New York City Mayor: Scrap the Specialized High School Placement Assessment

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio wrote an op/ed for Chalkbeat over the weekend that called for changes in how New York City Schools assesses middle school students for placement in their eight advanced placement high schools. He said the high-stakes placement assessment that is used has disproportionately kept black and Latino students from being placed in those high schools and it needs to be scrapped.

He wrote:

I visit schools across this city and it never fails to energize me. The talent out there is outstanding. The students overflow with promise. But many of the smart kids I meet aren’t getting in to our city’s most prestigious high schools. In fact, they’re being locked out.

The problem is clear. Eight of our most renowned high schools – including Stuyvesant High School, Bronx High School of Science and Brooklyn Technical High School – rely on a single, high-stakes exam. The Specialized High School Admissions Test isn’t just flawed – it’s a roadblock to justice, progress and academic excellence.

If we want this to be the fairest big city in America, we need to scrap the SHSAT and start over.

Let’s select students for our top public high schools in a manner that best reflects the talent these students have, and the reality of who lives in New York City. Let’s have top-flight public high schools that are fair and represent the highest academic standards.

He said New York City Schools would start to open more spaces in these high schools for economically disadvantaged students and minority students who missed the cut-off.

Starting in September 2019, we’ll expand the Discovery Program to offer 20 percent of specialized high school seats to economically disadvantaged students who just missed the test cut-off.

This will immediately bring a wider variety of high-performing students, from a wider number of middle schools, to the specialized high schools. For example, the percentage of black and Latino students receiving offers will almost double, to around 16 percent from around 9 percent. The number of middle schools represented will go from around 310 to around 400.

He said he was going to work with the New York Legislature to replace the assessment with a different placement process:

For a deeper solution, we will fight alongside our partners in the Assembly and Senate to replace the SHSAT with a new admissions process, selecting students based on a combination of the student’s rank in their middle school and their results in the statewide tests that all middle school children take.

Read his entire op/ed.

Having Elementary Teachers Specialize Probably Isn’t a Good Thing

Chalkbeat reported on a New York City Schools initiative to have more elementary school teachers specialize in math; an effort geared toward making more students ready to take Algebra.

Two recent studies released, Chalkbeat notes, indicate this will likely hurt more than it helps.

Chalkbeat‘s Alex Zimmerman writes:

The expansion comes as accumulating research casts doubt on the approach. A study recently published by the peer-reviewed American Economic Review found that students perform worse on both high- and low-stakes tests after elementary school teachers specialized in subjects including math.

To measure the effects of reconfiguring elementary school teaching, Roland Fryer, an economics professor at Harvard who has studied schools extensively, randomly assigned 23 Houston elementary schools to departmentalize instruction in math, science, social studies, and reading.

At those schools, principals assigned teachers to teach what observations and statistical measures suggested were their strongest subjects. But after two years of specialized instruction, students lost over a month of learning compared with their peers who attended schools that did not make the changes.

Zimmerman discusses another study:

A second recent study based on statewide data from North Carolina also points to the potential pitfalls of specialization. That research, which has not been formally peer reviewed, looked at teachers who transitioned from being general classroom teachers to specialists and compared the effect on student test scores.

While the researchers found some positive effects in science, specialization hurt student learning in many subjects and grade levels — including fifth grade math.

“This is the second study — in different locations and with different research designs — to show some negative results for subject-area specialization,” write Kevin Bastian, a researcher at the University of North Carolina, and Kevin Fortner, of Georgia State University. “It is fair to conclude that specialization is not yet leading to its theorized payoff.”

Read the whole thing.

NYC Schools told Zimmerman that what those studies found is not true in New York City, and they cited a non-peer reviewed study whose author said was theoretical. (This is what “evidence-based” apparently now means.)

Another instance of dataless reform, but sure, jump right in.

New York City Shouldn’t Get Excited About Its Test Scores

Photo credit: Ephemeral New York

Photo credit: Ephemeral New York

New York City students showed improvement on this year’s Common Core assessment. Susan Edleman with The New York Post said… don’t get too excited.

Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña bragged about an increase in the number of city kids passing the state Common Core tests — but that success may have more to do with the exams being made easier than with any real improvements in learning.

For the third consecutive year, the state has slashed the number of points required to be found “proficient” on the important exams, The Post has learned.

The tests also had fewer questions and the students were given unlimited time to finish — further raising doubts that this year’s rise in passing grades reflects progress.

