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:

Published in News and views
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.

Published in News and views
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.

Published in News and views
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.
Published in News and views
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.

Published in News and views
Tuesday, 24 January 2012 20:00

Schools must admit gifted special ed kids

Parents of kids with lopsided abilities despair of finding the right educational fit: for the math whiz who has dyslexia; the child with a photographic memory who can’t sit still; the ace test-taker who struggles to get along with her peers. These kids are Twice Exceptional, often abbreviated as 2e. They’re super smart, but profoundly challenged. Most have Individualed Education Programs (IEP), specifying special education services. They just don’t fit into the public school system.

Now the Education Department is telling schools they must admit and meet the needs of these students within the context of their school as part of the special education reform rolled out last year. On January 13, Chancellor Dennis Walcott sent a letter to principals saying: “choice, non-zoned and screened schools will be asked to admit and serve a percentage of students with disabilities equivalent to the percentage of students with disabilities in their district or borough.” said Lauren Katzman, director of special education at the DOE. “There have been targets [enrollment numbers] all along. The change is we’re saying you have to meet your targets.”

On January 19, dozens of parents turned out for a meeting hosted by the Citywide Council on Special Education (CCSE) featuring a panel of educators and Education Department officials including Katzman. They were not surprised to learn that there are no programs designed specifically for 2e kids, moreover the Department of Education does not have “clean data” showing how many 2e’s there are in the system: “Gifted and Talented is not tracked by disability yet but the number is extremely low,” said Katzman.

Published in News and views
Thursday, 19 January 2012 11:32

Poll: Who's responsible for college prep?

After decades of focusing on Regents exams and graduation rates, in 2011 for the first time the Education Department evaluated each high school on "college readiness" - that is, how many of its graduates were actually prepared to do college work. The score on each school's Progress Report didn't carry any weight this year but the numbers are depressing: fewer than half of the 2011 public high school graduates reported that they planned to enter college in the fall. And only one in four 2011 grads were deemed "college ready" — not in need of remedial college courses after four years of high school. The numbers are even lower for black and Latino students.

The City Council is pressing DOE officials to explain what they are doing to improve college-readiness. In turn, the DOE will hold school's accountable: high schools will be docked points for poor college readiness scores on the 2012 Progress Reports.

High schools already struggle to meet other accountability requirements. Some schools, like It Takes A Village Academy in East Flatbush, have a high Regents pass rate (90% graduate in 4 years) and an abysmal college readiness rate (9%).

Should high schools take more initiative to guide students through test prep, college vists and the application process? Whose responsibility is it to prepare kids for college? Take our poll and share your ideas!

Published in News and views
Wednesday, 18 January 2012 19:47

Do "screened" schools screen out poor kids?

New York City public high schools with academic requirements for entry offer a rigorous education, but admission is supposed to be based on performance, not on income. So why do so few low-income students manage to get in?

A look at two dozen of the city's most elite high schools -- those that require a score of proficient or higher (a 3 or 4) on both the state math and reading exams and those that require a spectacular score on the "specialized test" -- shows a huge discrepancy in who's enrolled, based on income.

About 74% of high school students citywide qualify for free or reduced lunch ($41,348 or less for a family of four) compared with 41% of students at the exam and selective schools.

Published in News and views

Dear Judy,

My child scored in the 90th percentile on the G&T test last year, but didn't get offered a seat anywhere. What's the deal?

Gifted Mom

Dear Gifted Mom,

When dealing with the Department of Education, guarantees can be murky. Read the fine print and adhere to the rules:

Score in the 90th percentile or higher? Yes, you are guaranteed a district seat IF your child is going into kindergarten or 1st grade and IF on your application, you list every G&T option in your district. Ahead of you at the door are siblings of kids already enrolled. They have priority, based on the score they obtain. Then it is strictly by score. If there are more kids at the same score than there are places available, a lottery is held. If your child is one of those who does not get a place after that exercise is completed in all the district G&T programs, then there are two possibilities :

If there are enough kids who did not get placed, then the DOE might (and should) open an additional program. If there are not enough kids for a new program, then the DOE should offer a place in a neighboring district, where there are extra seats.

Some other factors:

If your top priority is for your child to be placed in the G&T program in his/her sibling’s school, make sure that school is your first choice on the application.

Twins, and presumably triplets, etc, are placed together if all are eligible. The twin or triplet with the highest score is the one who stands on the line. When placed, she brings her siblings in with her.

