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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State-mandated standardized tests for students in grades 3-8 begin on the Tuesday right after spring break. There are three days of reading (ELA) tests: April 17, 18 and 19 and three days of math the next week: April 25, 26 and 27.

Have the teachers been spending lots of time preparing kids for the increasingy high-stakes exams? Your child's test results help determine the "grade" his teacher will get on her evaluation. the grade his school gets on its Progress Report and even whether the school could be closed down or "turned around".

For students in transition from elementary to middle school and from middle to high school, results on the 4th and 7th grade exams can be a determining factor in where they are accepted!

Given all the testing mania, are teachers being pressured to "teach to the test"? Are they weaving test prep into classroom lessons or has test prep become the lesson?

How has your school handled test prep this year. Too much? Too little? Just right? Take our poll!

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Thursday, 29 March 2012 20:55

Parents petition against testing

A group of parents have launched a petition drive to try and reverse the increasing importance of standardized exams in city schools. In particular, they are opposed to a new law that could get teachers fired if their students' state test scores don't increase sufficiently.

"Parents want their children to have the opportunity to learn, to think critically, to engage in meaningful relationships with teachers, and to have positive school experiences," the Brooklyn-based group of parents write.

They also do not want to see a repeat of the Teacher Data Reports, which used state exams to evaluate teachers and then made the dubious ratings public.

They've gotten about 1,000 signatures by tabling outside schools, mostly in Brooklyn. Now there's an online petition you can sign if you want to join their effort.

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Wednesday, 21 March 2012 14:52

Using exams to judge teachers, schools

Sparks flew at the Brooklyn Secondary School for Collaborative Studies on Monday night as the chief academic officer defended the city's heavy reliance on standardized exams to judge schools, principals and teachers.

Deputy Chancellor Shael Polakow-Suransky was under fire all night from the crowd in the packed school auditorium in Carroll Gardens. The two principals on the panel who said they believed the testing regime had damaged education in city schools.

The former head of the Office of Accountability kept his cool and acknowledged that the current state exams did not do a good job at measuring "critical thinking," but he denied that the exams were overly influential and said  that better tests were coming. Why, then, has the Bloomberg administration made such a public spectacle of the A through F grading system, which is mostly based on student progress on the exams, if they aren't very good? Polakow-Suransky never answered that question.

You can read more about the event, which was moderated by Insideschools reporter Meredith Kolodner, on  GothamSchools and SchoolBook. Watch a video clip of the meeting from the Grassroots Education Movement:

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Tuesday, 28 February 2012 14:05

Teacher rated "Below Average" speaks out

Vasilios Biniarls is a math teacher at a Queens middle school program for gifted students, The Academy at PS 122. He wrote to Insideschools after his name was published in the press as a "Below Average" teacher. Here's his view. Insideschools will not be publishing or linking to the Teacher Data Reports.

The recent release of NYC's Teacher Data Reports (TDR) has stirred up a wide range of responses from all of the relevant stakeholders in our city's school system. As a teacher whose name was published in the local media with a corresponding characterization of "Below Average," I am upset, angry, even demoralized. After a great deal of personal reflection, I feel compelled to reach out to the parents of the students I teach.

For me, it is important for people to know that I teach in the same school that I attended as a child; it is the same school that both of my siblings went to as well. As three children of immigrant parents, we owe a debt of gratitude to our alma mater, and I strongly feel that the experiences that we had at P.S. 122 were instrumental in paving the way to a life of higher education.  I would do anything for my school.

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Thursday, 23 February 2012 20:42

Why teacher ratings don't tell much

The latest serving of data-driven mania from the city Education Department will likely produce screaming headlines about the city's "worst teachers." This virtual wall of shame (and fame) will live online for years to come. But does it actually help parents to find the best schools and teachers? Not really. Here's why.

The ratings are based on a complicated formula that compares how much 4th through 8th-grade students have improved on standardized tests compared with how well they were predicted to do. The system tries to take into consideration factors like race, poverty and disabilities. Teachers are then graded on a curve. It's known as "value-added," because it tries show how much value an individual teacher has added to a student's test scores.

Here are our top five reasons they won't help and why you won't be seeing them on Insideschools. Please add your own, or tell us why you think they will be useful.

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Wednesday, 15 February 2012 15:38

Specialized prep open to 6th & 7th graders

A prep program for high-achieving, low-income middle school students aimed at bettering their chance for acceptance to one of the city's specialized high schools is open to both 6th and 7th graders this year. Previously the Specialized High School Institute (SHSI) 16-month prep course began only in the spring of 6th grade and continued until students took the test as 8th-graders in October.

The Department of Education issued new guidelines for the program now called DREAM - SHSI. Despite concerns that the program would be curtailed because of budget cuts, the DOE expanded it, from 10 sites to 18 to include both 6th-graders and a new class of 7th-graders. Seventh-graders will get twice weekly prep classes this spring and 38 sessions between July and October when they take the exam for entrance into one of eight specialized exam schools.

"It's a good thing because now there are multiple entry points," said Stanley Ng, a Brooklyn parent and member of the citywide high school parent council. Some parents don't hear about the program in 6th grade, he said, and now they may have another chance to enter.

Time is short to apply. The deadline to submit paperwork is Feb. 28, just two days after the winter break. Schools should have a list of eligible 6th and 7th graders, but some students could miss out on the chance to apply if they have not filled out free lunch forms. Many schools with a high poverty rate don't require all families to fill out lunch forms. Those families must get an income verification form from their school and submit it by Feb. 28. Private school students may also apply. They should download the application and income form and return by March 2.

Students invited to attend the program must meet economic and academic guidelines. They must be eligible for free lunch, have good attendance, and test at Level 3 or 4 on state exams (exact cut-off numbers are posted on the DOE's website).  Since there are more eligible children than there are slots in some areas of the city, the DOE will conduct a lottery to determine who may attend.

Seventh-graders who join the program now will get approximately 38 prep sessions before the October exam. Sixth-graders will be in the program for 16 months, attending weekly sessions from April to June, Monday-Thursday sessions in July and August and twice weekly sessions during the next school year.

DREAM - SHSI (stands for Determination Resilience Enthusiasm Ambition and Motivation) is overseen by the DOE's Office for Equity and Access headed by Dr. Dorita Gibson.
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Thursday, 26 January 2012 13:26

It's Regents Week...where's the party?

I have a modest proposal for the state and city officials responsible for placing Regents exams a week after finals: Could you please flip the schedule and schedule Regents before finals?

While not all city high school students take Regents exams in January, there are no classes at all in most New York City high schools during the state exams week. Yet nearly all take finals, or midterms in many of their classes a week before.

That means that last week, my two high schoolers had multiple midterm or final exams on the same day, nearly every day. They stayed up way too late studying – or, at least I think that's what they were doing. Their bedroom became a landfill of crumpled paper, flashcards, calculators and notebooks. Tired and cranky, they complained they didn't have adequate time to prepare.

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