Monday, 01 October 2012 16:33

Many failing schools were on top last year

Nearly a quarter of the elementary and middle schools marked failing on the 2011-12 Progress Reports were top schools last year.

The Education Department released those Progress Reports today and, in a statement, touted stable grades: “86 percent of schools did not change more than one grade from 2011” the DOE said.

But our analysis of the 102 schools that earned D’s or F’s on their Progress Report this year shows that severe instability persists. Of those failing schools, 24 earned A’s and B’s on their 2010-11 Progress Reports. PS 241 in Harlem, for example, went from a C in 2009-10, to a B in 2010-11 to an F this year. 

Even though a school’s progress report scores may wildly fluctuate, the stakes are high -- low grades on Progress Reports can lead the DOE to close a school. Schools that earn D or F on their progress report or schools that earn no better than a C for three years in a row are flagged for possible closure.

Center for New York City Affairs Education Project Director Kim Nauer says elementary and middle schools’ Progress Report grades are more likely to fluctuate than high schools' grades (to be released later this month) because the lower schools are graded on fewer factors. "When you have more indicators it gives you a better picture of the school," says Nauer, who co-authored a report on the DOE's data and accountability methods with Insideschools' Clara Hemphill. 

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The new 2012-2013 middle school directories are online just in time for the district fairs which begin this week for 5th graders and their families. District fairs run from 5:30-7:30 p.m. beginning on Wednesday. All schools are supposed to send representatives.

There will be copies of the guides at the fair, but it's a good idea to go through them before you arrive and make a list of the schools that your child is eligible for and any questions you may have. The fairs can be crowded and a little overwhelming, so arrive prepared. Our video on how to apply to a middle school is here.

The latest middle school Progress Reports are also available online now. These are report cards, complete with grades, that the Education Department gives to each school every year. They are supposed to give a sense of how the school is doing. They are useful to look at, but take the "grades" with a grain of salt. They are mostly based on how much progress kids have made on state exams. So for example, three popular, progressive Manhattan middle schools, Institute for Collaborative Education, School of the Future and IS 289, all received Cs this year, even though on average about 80% of their kids are reading and doing math at grade level. Meanwhile, the Middle School of Marketing and Legal Studies in East Flatbush, Brooklyn got an A, even though less than 40% of the students at the school are reading at grade level.

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Wednesday, 19 September 2012 16:08

Poll: Are gifted programs neglected?

Gifted and Talented programs only serve about one percent of children nationwide, says the Fordham Institute's Chester E. Finn, who authored a new study of G & T programs in the U.S., and says too many deserving kids don't have access to them. In a must-read New York Times op-ed piece, Finn argues that the nation's high-performing students are being neglected: "Mostly, the system ignores them, with policies and budget priorities that concentrate on raising the floor under low-achieving students. A good and necessary thing to do, yes, but we’ve failed to raise the ceiling for those already well above the floor."

 I'm guessing that hundreds of New York City parents whose kindergartners scored in the 99th percentile on G&T exams last spring but failed to score a seat in one of the five citywide G&T program might agree with Finn. What do you think? Do G&T programs deserve more attention (and more of our limited school funds)? Take our poll!

(By the way, this month 4th and 5th graders who applied for G&T seats over the summer will find out whether they scored one of the very few seats available to them. And, a few more offers may be made for K-3 G&T seats, according to a letter sent to principals asking them to report any "attrition-based" openings by Sept. 19.)


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Monday, 17 September 2012 11:03

College Counselor: ACT vs SAT?

Q. I am the mom of an 11th grader. I grew up and went to school outside of the United States, so it is very challenging for me to understand the whole U.S. higher education system. Would you please explain to me what the SAT and ACT are? What is the difference between those two? Which one does my daughter need to take in order to apply to a 4-year college?

A: Most colleges and universities in the United States require either the SAT or ACT (with writing) for admission as a first-year student. These are nationally administered examinations, each one about three hours long, which provide a general assessment of a student’s skills in mathematics, reading and vocabulary, and writing. The tests are structured differently and scored differently.

The SAT comes from the Educational Testing Service, headquartered in New Jersey, while the ACT comes from a company in Iowa. Originally, most students on the East Coast took the SAT, while in the Midwest and West the ACT was the preferred exam. It was merely a matter of geographic preference. But now that all information is online, students in all areas are trying both tests.

There are numerous differences between the tests. The ACT includes a section of questions related to science, but it is really about interpreting data. The ACT is also more straightforward in its knowledge-based approach. I suggest that you and your daughter look at the websites of each exam and try the sample questions. Some students simply feel more comfortable with one format than the other. Your daughter could also take both tests, and then compare her results. Colleges truly do not care which test an applicant takes! You can find complete information, plus practice questions, at the SAT and ACT websites.

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Thursday, 26 July 2012 14:08

Test scores now posted on ARIS

Parents may now see their children's 2012 reading and math state test scores on the Education Department's parent website, ARIS, a week earlier than scheduled. The schools' test scores were released last week by the state Department of Education and individual student scores are now up as well, according to parents checking the site today.