A placement exception request (PER) can be used to keep general ed and G&T students in the same school. In fact, you’d be wise to read the Gifted & Talented Handbook very carefully before submitting the application. There are many ins and outs that could apply to your situation.  

As for Citywide programs, there is no guarantee at all. Highest scorers are placed first, and if your child did not get placed in a citywide program and you did not list all the district options, s/he could miss out altogether.

Don’t get too anxious about placement right now. Keep calm, cool and collected while you help your child prepare for the OLSAT/BSRA tests -- make it a fun exercise and bring a relaxed child to the test.

Good luck!


Published in News and views
Tuesday, 17 January 2012 13:20

About our data

Insideschools aims to provide up-to-date data on New York City public schools. We rely on official statistics and information from the New York City Department of Education (DOE) and the New York State Education Department (NYSED), which monitor most public schools. Charter school data not included in city statistics was provided by The Charter School Center.

Below is a list of our "go-to" data sources, along with the key information each dataset provides. These sources were also used to create Insidestats, a new feature of Insideschools, which seeks to provide useful statistics on New York City’s high schools. See Insidestats section below to get specific information on how we collect and analyze the numbers for Insidestats.

About our data: General information

School name, Address, Telephone Number, Principal name – From the DOE Office of Organizational Data LCGMS Database (updated continually)

Attendance and Data on K-12 Tests, Graduation and College Readiness – From the DOE Progress Report Database (2012-13)

Survey Information from Students, Teachers and Parents – From the DOE Learning Environment Survey (2012-13)

Student Demographics and Enrollment (including free and reduced lunch, percent of English language learners, percent of students receiving special education services, ethnicity) – From the Preliminary DOE School Demographics and Accountability Snapshot (2014)

ELA and Math Achievement Test Scores Grades 3-8 – From the DOE Achievement Test Database (2012-13)

Attendance and Enrollment for New Schools – From the DOE Period Attendance Reporting Database (updated continually)

Average Class Sizes (updated twice a year; if link is broken try searching "DOE class size report") – From DOE Class Size Report Database (2012-13)

Elementary School Special Programs (gifted and talented, dual language, and magnet programs ) – From the DOE Elementary School Directory (2013-14)

Elementary and Middle School Zone Maps - From NYC Open Data School Files School Zones (2011-12)

School Overcrowding and Utilization – From the School Construction Authority Enrollment, Capacity & Utilization Report (2011-12)

About our data: Insidestats

Insidestats is a new tool on Insideschools giving families one easy place to review and compare high school quality and outcomes. The numbers on Insidestats were collected from datasets published annually by the New York City Department of Education (DOE) and the New York State Education Department (NYSED). Some numbers were provided by special request.

See the list below for the sources and dates of each piece of information on Insidestats. We have also provided links to the original datasets, if available, for those who wish to delve deeper into the numbers.

A note about citywide averages and the color of our apples on Insidestats

Insidestats uses color-coded apples to show how well a school is doing compared to other New York City high schools. Schools that are better than the citywide average on a given indicator get a green apple. Schools that are worse than the citywide average get a red apple. Those that are around the citywide average get a neutral blue apple.

We used a common statistical calculation to determine whether a given school is below average, near the average, or better than average on each data point. This calculation is called a "standard deviation." It allows us to easily see if a number is near the citywide average or substantially better or worse than the citywide average. We used the following curve to assign the apple colors. For each measure, one-third of schools are above average, one-third are below and one-third are in the middle. (The blue section is taller because many more schools tend to be near the average. The blue section is one-half of a standard deviation from the average in each direction.)

Figure 1: A statistical illustration of how our apples were color-coded:

Apples Colors Bell Curve













In some cases, the citywide average was provided by the DOE or NYSED. When the citywide average was not available, we calculated our own citywide averages using the data we had collected. It is important to note that the averages we calculated include only general education high schools and secondary schools in Districts 1-32. We do not include data from charter schools, transfer schools or schools that primarily serve students with special needs (though we do hope to include these schools in the future). Averages have been calculated as “weighted averages,” meaning that we adjusted the averages to account for schools that are much larger or smaller than other schools.

The following table lists each measure on Insidestats, its source, and how the average was calculated. We have included links to the original dataset when it is available. If you have any questions about the numbers, datasets or our calculations, please email Kim Nauer at Also let us know if you see errors or miscalculations in your school's numbers. We will correct any problems as soon as possible.

Insidestats: Sources and links

Click the linked text in blue to explore the original dataset, when available. In addition, much of this information is available on your school’s DOE website. Click “View More DOE Statistics and Info” on the bottom of each page on Insidestats to see more.


