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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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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