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.

Published in News and views

A pilot for the city's new test prep program to help low-income students qualify for the elite specialized high schools has shown improved results.

About 30 percent of the students – from predominately black and Caribbean schools - who began the pilot DREAM, Specialized High School Institute as 6th graders got offers to a specialized school after taking the test in 2011. The rate of acceptances for black and Latino students in the previous program was about 20%.

The Department of Education, politicians and advocates have long been disturbed by the low number of black and Hispanic students enrolled at the city’s elite specialized high schools. Over the years they have looked at ways to increase the numbers without changing the exam that determines admission at one of the eight schools.

In the DREAM pilot, instruction focused more on test-taking skills, critical thinking and time-saving strategies than previous courses, according to the DOE. There was also "robust teacher professional development and coaching" and a reporting system that allowed teachers to tailor instruction to individual students, concentrating on areas of weaknesses. In other changes designed to improve the retention rate, more test prep sites have been set up. Now the 18 programs are district-based, making it easier for students to attend. Participants are provided with MetroCards and free lunches.

This year, DREAM will also include more students than the previous program (SHSI), enrolling 2,600 6th and 7th graders – up from 932 6th graders last year. The program may be expanded even further in the future, beginning in 5th grade.

Still, the higher success rate for black and Hispanic test-takers didn't allow them to catch up with Asian and white SHSI participants. In 2011, 62 percent of Asians who took the now-defunct SHSI prep course received a specialized offer as did 39 percent of white students.

The SHSI program, started in 1995, was primarily aimed at increasing the number of black and Hispanic students at specialized high schools. Since 2009, admission has been determined by income level, not race. As a result, a significantly higher percentage of Asian students and far fewer Hispanics enrolled. In 2011, the percentage of Asian students jumped to 45 percent from 16 percent in 2009 while Hispanics dropped to 24 percent from 42 percent over the same period.

In the first year of DREAM, which began on May 5, 40 percent students are Asian, 26 percent are Hispanic, 21 percent are black and 12 percent are white, according to the DOE.

(City high school students overall are 17 percent Asian, 39 percent Hispanic, 30 percent black and 13 percent white.)

This year 6,232 6th and 7th graders qualified for 2,600 slots. (There are about 5,800 freshmen seats in the specialized schools that base admissions on the exam.) Eligible students must meet academic and income guidelines. Because there are more qualified students than spaces available, students were chosen randomly in district-based lotteries. Students who didn’t get in were placed on a waitlist.

The $1.2 million program is paid for by Title 1 federal money.


2012 offers to specialized high schools by ethnicity (below) show that blacks and Hispanics trail Asian and white students in gaining acceptance. The chart does not indicate which students were enrolled in the SHSI or pilot DREAM program.

Published in News and views
Wednesday, 09 May 2012 15:34

More tests, more boycotts

Fed up with multiple errors on state exams (including loudmouthed pineapples), some parents are planning to boycott "field tests" next week that will be used to design future exams. 

Students at more than 1,500 public and parochial schools in the city are among students at more than 4,000 schools statewide who will sit for the exams. The results will not be used to measure student achievement or evaluate schools, city officials said.

Organizers have launched a statewide campaign and are urging other parents to have their children abstain from the tests as well, providing sample letters and a fact sheet.

"Field test" questions were embedded in the math and reading exams students took last month, which was part of the reason the exams were longer.

Although this is not the first time stand-alone field tests have been administered and the exams will only take up a period or two for one day, some parents say they are in no mood to have their children "help" design future tests.

“I was very upset to learn that the DOE has mandated that our children take these field tests,” said Patricia Velotta, who has notified her son’s school that she doesn’t want her eighth grader taking the planned field test in June. “When I heard yesterday, after the relief of the ELA and math tests being over, that now they want to subject our kids to another week of field testing, I felt exasperated. Our children have had enough.”

The Pearson company's $32 million contract to create the new and improved exams has also rankled parents, who have seen school budgets slashed for several years in a row.

PS 321, PS 107 and PS 261, all in brownstone Brooklyn, are test sites and home to parents who have been vociferously opposed to the rising stakes of standardized exams. But the exams will be given in all corners of the city. Third graders at the elite Manhattan school Anderson will be quizzed on math. Sixth and seventh graders at JHS 125 in the Soundview section of the Bronx will take the reading field test. At PS 207 in Howard Beach, 4th graders will sit for the science exam.

The science field tests will be given between May 14 and 18. Students will take the English and math field tests between June 5 and 8.

For more information about the boycott, parents can email or

Published in News and views

New York State’s standardized math and English exams for 3rd, 4th and 5th grades are over, except for the scoring and the remaining four years of Pearson’s $32 million contract to provide tests. Here’s a sample question that should be on a state exam but never will be:

Read the following story. At the end, answer four questions.

It was a sunny Monday morning in the Enchanted Forest, and the animal children happily scurried, hopped and slithered to the clearing where Owl taught 4th grade. As usual, Bunny was first to arrive. “I’m so happy, Mr. Owl,” said Bunny. “Monday has music class, so it’s my favorite day.”

Owl looked at Bunny. “We’re not having music class, remember? Today is the annual Enchanted Forest state math test. Instead of singing songs and playing the recorder, you’re going to sit your little cotton tail at a desk for 90 minutes and answer some questions.”

