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?
Newcomers

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 Insideschools.org 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 Insideschools.org 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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In 2011 the city began adding "college-readiness" scores to each high school's Progress Report, by calculating the number of students who graduated from high school prepared to do college-level work. 

While a passing score on the state Regents exams is 65, the city determined that students needed to score at least a 75 on the English Regents exam and an 80 on the math Regents exam to avoid having to take remedial courses at city colleges.

This week's release of the 2011 high school graduation rate showed that it has flattened after six years of growth. Although the mayor says an increased number of graduates are considered college-ready, the number falls far short of expectations.

On June 21, the Center for New York City Affairs and Insideschools.org will present a panel discussion, moderated by Meredith Kolodner: Creating College Ready Communities: Preparing NYC's Precarious New Generation of College Students. Among the findings in a report to  be presented about the city's college readiness efforts, is that many New York City public school graduates drop out of college, discouraged that they aren't able to do the work. On June 28, Insideschools' Clara Hemphill will moderate Center event: Beyond Test Scores: Imagining New Ways to Measure NYC's High Schools.

This month high school students are taking Regents exams. We'd like to know: do you think Regents' scores accurately predict which graduates are ready to do college work?  Take our poll!

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I read Alan Schwartz's frightening front page New York Times piece on the kind of Sunday night when I could have used a performance boost myself – something I'm sure lots of working parents feel in the waning weekend hours.

Oh, for a rush of adrenaline to finish unwanted chores in full efficiency mode, instead of a lazy desire to watch the Mad Men season finale curled up with a glass of wine.

Yet here it was, nearly midnight, and I still had stories to edit, laundry to fold, school lunches to make and those endless permission slips and end-of-the-year forms to fill out.

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While many boys his age were playing video games or sports, a 14-year-old from Bangladesh spent every Saturday afternoon since last summer studying math and English at Khan’s Tutorial, a test preparation center in Jamaica, Queens.

Joydeep Baidya, an 8th grader in Intermediate School 238 in Jamaica, said he had no regrets, when he found out in late March that he scored 592 out of a possible 800 on the New York City Specialized High School Admissions Test, high enough to gain admission into Manhattan’s Stuyvesant High School, one of the city’s top public high schools.


“For the period leading to the test, the priority was not fun,” said Baidya, who moved to New York just three years ago. “It was to pass the test.”

Baidya is one of the 161 students at Khan’s Tutorial this year who secured a spot in the much-coveted specialized high schools in New York City. The majority of the 200 students who registered at Khan to prep for this year’s test were born in Bangladesh or are children of Bangladeshi parents. Just like their Chinese and Korean counterparts, Bangladeshi families put great emphasis on education and testing is deeply rooted in their culture. The students are quietly becoming sought after by test prep centers in Queens and beyond.

According to Ivan Khan, Chief Operating Officer of Khan’s Tutorial, the test prep center has been sending more than 100 students to the specialized high school every year since 2005. About 30,000 8th and 9th graders take the test every October, and roughly 5,400 are offered admission into one of the eight elite schools, including Stuyvesant, Bronx High School of Science and Brooklyn Technical High School. Khan said the enrollment in his center has gone up 20 percent this year and he had opened two new branches just within last two years.

In recent years, Asians have made up the majority in the city’s specialized high schools. Stuyvesant’s 3,300 students in grades 9 to 12 are 72 percent Asian, 24 percent white, 2.4 percent Hispanic and 1.2 percent black. Although the majority of the Asian students are either Chinese or Korean, the Bangladeshis are making impressive progress.

“When I went to Bronx Science, there were maybe six or seven Bangladeshi students per grade,” said Khan, class of 1999. According to one of his former students, Ishraq Chowdhury, class of 2012 at Bronx Science, about 13 to 15 percent of the school’s total population of about 3,000 students are of Bangladeshi descent. The school did not return requests to confirm the numbers.

One obvious reason is the rapid growth of immigrants from Bangladesh. According to census statistics, the number of Bangladeshi immigrants has grown more than10 times in the last two decades, from about 5,000 in 1990 to close to 60,000 in 2010. New York City is their number one destination.

Nazli Kibria, a professor of sociology at Boston University who studies the Bangladeshi diaspora in the U.S., said most Bangladeshi immigrants left their country to improve ther economic and educational opportunities.

“It is a driving force,” said Kibria. “The emphasis on education gives meaning to their immigration to this country.”

The London-born Khan spent a year and a half of his youth in Bangladesh. He said performing well in school is a source of pride and joy for Bangladeshi families.

And the emphasis on education cuts across class lines. According to Khan, many parents who send their children to his test prep center are blue-collar workers, ranging from cab drivers and restaurant workers to shopkeepers.

“But the drive to help their children get into one of the most competitive schools is just as strong as middle-class parents,” said Khan.

Among the Bangladeshi-run test prep centers, Khan’s Tutorial is the largest and most established. Founded in Jackson Heights in 1994 by Khan’s father, a former public school math teacher and assistant principal, it now operates in six locations in New York City and one in Long Island. The newest location in Astoria opened last year. It has attracted many non-Bangladeshi students, including Eastern Europeans and Middle Easterners. In addition to the program for specialized high schools, Khan’s also offers prep programs for the SAT, Regents Exams, Advanced Placement courses, and summer programs for kindergartners through sixth graders.

