Pamela Wheaton is one of the founding members of Insideschools. Since 2002 she has served as deputy director, project director and managing editor. She edits the blog, reviews schools, leads workshops about school choice and oversees editorial content. She collaborated with Clara Hemphill on a series of guides to New York City’s best public schools. Previously Wheaton was a producer of PBS television programs and a reporter and editor at the Buenos Aires Herald. Her two daughters graduated from New York City public schools.
Children in grades 3-8 will spend three days -- April 16-18 -- taking state standardized reading exams. Next week, the same children will spend three mornings taking math exams. For some parents, that's just too many tests.
Around the city, families are asking: is there any way to opt out of the exams? And just what are the consequences for students who don't take the tests? Shael Polakow-Suransky, The city's Department of Education chief academic officer, has been busy speaking to parent groups about this, most recently on Staten Island. Chancellor Walcott, acknowledging the "heightened anxiety" over this year's exams advised school principals to cool it with the test pressure.
In response to all the questions about this year's tests, aligned for the first time with the new Common Core Standards, the DOE posted Yearly Testing guidelines which include the topic of "opting out."
On the eve of next week's state ELA exams for grades 3-8, Chancellor Walcott is urging principals to "turn the pressure down" on teachers in the wake of "heightened anxiety" about this year's high stakes tests.
Walcott and State Ed Commissioner John King have been saying that the 2013 state tests will be more difficult to pass because for the first time they are aligned with the new Common Core standards which many schools have just began to implement. Some teachers say they have not had adequate curricula and learning materials to prepare for the new standards.
In his weekly letter to principals, Walcott acknowledged the anxiety surrounding the upcoming ELA and math exams. He writes: "...a natural reaction would be to turn the heat up on your teachers, who tend to respond by turning the heat up on their students," he writes. "Instead, to the greatest extent you can, I’m asking you and your team to do the opposite, and turn the pressure down."
Even with the expected drop in student scores, "roughly the same number of students will attend summer school as in previous years," he said . "And teacher evaluation and school accountability will adjust accordingly so no one is punished by the change in assessments."
Earlier this week, Walcott visited Academy of Arts and Letters in Brooklyn with King and Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch, to see how that school was implementing the Common Core. He praised the leadership for "cultivating a caring culture" that other principals should follow.
See the full text of his letter after the jump.
For the first time in four years, fewer than 1,000 incoming kindergartners scored in the 99th percentile on the city's gifted and talented exams, but there are still more than twice as many top-scoring tykes than there are seats in the five most selective citywide programs. Of the 13,559 rising kindergartners who sat for G&T assessments in January and February, just under seven percent -- 921 -- scored in the 99th percentile on the nationally-normed tests.
Despite the introduction of a non-verbal exam meant to increase the number of low-income children who qualify for G&T programs, the gap in performance persists between rich and poor districts.
Scoring between the 97th-99th percentile on the G&T assessments means a child is eligible for a citywide program. But there are fewer than 400 seats for incoming kindergartners. Further decreasing the odds of entry, qualifying siblings of current students get first dibs at those seats.
On April 6 and 7, 8th and 9th graders who did not get a match in the first round of high school admissions -- or are unhappy with the school they were assigned to-- may attend the Round 2 Fair (pdf) at Martin Luther King Jr. Educational Campus in Manhattan from 11 am to 2 pm. Families will meet representatives from the 20 or so new high schools opening in September, plus established schools that still have openings.
Some of the new schools are also holding open houses before (and, in some cases, after) the April 12 application deadline; either in their assigned buildings or at different venues. Here's a listing of the open houses we know about so far. We'll add to it as we get new dates. (Remember that dates may change so confirm with the school's website, or by phone, before heading out.)
Classes won't begin until a week after Labor Day next fall, giving students a few extra days of summer vacation. According to the 2013-2014 calendar posted by the Education Departments, classes will begin on Monday, Sept. 9. Students customarily return to school during the first week of September but because Rosh Hashanah falls early this year, the start of classes is delayed until the following week.
Teachers are expected to return on Tuesday, Sept. 3 to prepare their classrooms, and to attend mandatory professional development on Sept. 4. All schools will be closed on Thursday and Friday, Sept. 5-6, for Rosh Hashanah.
The first two days will be shorter for children in pre-kindergarten.
The last day of school is June 26, 2014. See the calendar, including holidays, here.
Unhappy with your middle school choices? The Education Department plans to open 16 new middle schools next September. While choosing a new school over an established one is risky, at least two of these new schools look like promising options: School of the Future in Manhattan will open a sister school in East New York and the Eagle Academy for Young Men is opening another school in Harlem, in District 5.
Many of these new schools have yet to be approved by the Panel for Educational Policy (PEP) which will meet to vote on school closings and openings at its March 11 meeting. A few are screened programs but most are unscreened, giving preference to students who attend an open house or info session. Students who are eligible to attend the new middle schools will receive application information from their elementary schools, according to the DOE. Or you can contact the new schools to find out when their info sessions are being held.
Applications are due on March 6, a week before the PEP meeting. Kids who apply and are accepted to one of the new schools may choose between the new school and the middle school they originally applied to, according to the DOE.
