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On the eve of the release of this year's New York state exam scores for 3rd-8th graders, city, state and national education officials attempted to cushion the blow of what is expected to be a significant drop in test scores.
City and state education departments have been warning parents for months that student proficency rates would drop this year, after the state introduced new tests aligned with the Common Core. The Common Core is a set of national education standards that have been adopted by 46 states and are supported by the nation's education secretary, Arne Duncan.
The drop was confirmed today by Duncan, who joined state Education Commissioner John King and city Chief Academic Officer Shael Polakow-Suransky on a conference call with reporters. They said that although test scores will dip, New Yorkers should take a long view and recognize that adopting the Common Core standards will better prepare students for success after high school.
“As a country we’ve had low standards for decades,” Duncan said. “It is the right thing to move forward, it isn’t easy.”
The Education Department's new directory of the city's 413 high schools, and 705 programs, delivers an official hit to the autonomy of "audition" schools in selecting their future students.
A few months ago, parents and administrators were furious when the DOE assigned both general and special education students who did not audition to selective arts schools. The 2013-14 high school directory clarifies that policy, among others.
On page 5 of the directory, which went home with rising 8th graders last week, an astericked note next to the admissions methods for audition schools explains that the DOE's Office of Enrollment reserves the right to place students in audition programs if the school has not ranked enough students to fill their seats. That's a change from the admissions policy stated in last year's high school directory on page 8 which said: "You must audition to be eligible for admission."
"The revised screening policy at audition schools had been in place prior to this year, and based on feedback, we wanted to be even more public about it. We always want to build on our record of transparency in our admissions and enrollment policies," said DOE spokesperson Devon Puglia.
The city plans to open 29 new dual language programs in elementary, middle and high schools in September, according to a list of new programs released by the Department of Education. New York City's public school students speak over 185 languages at home, as reported in the city's recent Internal Budget Office audit of city schools, and there are dual language programs in at least a half-dozen of those languages.
Dual language programs offer English speakers the opportunity to learn a second language alongside native speakers of another language who become proficient in both English and their native tongue. Ten percent of the city's more than 150,000 English language learners were in dual language programs in 2011, according to the IBO.
Spanish is the second-most common language spoken at home -- nearly a quarter of New Yorkers are native Spanish speakers -- and many of the city's new and established dual language programs are in Spanish. But the programs opening this fall will expand the city's dual language offerings to include three languages not offered previously in elementary school. The Polish enclave of Greenpoint, Brooklyn will get a Polish dual language program at PS 34 Oliver H. Perry; PS 214 in East New York will open a Bengali program; and PS/IS 30 Mary White Ovington in Bay Ridge will start an Arabic program. A handful of new Chinese programs are in the works for the fall, as well.
Today is the first day of Regents exams for New York students; testing continues through June 20. Wondering what it all means? Schoolbook's Patricia Willens interviewed Kim Nauer, who directs the education project at the Center for New York City Affairs at the New School and is an Insideschools contributor. Here's the scoop on the current state of the exams and what the future holds.
"Why does the state give the Regents tests? What is the goal?
We actually have one of the oldest exams systems in the country. It was always meant to be an exit exam so that we know that students have a certain amount of knowledge before leaving high school. And it’s still that. In fact that role has become more important because with the focus on standardized testing the Regents are essentially the standardized tests for high school. They are a series of tests that gives the state confidence that we’re actually graduating students with a minimum level of knowledge to succeed in the world.
What are the minimum and maximum numbers of Regents a student can take?
In New York State there are five Regents exams you are required to take. You must score a 65 or over to pass. The exams include English, which kids typically take in their junior year, one mathematics exam, two social studies exams — Global History/Geography and U.S. History and Government — and then one science exam. Usually, kids take Earth Science or Living Environment. That’s typically what kids do in New York City and they graduate with what’s called a Regents Diploma. They can’t graduate without it. There are exceptions or accommodations for some special education students."
Read more from the education project at the Center for New York City Affairs, including a guide for students and parents filling out the FAFSA.
Almost one-third of the families whose four-year-olds applied for pre-kindergarten did not win a spot in any public school program, according to the Education Department, which sent offer letters to families this week.