Shared Campus - From the DOE Office of Organizational Data (2013-14)

Students Enrolled - From the DOE School Demographics and Accountability Snapshot (2013-14)

Average Daily Attendance Rate - From the DOE School Progress Report Database (2012-2013; 2013-2014 for schools opened in 2013)

Uniform Policy - From the DOE School Directories (2013-2014)

Metal Detectors - Site surveys from Insideschools and New York Civil Liberties Union (ongoing)

Student Demographics - DOE School Demographics and Accountability Snapshot (2013-14)

Free Lunch and ELL Students - DOE School Demographics and Accountability Snapshot (2013-14)

8th Grade Math/ELA Test Scores of High School’s Students - DOE High School Progress Report Database (2012-13)

Citywide Average: Calculated by taking the average of schools in the Insidestats database.

Middle School Test Scores on ELA and Math exams (for high schools that include grades 6-8) - DOE School Progress Report Database (2012-13)

Citywide Average: Calculated by taking the sum of students scoring 3 or 4 over the sum of students taking the exam.


Number of Students in an Average English Class - From the DOE Class Size Database (2013-2014)

Citywide Average: Calculated by taking an average of schools in the Insidestats database.

Student and Teacher Survey Questions - DOE Learning Environment Survey Database (2012-2013)

Note: Percentages were calculated by combining the percentage of students or teachers in the survey that answered "strongly agree" or "somewhat agree."

Citywide Average: Calculated by taking an average of schools in the Insidestats database.

Percent of Chronically Absent Students – High School Student attendance data provided by the DOE (2012-13); all other grades from the Progress Reports.

Note: Percentage calculated from the number of students missing more than 20 or more days of school year.

Citywide Average: Calculated the number of chronically absent students in each school and added up the number citywide dividing by the total number of students in those schools.


Class of 2013 Four-Year Graduation Rate - DOE High School Progress Report Database (2012-13)

Class of 2013 Six-Year Graduation Rate - DOE High School Progress Report Database (2012-13)

Note: The Progress Report provides preliminary graduation rate numbers. These numbers may change when the official graduation rate numbers are released in mid-2013.

Class of 2012 Four-Year Graduation Rate - NYSED Graduation Rate Database (June 2013)

Class of 2012 Six-Year Graduation Rate - NYSED Graduation Rate Database (June 2013)

Class of 2012 Advanced Regents Diploma Rate - NYSED Graduation Rate Database (June 2013)

Class of 2012 High School Dropout Rate - NYSED Graduation Rate Database (June 2013)

Citywide Averages Class of 2012: Provided in the NYSED School Level Graduation Database (2011-12)


School College Prep Course Offerings and Outcomes

DOE High School Progress Report Database (2011-12). Dataset includes:

Students taking at least one advanced placement class getting a 3 or better

Students taking at least one college course getting a C or better

Students passing a Regents exam for Algebra 2, MathB, Physics or Chemistry

Students entering CUNY without needing remedial help

Students graduating on time and entering college within 18 months

Citywide Average: DOE High School Progress Report Database (2011-12) when available

SAT Reading and Math Scores - DOE SAT Database (2011-12)

Citywide and Nationwide Average: DOE SAT Summary Report (2011-12)

Student Survey on Quality of College and Career Counseling

DOE Learning Environment Survey Database (2011-2012)

Note: Percentages were calculated by combining the percentage of students or teachers in the survey that answered "strongly agree" or "somewhat agree."

Citywide Average: Calculated by taking an average of schools in the Insidestats database.


Class of 2011 Special Ed Four-Year Graduation Rate - NYSED Graduation Rate Database (June 2012)

Class of 2011 Special Ed Six-Year Graduation Rate - NYSED Graduation Rate Database (June 2012)

Class of 2011 ELL Four-Year Graduation Rate - NYSED Graduation Rate Database (June 2012)

Class of 2011 ELL Six-Year Graduation Rate - NYSED Graduation Rate Database (June 2012)

Citywide Averages Class of 2011: Provided in the NYSED Graduation Database (June 2012)

Team Teaching/Self-Contained Classes - School Demographics and Accountability Snapshot (2011-12)

Citywide Average: Calculated by taking the average of schools in the Insidestats database

Students Spending Day with Non-Disabled Peers - Special Education Service Delivery Report (2011-2012)

Note: While there is no public database for this report, it is available on each school’s website.

Citywide Average: Calculated by taking the average of schools in the Insidestats database

Published in About Us