“We advertise through the Bangladeshi satellite television that goes out to the rest of the country,” said Khan, referring to Bengali-language satellite channels made available through the Dish Network in the U.S. “Now we even get requests from California. But we want to maintain the quality so we have no plans to expand outside of New York.”

On a recent Sunday afternoon, dozens of students were getting ready for the upcoming Regents Exam in Khan’s modest four-room center located above a Bangladeshi deli and Guyanese restaurant on Hillside Avenue in a commercial section of Jamaica. Many of the 17 seventh graders in Roman Patwary’s math class had their hands up, eager to solve an algebra problem on the blackboard. In the room next door, students of various ages worked with tutors in small groups on English and math exercises. Many instructors and tutors in the prep center are former Khan’s students who went to specialized high schools themselves.

Instructors say their center prepares students “for a future of standardized tests.” Niloy Iqbal, a premed student at New York University who has been teaching at Khan’s since 2009, ticked off all the exams students need to enter professional schools in medicine, law and pharmacology.

Meanwhile, Iqbal said the content for the specialized high school test does not go beyond what students learn in school.

“The material is taught in school,” said Iqbal, who attended Khan’s and got into Stuyvesant. “It’s just the way they pose the questions. It’s forcing the students to think critically.”

Khan’s charges a flexible rate of $75 per week for a four-hour session. Students received a reduced rate if they sign up for long-term classes. The center offers a $3,500 package of 52 sessions and 20 workshops that comes with a guarantee of admission into a specialized high school. Khan said about 90 percent of the 80 students who signed up for the package were accepted into one of the eight specialized high schools. Those who are not accepted receive a one-month compensation course to prepare for next year. Meanwhile, Khan’s also offers help for them to get into other selective public schools such as Bard College High School Early College or Midwood High School.

Khan’s Tutorial has begun to advertise in more low-income communities which historically have a low number of students in specialized high schools. In March, Khan’s launched a 12-week SAT prep program in partnership with the Bedford Central Presbyterian Church in Bedford-Stuyvesant in Brooklyn at about half price.

When asked about options for students whose families cannot afford even the discounted rate, Khan said there is a free city-run program for eligible students. New York Specialized High School Institute, a 22-month test prep program, is available for 6th and 7th graders who receive free lunch, have good grades and attendance records. They also need to have at least average on state math and English exams.

For the ambitious Baidya, getting into Stuyvesant is just the beginning of his academic journey.

“I want to be an architect,” Baidya said, adding that his number one college choice is Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He said he plans to take advantage of Stuyvesant’s participation in the Youth in Engineering and Science (YES) Summer Research Program and MIT Summer Research Science Institute.

But his test prep days at Khan’s aren’t likely to end anytime soon. “I heard the SAT is difficult,” said Baidya. “I will probably be back for it.”

Larry Tung, Class of 2012, was a student in LynNell Hancock's Covering Education seminar at Columbia Journalism School. You can read more of the class's stories here.

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The refrain “I hate tests,” is nothing new in my household, but it’s usually met with an unsympathetic “that’s life – it’s a necessary evil” shrug.

After last week’s SAT exam debacle that invalidated scores for 199 juniors from some 50 schools who took the May 5 SAT exam at Packer Collegiate Institute in Brooklyn Heights -- including my 16-year-old -- I’m having a hard time controlling my own rage.

What really happened that caused the Educational Testing Service to throw out the results of all the exams? We’ve been given little information, while witnessing a parade of finger pointing and of adults protecting adults. There is no evidence -- at least that we’ve heard -- of a cheating scandal.

And yet, there has been very little regard for the overstressed juniors who have had their scores invalidated and their test re-scheduled twice, with scant notice and virtually no explanation.

Of course, I want to know what happened and why, but it’s not individuals I want to signal out for blame.

Really, it’s a systemic culture of testing and their use that must be reconsidered.

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Not only are the state tests confusing for the kids. Now teachers say they can't figure out how to score them.

Long-time principals and teachers say they have never witnessed the level of confusion that has broken out in scoring sessions for the state math and English tests this year. Principals have received several emails with corrections to the scoring guide created by the testing company Pearson. More than 5,000 city teachers have been pulled out of their classes to grade the exams, a job which is scheduled to wrap up Wednesday.

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Monday, 14 May 2012 12:17

Must I send my son to summer school?

Dear Judy,

My son’s teacher said he might have to go to summer school so he won’t be left back. Does he have to go to summer school? I want to send him to camp.

Annoyed parent.

Dear Annoyed,

Good news: No one is going to force you to send your son to summer school – attendance used to be required, but now is voluntary. However, they can keep him back from the next grade if his school work does not warrant promotion. It is all covered in Chancellor’s Regulation A-501. More good news, summer school sessions run until August 8th at the latest. So he can go to the last three weeks of camp – most camps have flexible schedules with campers signing on for a few weeks rather than a whole summer.

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