Published in News and views
Wednesday, 25 April 2012 14:36

Math test question won't count either

A week after a quirky, nonsensical tale on the 8th grade ELA test stumped students and resulted in the New York State discounting questions from the exam, two faulty problems have surfaced on this week's state math tests.

In his weekly letter to principals, Chancellor Dennis Walcott advised schools of errors in the 4th and 8th grade math books. One question has no correct answer, the other has two correct answers.

New York State Education Department chalked one faulty answer up to "a typo" and issued the following instructions for teachers who are proctoring the exams on Wednesday and Thursday:

  • April 25: Grade 8 Book 1, Form C only – question 13 has no correct answer. Students may mark any response; the question will not be scored.
  • April 26: Grade 4, Book 2, all Forms (A, B, C, and D) – question 58 has two correct answers. Credit will be given for either correct answer.
Published in News and views

Anne Stone is Associate Professor of Music at the Graduate Center, CUNY. Jeff Nichols is Associate Professor of Music at Queens College and the Graduate Center. They live in Manhattan with their sons Aaron and Gabriel. As a result of their 3rd-grader's experiences with a test-driven curriculum, they joined with other parents and teachers in Change the Stakes, a committee of the Grassroots Education Movement working on issues related to high-stakes testing in the public schools. They have published two pieces for SchoolBook: "Dear Governor: Lobby to Save a Love of Reading" and "A Lesson on Teaching to the Test from E.B.White". 

When people ask us why we are boycotting the standardized tests this spring, we hardly know where to begin. We find it unconscionable that our son's test results can be used to determine whether his teachers keep their jobs, whether his school stays open, and whether he goes on to the next grade. But the "high-stakes" nature of the tests is just the tip of the pineapple.

Published in News and views
Friday, 20 April 2012 15:17

Too many top-scoring tykes for G&T

A whopping 1,603 incoming kindergartners scored in the 99th percentile on this year's gifted and talented assessments. Out of 14,239 test-takers, 11 percent scored in the top one percent. You'd think this was Lake Wobegon!

The tests are supposedly designed so that one out of every hundred test-takers nationwide scores in the the 99th percentile. So either New Yorkers are 11-times smarter than people elsewhere (or only smart kids are taking the tests) or there is something wrong with the tests.

For the last two years, just over 1,000 kindergartners scored in the 99th percentile. Scoring between the 97th-99th percentile on the G&T assessments means a child is eligible for one of five citywide programs. But there are fewer than 400 seats for incoming kindergartners. And qualifying siblings of current students get first dibs at those seats. At The Anderson School, 16 of the 50 kindergarten seats will go to siblings. At NEST+M, siblings will get about 15 of the 100 seats; at Brooklyn School of Inquiry, there are 12 qualifying siblings and four at STEM in Queens.

Published in News and views
Wednesday, 18 April 2012 11:22

Let special ed kids reapply to G&T school?

District 20 leaders are bracing for a flood of parents at Wednesday's Community Education Council meeting who want the city to exempt IS 187 Christa McAuliffe from next year's special education requirements, which will force the school to admit more kids with special needs.

Other parents say allowing more special ed kids into the school isn't the problem. These parents want the city to re-open the application process to special needs students at the all-gifted Brooklyn middle school, since so few knew it was an option.

Many parents of special education students – including those with kids at IS 187 - say they had no idea that their beloved school was a possibility. While a small number of special education students do attend the school, it has not enrolled students who require special classes and more intensive services.

Published in News and views
Tuesday, 17 April 2012 12:07

Ask Judy: Your G&T queries answered

Gifted and talented results letters were sent to families last week, and since then our inbox has been full of G&T queries from parents of prospective kindergartners who must apply by April 20. Here are four questions that we answered.

  • My 4-year-old is a smart guy. His teacher says he is ahead of the other kids in his pre-kindergarten class, but he got a really low score on the G&T test. He took it on a very cold day and he is rather shy. Can he retake the test? .

The short answer: not this year. There are no re-dos. If your child was ill on the test date, or if there was a problem with the administration of the exam, you had 48 hours to report the problem. He can test again next year when he is in kindergarten. Note, next year it will be it will be a different test mix. The OLSAT will be kept but the Bracken will be replaced by the Naglieri Nonverbal Ability Test [NNAT].

Published in News and views

The good news for this year's gifted and talented kindergarten test-takers? More kids scored high enough to qualify for a citywide G&T program. The bad news? Eligible students have about a 1 in 7 chance of scoring one of those citywide seats.

Of the 14,249 children who tested for the city's gifted and talented programs, 2,656 -- 18% --  qualified for one of five citywide programs. But there are only about 381 citywide seats.  The number of eligible students continues to rise -- about 1000 students scored in the 99th percentile in the last two years. But the number of citywide seats has not risen to meet the demand.

To qualify for the more selective citywide program, children must score between the 97th and 99th percentile on two assessments; for district programs they must score between the 90 to 96th percentile. Fifteen percent of this year's kindergarten test-takers - 2,256 - qualified for district programs.

Some 35% of the kindergarten test-takers -- 4,912 -- are eligible for a G&T program. In 2010 and 2011, 28% qualified.

Published in News and views