritizing test-prep over PE is misguided, say advocates of physical education in schools. Studies show that, "not only does PE help curb obesity, but it also increases test scores and grades," said Amy Schwartz, chairperson of the Physical Education in City Public Schools Task Force, a project of the Womens City Club of New York.

On Thursday at 3 pm, on the steps of City Hall, the Womens City Club will join forces with the American Heart Association and City Council members Melissa Mark-Viverito, Robert Jackson, Letitia James and Gale Brewer to ask the city's Department of Education to right their phys ed wrongs and bring city schools up to state-mandated standards. The Women's City Club will release a new report, which "raises questions about the fairness and equity of PE provisions in City public schools," according to Womens City Club's website. The American Heart Association will  release theresults of its survey of PE classes in city schools.

In 2011, Womens City Club prompted Comptroller John Liu to audit the city's schools, revealing that most do not meet state-mandated PE standards: daily physical educaton for grades K-3, three times a week for 4th-6th graders and 90 minutes a week for older students. This latest report is based on data from the city's Internal Budget Office.

 

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For pre-K families, 2013 is a year of big transitions. Our kids will be saying goodbye to the duck pond of preschool and jumping headfirst into the murky East River of kindergarten. Parents of kids with special needs have another hurdle ahead. The dreaded Turning 5 meeting” determines whether those currently receiving support for developmental delays and learning disorders will continue to get it…or not.

For kids like my son, who are on the border of general education and special needs, the Committee on Special Education (CSE) is a tough sell. And kindergarten, with its larger class sizes and longer days, is a demanding transition. CSE doesn’t make it easier. Now Noodle will have to fit into one of 13 special education categories in order to qualify. Suddenly my quirky, bright, wonderful, often-exasperating child who never really fit any label will have to—if we want him to keep getting help.

The problem is we’re not sure. After two years of PT (physical therapy), OT (occupational therapy) and SEIT (special education itinerant teacher), Noodle is doing great, but the road has often been rocky.

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After weeks of back and forth, the yellow school bus strike will officially begin on Wednesday, Jan. 16, Mayor Bloomberg announced this afternoon in a press release.

Officials from Local 1181 Amalgamated Transit Union, the school bus drivers' union, confirmed that the strike is happening during a press conference, according to Schoolbook.

Yesterday, the city posted information online detailing what to do in the event on a strike and says it will hand out metrocards to all children who normally ride yellow school buses to school. The Mayor's office is also posting fairly up-to-the-minute news via official NYC.gov Twitter account and Tumblr blog. Or call 311.

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