This spring, 30,118 kids applied for 23,405 full and half-day seats in public schools and 29.4 percent of them did not get an offer. That percentage is slightly lower than last year, when 30.3% did not get pre-k offers for school-based programs.
The DOE is offering about 1,500 more school-based, full-day seats for the 2013-2014 school year than it did last fall, and the city plans to continue to grow the number of pre-k seats by a total of 4,000 in the next few years, the DOE spokesperson said. But even those additional seats would not satisfy this year's demand. Furthermore, the number of families seeking public school pre-k seats is trending up: from 28,815 in 2011 and 29,072 in 2012 to more than 30,000 this year.
If your child is one of the nearly 7,000 kids who did not get a pre-k offer, you still have some options. About 1,500 full-day pre-k seats remain unfilled at public schools, according to the DOE. Nearly all of the half-day morning seats are filled but 600 seats remain unfilled in afternoon pre-k programs. A list of schools with open seats is available on the DOE website [PDF]. And thousands of seats are still available through programs in Community Based Organizations (CBOs), according to a DOE spokesperson, who said that more than 60% of the city's pre-k seats are provided by CBOs.
Many New York City families who send their children to neighborhood elementary schools are in for a rude awakening when their child reaches 5th grade and they learn that choosing a middle school is not so straightforward. Applying to middle school can be just as nerve-wracking and time consuming as applying to college.
“Kind of feels like you’re going to see Oz behind the curtain,” said a Cobble Hill dad in District 15, whose 5th grader didn't get accepted by any of the schools he applied to. “Who is making these decisions? The DOE? The middle schools?”
The answer? It depends on where you live.
Unlike high school admissions – a mostly uniform, citywide process – the middle school process is decentralized and different rules apply in different districts.
Public Advocate Bill de Blasio wants every New York City high school to have a direct link to colleges, apprenticeship programs and businesses, he said in a speech this morning at the Center for New York City Affairs at The New School. As he gears up for a mayoral run this fall, de Blasio criticized Mayor Bloomberg for policies that he says have deepened the rift between rich and poor in New York City; de Blasio proposed educational improvements to shrink the gap.
Part of de Blasio's plan to improve the quality of life for half of the New Yorkers that he said currently live near or below the poverty line is to expand career training to create a direct link between city high schools and CUNY to solid middle class jobs in fields like technology, health and building maintenance. Right now, de Blasio said, living wage jobs in those fields are "dominated" by people who come from outside of New York. "Let's set a goal that within eight years, the majority of skilled technology sector jobs in this city will be filled by those educated in New York City schools," de Blasio said.
The kids in Manhattan's richest neighborhoods are even more gifted than we imagined two weeks ago--and poor kids still don't make the grade.
At least that's according to the latest results of the city's Gifted & Talent exam--recalculated after Pearson testing company botched the original grading of the exam.
The new data shows that 40 percent more prospective kindergartners in District 2, which includes the East Side of Manhattan and the West Side south of 59th Street, qualified for citywide gifted programs than they did in April--593 compared to 418. Children must score in the 97th percentile or higher to be considered for a citywide gifted program.
However, there are far more children who qualify than seats: Citywide, 2,771 children made the cut, but there are only about 220 kindergarten seats available in the city's five citywide gifted programs after seats are assigned to qualifying siblings who get first dibs.
The rescoring didn't help many kids in low-income districts. The numbers went ever-so-slightly above the originally reported test scores – just four prospective kindergartners from District 7 in the South Bronx qualified for the citywide program, only two more than Pearson originally reported. In District 23 in the Ocean Hill - Brownsville section of Brooklyn, five qualified, compared to just one two weeks ago.
This year, The DOE adopted a new assessment -- the Naglieri Non-verbal Ability Test -- in an attempt to level the playing field for families who don't have access to tutoring for their four year olds. Children from low-income neighborhoods -- such as D7 and D23 -- are historically under-represented in G&T programs.
In total, 4,700 more children qualified for district or citywide G & T programs than originally reported. Out of the 36,000 kids entering kindergarten through 3rd grade who took the G & T test, 32.4% made the cutoff for either district and citywide programs, according to the DOE’s updated numbers. Children who score in the 90th percentile are eligible for district gifted programs.