Parents and guardians may log on using their ARIS user name and password to access their child's test information.

If you don't have internet access or need help logging onto the ARIS system, the city has set up ARIS access stations at select libraries in all five boroughs during the week of Aug. 6-10. Be sure to bring a photo id. Translation services will be provided. (See a list of the libraries below.

Some 7,000 elementary and middle school students were surprised to find out last week that they had actually passed the state's reading or math tests, even though they had been told they had failed, and were sent to summer school, the New York Post reported on Thursday.  Because the state tests for grades 3-8 are now given in the spring, results are not available until after the end of the school year. Schools must use preliminary scores to estimate how many students won't make the mark and they have miscalulated over the past two years.

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Monday, 16 July 2012 12:34

Test scores released Tuesday

The State Education Department said today that standardized math and reading test scores for grades 3-8 will be released Tuesday, July 17. That's nearly a month earlier than 2011 when test data was released on Aug. 8, with parents able to access their children's scores online on Aug. 17

This year, test administration in April was marred by errors on the several of the exams resulting in questions being discarded. An 8th-grade exam had a nonsensical story about a talking pineapple that almost no one understood and, in May, teachers were confused about how to score the exams. This was the first year that the testing company Pearson produced the tests. Because of the many mistakes, the state said that Pearson would have to pay for an expert review of its test development process.

Families of 113 children, angry about the emphasis on high-stakes testing, decided to opt out of taking the exam, the New York Times reported, more than in previous years. Many others decided to boycott the field-tests in May and June.

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My son did something last month that is apparently unacceptable among driven and high striving high school juniors these days: He failed.

More specifically, he failed the trigonometry Regents by three points – after taking three Advanced Placement exams, six finals, three SAT sittings (one of them unplanned after a testing debacle) and at least four other Regents.

My reaction has surprised me. I'm relieved.

As the recent cheating scandal involving 71 students at high pressure Stuyvesant High unfolds, I'm a lot less concerned about one isolated failure than I am about a "whatever-it-takes to succeed,'' mentality among teenagers bent on success.

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Tuesday, 10 July 2012 11:49

Ask Judy: Can newcomers take SHSAT?

Dear Judy,

We're moving into NYC from out of state with entering 9th and 10th graders. Can they take exams for specialized high schools or is that gate closed?

Dear Newcomers,

Welcome to NYC! Yes – as newcomers to NYC your kids may take the Specialized High School Admission Test (SHSAT) – or audition for LaGuardia High School, provided they meet the following conditions:

  • They were not New York City residents before November 1, 2011,
  • They entered 8th or 9th grade for the first time in September, 2011,
  • They did not take the test when it was given in 2011,
  • You will have a New York City residence by August 22.

This last condition is crucial because you must register in person between July 9 and August 22. When you arrive, go to any borough enrollment office. The test for the specialized high schools is on August 27, the auditions for LaGuardia are on August 30. 

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No graduation ceremony was held when my daughter’s class finished 1st grade, so I was not invited to give the commencement address. But if I had been the featured speaker, I would have said something like this:

Thank you, Chancellor Walcott, for that kind introduction. Parents, principals, teachers, classmates, janitors, Mayor Bloomberg, thank you all for coming today. Most of all, to you graduating 1st-graders: Congratulations! Job well done! Most of you probably recognize me, because I’m the father of — yes, that’s right! But let’s not shout. Always raise your hands, because — OK, that was a mistake, because now all of your hands are up. Instead, let’s put on our listening ears, sit down, and let me say something really important.

The completion of 1st grade is truly a historic moment in your academic career. When you look back, you’ll realize that kindergarten, which seemed seriously important only last year, was just a warm-up for the grade you just completed. In kindergarten, teachers had to reinforce basic ideas such as “Share” and “Take turns” and “No ankle biting” and “Don’t laugh when another kid burps loudly in class.” First grade marked the start of REAL education — as I’m sure you realize, because you faced homework every weeknight. You learned to read and write. You learned basic addition. And you learned that, if a kid actually does burp loudly in class, it is OK to think it is funny so long as you don’t actually laugh out loud. These lessons will serve you well in the future.

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The Center for New York City Affairs and today will present Inside Stats, a new high school scorecard designed to provide a well-rounded picture of NYC's high schools using available data. But, are there better ways to measure our schools?

Clara Hemphill, senior editor at Insideschools will moderate a June 28 morning panel discussion by experts on high schools: Beyond Test Scores: Imagining New Ways to Measure NYC's High Schools. The panel will include: Robert Hughes, president, New Visions for Public Schools; Martin Kurzwell, senior executive, director for research, accountability and data, NYC Department of Education and Jacqueline Wayans, Bronx parent and parent information specialist at and Charissa Fernandez, chief operating officer of The After School Corporation.

Can't make the event? We'll host a live-stream here and on our homepage beginning at 8:30 a.m. Watch it and share your ideas of how best to evaluate and measure New York City high schools.

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