In one recent week, Advocates for Children got four calls from families whose children had been suspended from the same charter elementary school (Hyde Leadership Charter). A parent from another charter school called to say that her son had been suspended three times for "yelling." Is suspension the usual appropriate response to yelling, the parent wondered, and if not, what recourse did she and her son have?
Advocates for Children has produced a guide to Charter School Discipline (pdf) to help answer questions like these.
"Parents are not sure what schools can do and can’t do," said Paulina Davis, an attorney at AFC. "The point of the guide is to bring a little bit of clarity to parents."
AFC receives frequent complaints from charter school parents whose children are expelled, suspended, or counseled to leave the school because it is not an "appropriate fit." Unlike ordinary public schools, charter schools can make their own rules about discipline--within certain limits. But parents may have more rights than they realize, Davis said.
For example, students may be suspended for behavior that is disruptive or endangers others, but they may not be suspended for being absent, coming to school late, or failing to follow school policy.
Parents should submit applications for kindergarten by March 1, particularly if they want to explore options outside their zoned neighborhood school. You may apply directly to as many schools as you like: be sure to bring your child's birth certificate and proof of address. You'll find out in April if your child has a seat.
In most cases, you are guaranteed a seat in your zoned neighborhood school--whether you apply now or later in the spring or summer. But if you want to consider all your options (or if your neighborhood school is so crowded that it has a waitlist) now is the time to get started.
We've researched some neighborhood schools that may have room for children outside the zone, dual language programs and unzoned schools that select via lottery in Brooklyn and Staten Island, the city's largest and smallest boroughs. The city's new elementary school directory is another useful source of information. We'll offer another post on charter school options next month.
District 13: Fort Greene, Clinton Hill, Prospect Heights, part of Park Slope & Brooklyn Heights
Arts and Letters in Fort Greene is a highly sought after school that holds a lottery for kindergarten admissions. PS 133, a small school in lower Park Slope which was displaced for several years, is moving into a new building in September. It is now unzoned and serves both districts 13 and 15. It offers dual language programs in French and Spanish. PS 11 and PS 20 in Clinton Hill usually have space for out of zone children, even though PS 20 may not let you know until suimmer. PS 9 in Prospect Heights has a dual language program that takes native Spanish speakers from out of zone. PS 307 offers the only Mandarin Chinese dual language program in the district. PS 282 in Park Slope is a traditional K-8 school that is a top pick for many out-of-zone parents.
State math and reading exams will be harder to pass this year, Chancellor Dennis Walcott warned parents, and more children will likely fail. For the first time the state-mandated tests will be aligned with the new Common Core standards and, Walcott says, "will be more difficult to pass." In a break from the past, however, failing -- scoring a level 1 out of 4 - will not mean automatic holdover for children in grades 3 to 8.
Instead, the chancellor said in a letter to parents, the DOE "will look at students' overall scores-how many questions each student got right. Students with the lowest scores will be recommended for summer school."
Since 2004 when Mayor Bloomberg ended so-called "social promotion," all students who scored a 1 on either the reading or math exam were sent to summer school. This year students who score in the bottom 10 percent will be required to go to summer school and retake the exams in August, NY1 reports. The city anticipates that the number of students requiring summer classes to be promoted to the next grade will be about the same as last year.
The yearly high-stakes tests also affect admission to selective middle and high schools. Cut-off scores for acceptance may be lower this year, but Walcott said, "students who earn the highest scores-even if those scores are lower than in past years-will still have access to screened middle and high schools."
Students this year will have to read and respond to longer and more challenging passages than in previous years. Third graders will be expected to read 500-600 word excerpts from books such as Roald Dahl's James and the Giant Peach or The Story of Ruby Bridges by Robert Coles. Eighth graders will read 900-1,000 word passages from classics such as The Adventures of Tom Sawyer or Richard Wright’s Native Son. Third and 4th graders will have less time to complete the math exams than on previous years' tests. Test guides for every grade's reading and math exams are posted on the state education department's website.
This year's ELA (English Language Arts) exams will be given on April 16-18; math tests will be the following week, April 24-26.
PS 234 and PS 276, two popular downtown elementary schools, will face kindergarten waitlists again this year, DNAinfo reports.
The due date for kindergarten applications is March 1 and already PS 234 has 166 kindergarten applicants, well over the 125 student limit, Magda Lenski, the school's parent coordinator, told DNAinfo. At PS 276, more than 130 kids have applied. The school was designed for 75 kindergartners.
When more children apply than there are slots available, a lottery is held and students who aren't chosen are placed on a waitlist. There is always movement on the waitlists as families move or choose to go to private schools or gifted and talented programs. Last year the waitlisted students at PS 234 and PS 276 all got seats by June, largely because both schools opened additional kindergarten classes. That can't continue to happen, the schools say. At PS 276, parents petitioned the Education Department to find additional schools for kindergartners. Principal Terri Ruyter suggested that the school may need to lose its two pre-kindergarten classrooms to make space, DNAinfo reports.
The good news for parents is that other downtown schools do have space. The new Peck Slip School, temporarily housed in Tweed, has only 13 kindergarten applications so far and plans to take in 50 students. The Spruce Street School has 50 applicants so far for 50 spots and PS 89 has 62 applicants for 75 spots, according to DNAinfo. Families may also apply to PS 150, an unzoned school in Tribeca which gives priority to students from downtown neighborhoods.