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

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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.”

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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.
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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.

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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.

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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.

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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].

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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.

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Wednesday, 11 April 2012 13:23

Gifted & Talented test results sent

Parents have started receiving the results of the 2012 tests for entrance to elementary school gifted and talented programs.  Score reports were sent by email and regular mail on April 10, according to the Department of Education.

Along with the results, families receive an application listing programs for which child is eligible. Incoming kindergarten and 1st graders are guaranteed admission for programs in their district as long as they list all of them on their application. Students who score at the 97 to 99th percentile are eligible for five citywide programs. However, given the high number of children who score in the 99th percentile - nearly a quarter of all eligible students last year -  most citywide seats are taken up by those top scorers.

Applications are due on April 20.

Information about the number of qualifying students will be coming soon, according to the DOE. We'll post it when we get it.

Did you get your notice yet?

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Wednesday, 11 April 2012 12:25

No vacation from test prep

It's spring break so why are so many kids showing up at school this week? Test prep, that's why! Schools have sidelined regular lessons and ramped up test prep this year as the stakes for improved scores on state exams continue to rise. Some schools brought in test prep companies and 25 schools have opened their doors during vacation so kids can continue to study for the exams.

On a chilly morning in April, when most schools were closed, students at PS 189 in Crown Heights filed into school to prep and practice for the tests.

Many of the parents shepherding their children through the doors said they appreciated the extra preparation.

“I think it was a good idea,” said Stacy Alexander, whose daughter is in 3rd grade. “I think they should do a lot of reading, but they also need the practice tests.”

But PS 189 students have been prepping for weeks. Instead of regular classes, children took practice tests every morning in March, teachers and parents said. Reading was Monday and Tuesday, math was Thursday and Friday, and most Wednesdays they took both. The afternoons were saved for more test prep, focusing on questions the kids got wrong.

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