If you haven't gotten your ticket for this weekend's specialized high school exam, don't panic. You'll be able to sit for the test without it, according to the Department of Education. The DOE posted a notice on its website saying that all scheduled students will be "welcomed and tested" even without a ticket. It also posted a list of test locations and times (pdf) for every middle school.

This week, some schools reported they had trouble printing tickets and others said they didn't get the tickets at all.

At Mark Twain middle school, it took the staff a day and a half to print out 350 tickets for its 8th-graders because of a glitch in the system, said Parent Coordinator Delgermaa Ganbaatar. "It has been very stressful. The system couldn't handle all the requests at once." The school finished printing at noon Friday, she said, and got them into the hands of students before they went home. Mark Twain sends more students annually to Stuyvesant High School than any other middle school.

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The Specialized High School Admissions Test that thousands of 8th-graders will take this weekend has long been a multiple-choice exam scored by a machine. But there are indications that the new exam students will take starting in in 2016 might have an essay component.

Last month, the city issued a Request for Proposals for a new SHSAT, which is the sole determinant of whether a student gets into one of the eight academically elite high schools. The current contract with Pearson runs out in 2016 so the city must put the test out for bids and sign a new contract with someone to create a test for fall 2016 and beyond.

The new RFP tells prospective bidders that including hand-scored "constructed response and/or essay response" questions would be "desired but not required." If the test does have essays, the RFP goes on to say, the bid must include "information on the items themselves and on how and by whom the items would be scored."

Later on, the document refers again to "shorter written and/or essay responses," saying bidders may "optionally address" them.

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Bill de Blasio had been mayor for less than four months when the city's elementary and middle school students took standardized tests this past April. And, according to numbers released on Thursday, more than 68 percent of students who took the tests this year failed to meet state standards in English; 64 percent fell short in math.

Still, the scores are somewhat higher than they were when de Blasio's predecessor, Michael Bloomberg, announced test results a year ago. To announce this year's numbers, de Blasio along with Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña held an ebullient press conference on Thursday, predicting that the administration's reforms would propel students towards bigger gains in the year ahead.

De Blasio made the announcement outside the Brooklyn Brownstone School in Bedford-Stuyvesant, which, he said, saw the percentage of its students scoring proficient—generally regarded as a level 3 or 4 score—on the English test rise from 27.5 in 2013 to 44.1 percent in 2014. The number of students meeting state standards in math also increased substantially.


Standing with school principal Nakia Haskins, de Blasio said Brooklyn Brownstone developed a program aimed at having students "think analytically—not just take a test ... This is a deeper approach."

"This school is a trendsetter for things that are starting to happen citywide," de Blasio said. In particular, he cited improved teacher support and training. "You can see the difference it’s making when our teachers are supported in their efforts to help students get to the root of things." 

De Blasio readily conceded many students still fall short on that measure. But he said he hopes the types of programs in effect at Brooklyn Brownstone, along with more professional development for teachers, the expansion of pre-k, increasing the number of afterschool programs for middle school students and creating community schools offering a variety of services and supports to students and their families would improve academic performance across the city.

"Test scores are one indicator of progress," de Blasio said, "but tests like this are only one measure. And I'll say this when scores are good and when they're not so good."

Certainly the tests will have less clout than they once did. Indications are that the city's progress reports for individual schools will put less emphasis on test scores. The state has barred selective middle and high schools from using the scores as the sole means for determining which students they admit. In response, the Department of Education has committees working on new admissions procedures, which are expected to issue reports by the end of September, Fariña said.

Education department officials at the press conference said students will be able to access their scores the last week in August.

In light of persistently low scores among many black and Hispanic students, particularly boys, Fariña said the department would create more single-sex schools, such as a new branch of the Eagle Academy for Young Men slated to open on Staten Island, and would improve guidance services. She said an emphasis on technology, while beneficial to all students, might particularly help these low-scoring boys.

Fariña said she was encouraged by the decline in the number of students scoring at Level 1, meaning the student is "well below proficient." In 2014, 34.7 percent of children were at level 1, compared to 36.4 percent in 2013. In math, the percentage dropped to 33.9 percent from 36.8 percent. Students with a level 2 are considered approaching proficiency and are thought to be on track to graduating high school, though perhaps not to being "college and career ready."

While the sharp drop in test scores last year—the first year that the tests reflected the new Common Core standards—spurred opposition to the Common Core, de Blasio expressed strong support for the standards. "This is a new standard and a higher standard and the right standard," he said.

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New York City students did slightly better on state standardized test this spring than they did in 2013, but about two-thirds of test-takers in grades 3–8 still failed to meet state standards on either the English language arts (ELA) or math tests, according to figures released by the state education department today.

In New York City, 34.5 percent of students met or exceeded state standards as measured by the math test, up from 30.1 percent last year. For the state as a whole, 35.8 percent passed the math test, compared to 31.2 in 2013.

ELA scores for the state remained largely flat, with pass rates—the number of children getting a level 3 or 4—increasing by a tenth of a percentage point, from 31.3 percent to 31.4 percent. New York City students, while still scoring below the statewide average, saw a greater increase in English scores, as 29.4 percent scored a level 3 or 4 as compared with 27.4 percent in 2013.