Here are detailed break downs of the revised test score results, via the DOE: test scores by district (PDF), test scores compared to last year (PDF), and the district tallies of kids who scored in the 99th percentile (PDF).
Fourteen-year-old Marc Brandon Gross, is what's called a “2E,” or twice-exceptional, child: he is a talented singer, dancer and actor who can memorize a script in two days that would take most people two weeks to learn, says his mother Maria Gross. But Marc has trouble communicating and socializing because he is on the autism spectrum.
Marc is thriving as a freshman Talent Unlimited High School -- a sign that children with special needs can be successfully integrated into the city's selective high schools. “They bend over backwards to make sure his needs are met,” says Gross.
While Marc should be a poster child for the Department of Education's new push to enroll more special needs children at the city's selective high schools, his mother is angry that the city is bending the rules for admission to schools like his. Marc passed the demanding audition for the musical theater program last year, but some of the students admitted this year did not.
“That's not right. It's not fair, especially not fair to my kid” who played by the rules, Gross says. At Talent Unlimited, more than 45 students (including 13 special needs students) were admitted who either did not audition or didn't meet the school's audition standards.
Gross contacted Insideschools to tell Marc's story after hearing that the city placed more than 1,300 students in 71 of the city’s selective high schools as part of a double-pronged effort to match more students to their round one high school picks and to ensure that schools meet the city’s new special education quotas.
Marc has speech and language disabilities as well as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). The school offers intensive support: he is in team-teaching classes with two teachers, one of whom is certified in special education. He gets extra help in math and English. The school also provides after-school academic tutoring. The guidance counselor arranged a special peer support group to help Marc work on his socializing skills.
Marc's family expected him to attend high school at School for Language and Communication Development (SLCD), the school for special needs children where he went from kindergarten through 8th grade. But a guidance counselor at SLCD suggested he try out for a public performing arts high schools.
Just like thousands of other aspiring performing artists, Marc practiced for weeks and attended rounds of auditions to try out for four of the city’s audition schools: Talent Unlimited, Frank Sinatra, Professional Performing Arts School and LaGuardia. All four schools require auditions for entrance but do not have academic screens. Yet, this year DOE officials said the city assigned students to both Talent Unlimited and Frank Sinatra based on test scores, rather than artistic ability.
Competition at the city's performing arts schools is fierce; 1,500 students typically audition for 125 seats at Talent Unlimited.
Gross is proud to say her son went through the “appropriate channels of auditioning,” and was awarded a seat. And now Gross is concerned that the admission of dozens of students who did not meet Talent Unlimited’s audition standards – or did not even try out – will compromise the integrity of the program.
Because of his IEP, Marc still struggles academically, Gross says, but he is excited to get up and go to school everyday. "My kid loves the school because everyone is at his level. They can sing, they can dance, and they can act."
Watch video of Marc performing at Talent Unlimited, courtesy of his sister Lauren Gross:
The Department of Education is forcing most of the city’s selective high schools to accept a certain percentage of special needs students, even, in some cases, if they don't meet the eligibility requirements. Both general and special education students were assigned to top performing arts programs even though they didn't audition, infuriating some parents whose children did.
Beacon High School, Eleanor Roosevelt High School, Professional Performing Arts are among the selective schools that have been assigned special needs students outside the regular admissions process, school officials said; Frank Sinatra High School and Talented Unlimited were among the selective schools that have been assigned general education students as well.
In all, the Department of Education has assigned students not chosen by the schools to about 70 different screened programs for the 2013-14 academic year, said Marc Sternberg, senior deputy chancellor for strategy and policy. Sternberg said most of these programs were assigned special needs children; a few schools with unfilled seats were also assigned general education students. In a follow-up story, the New York Post reported: "about 960 general-ed kids and 300 special-ed students were assigned," to 71 schools.
This policy is part of an effort to give children with disabilities more access to demanding academic and arts programs and to ensure that screened schools get the "right number" of students, said Sternberg.
“This is about equity and access,” Sternberg said in a telephone interview. “We want to make sure that all students across the spectrum have access to these very fine schools.”