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Newcomers to New York City, who are entering 9th or 10th grade in September, must register by Tuesday, August 19, if they want to take the summer exam for admission to one of the selective specialized high schools, or to audition for the arts school, LaGuardia High School of Music and Art and the Performing Arts. Families may register and pick up an admissions ticket for the test and audition at any Department of Education Enrollment Office.

Eligible students are those who are entering 9th or 10th grade for the first time, moved to New York City after Nov. 1, 2013 and did not take the specialized high school exam (SHSAT) or audition for LaGuardia last fall.

You'll need these documents to register: proof of residence, proof of birth, immunization records and a final 2014 report card.

The exam will be given on Aug. 26; the auditions for LaGuardia will be held on Aug. 28. But you must be registered and have an admissions ticket to be admitted to the test or audition. You should find out whether you are accepted before school starts on Sept. 4.

Entrance to the specialized high schools is highly competitive. Most successful applicants spend a good deal of time preparing. See the 2014-2015 Specialized High School Handbook for a sample test and audition guidelines.

For more information, see the Department of Education's website, read our reviews and see our video below about specialized high schools.  

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(This article originally appeared on DNAinfo.com by Rosa Golensohn)

The teachers union and state lawmakers are pushing to overhaul admissions at the city's top public high schools, calling the lack of racial diversity at the schools "an embarrassment."

In an effort to increase the enrollment of black and Hispanic students at Stuyvesant High School, Bronx Science, Brooklyn Tech and five other elite schools, a new state bill, backed by the United Federation of Teachers, seeks to broaden the admissions criteria beyond the current single test that determines which 8th-graders [and 9th] win admission.

Only seven of the 952 students admitted last fall to Stuyvesant High School were black—and just 21 were Latino, officials said.

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It appears that many New York City public school principals have a great deal to say about this spring's standardized English tests for grades 3–8.

Only they can't, because they are under a gag order.

I wish we could at least informally do the same for students—and parents.

No matter how you feel about standardized testing, I am convinced that it is both bad form and harmful to talk about test scores.

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Wednesday, 09 April 2014 14:14

City takes high stakes out of testing

The city has taken a big step to scale back on anxiety over state tests. A new promotion policy takes the high-stakes out of testing for grades 3-8, at least when it comes to determining who gets promoted to the next grade and who must attend summer school.

The Department of Education announced the new policy today, which, if approved by the Panel for Educational Policy in May, will mean that a student cannot be held back simply because of a low score (Level 1) on the state reading or math exam. Instead, "multiple measures" will be used to determine promotion, including report card grades and schoolwork as well as test scores.  

"We have listened and worked closely with families, teachers and principals to establish a new promotion policy that complies with State law and empowers educators, takes the temperature down around testing, and keeps rigorous standards in place," said schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña in a statement.

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Tuesday, 08 April 2014 15:17

Manhattan schools join anti-test protests

(This story first appeared on DNAInfo.com

More than 30 public elementary schools — including TriBeCa's top-ranked P.S. 234 and the Upper East Side's P.S. 59 — are set to participate in protests Friday to blast the state's standardized English exams.

The planned protests by schools in Manhattan's District 2 — which also includes Greenwich Village and Chelsea — are part of a growing anti-testing movement in some of the city's most esteemed public schools. Last week, a protest at Park Slope's P.S. 321 drew hundreds of teachers, parents and students who complained about age-inappropriate content and poorly explained multiple-choice questions that seemed to have no one right answer.

Now, the 31 Manhattan elementary schools are planning an even bigger demonstration at each of their schools Friday morning, to demand that the exams be released to the public as soon as they have been graded.

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Nearly one-third of the 14,600 rising kindergartners who sat for Gifted & Talented assessments in January and February found out today that they qualified for one of the city's district or citywide G&T programs. That's  about six percent fewer than qualified in 2013, according to Department of Education data released Friday afternoon. The number of children who scored in the 99th percentile--the score usually necessary for a chance at entry into one of the five coveted citywide G&T--programs also fell, from more than 1,450 last year to about 950 this year.

Even with the lower number of qualifiers, there are still three times as many top-scoring tykes than there are seats in the five most selective citywide programs which have only about 300 seats for incoming kindergartners. Further decreasing the odds of entry, qualifying siblings of current students get first dibs at those seats.

The gap in student performance between richest and poorest districts remains wide but there were gains in Harlem and Washington Heights. In Districts 4 (East Harlem), 5 (Harlem) and 6 (Washington Heights and Inwood) nearly twice as many students scored in the top percentile than did last year.

Parents were notified of their child's score today along with an application listing their progam options. Families who do not get their results by Monday, April 7, should call the DOE at 718-935-2009. Families have until April 21 to apply one of the gifted programs, but since schools are closed for spring vacation from April 14-22, parents have only next week to visit schools.  A list of open houses is posted on the DOE's website here. Letters of acceptance for regular, non-gifted, kindergarten programs will be sent during the spring break. G&T applicants won't find out until May 26 if they have been offered a spot.

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