So don’t let Common Core advocates point to New York City as a sign of progress that Common Core is accomplishing what they promised. There is no evidence that is the case.

The amount of spin is directly proportional to the size of the screw-up

I had to share this op/ed in the New York Post by David Bloomfield who is a professor of Education, Law and Policy at Brooklyn College and the CUNY Graduate Center. 

An excerpt:

Maybe next year’s expensive Common Core tests will include this political axiom: The amount of spin is directly proportional to the size of the screw-up.

Last week we saw a lot of spin.

The education/political establishment went into overdrive, with defensive statements from Education Secretary Arne Duncan, state Commissioner John King and Chancellor Dennis Walcott, among others. All assured us that the bitter medicine of poor test scores is good for us and good for our kids. We were told to ignore their decade-long assertions of educational success and take it on faith that now things will get better.

King even went so far as to warn, “There are those who will use the change in students’ proficiency rates to attack teachers and principals.”

But, as far as I know, no one is attacking educators for this debacle. The blame should be shouldered, not deflected, by the edu-pols who got us into this.

The Common Core is a set of national standards meant to deepen students’ skills and knowledge beyond what is currently taught. By “currently taught,” I mean teaching-to-the-test promoted by these and other political appointees, plus elected officials like Mayor Bloomberg, who put raising scores above all.

Prior to the Common Core, the federal No Child Left Behind law led states to develop tests designed to produce artificially high test scores — which politicians wanted, but was inconveniently out of whack with what students need to succeed in modern, well-paying jobs.

Now Duncan says those scores were “lies” even though he and his colleagues originally pushed that agenda. They introduced the Common Core and the new tests as a corrective to NCLB.

This campaign of self-inoculation by our political elite against widespread disappointment should not protect them. They got us into this. We must reject their spin.

The problem is that we suffer from the same sense of powerlessness that infects politics in general. Bloomberg and state Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch are two of the richest people in America. Over-testing is the result of exam-centric evaluation of schools and teachers bankrolled by President Obama and Bill Gates, our most politically and financially powerful citizens.

Your Kids Can’t Handle the Common Core, Put Them in Pre-K


And it begins…. From SchoolBook a blog about New York City Schools:

With the pre-kindergarten application season officially underway, Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott was touting the early childhood program as an important first step in molding students under the Common Core learning standards. The key, he said, is fostering independence in the classroom at a young age….

…“The pre-K classroom is aligned to the Common Core very seamlessly in the sense that children are engaged in hands-on learning,” she said. “Our teachers work very hard to provide those real-life experiences,” she said, such as taking field trips.

Not to go all conspiracy theorist on you, but this is the natural next step to getting kids in government schools at an earlier age.  Push early childhood education because it is important to get kids ready for the Common Core.  See how it’s stressing out Kindergarteners?  Well you can help prevent that if you would just enroll your child in pre-school or an argument along those lines except they wouldn’t use the word “stress.”  They’d probably say something like this – “the standards are too rigorous for your kindergarten student without the preparation that pre-K gives, so it is essential for you to enroll your child.” (Ignore the fact the Common Core State Standards are not developmentally appropriate for kindergarteners.)  How soon will it end up being compulsory?

We also have President Obama who in his State of the Union address touted early childhood education:

But none of it will matter unless we also equip our citizens with the skills and training to fill those jobs.

And that has to start at the earliest possible age. You know, study after study shows that the sooner a child begins learning, the better he or she does down the road.

But today, fewer than three in ten 4-year-olds are enrolled in a high-quality preschool program. Most middle-class parents can’t afford a few hundred bucks a week for private preschool. And for poor kids who need help the most, this lack of access to preschool education can shadow them for the rest of their lives. So, tonight, I propose working with states to make high-quality preschool available to every single child in America.

And forget those private preschools… put them in government-run schools.  That way they can prepare them to be “college and career-ready” and make sure your child is prepared for the workforce.

All the while subverting the key role of parents at such a crucial age.

Update: Just saw this article at The Christian Post written by Napp Nazworth.  He interviewed an early childhood education expert, Dr. Nancy Carlsson-Paige.  She said:

“I’m very concerned about the harm that is created when you put inappropriate expectations on a nation of young children, you give them all kinds of damaging messages as well as increasingly eliminate their opportunities for healthy and genuine learning,” Carlsson-Paige said.

Carlsson-Paige is professor emerita at Lesley University, where she taught for 30 years. Her newest book is Taking Back Childhood: A Proven Roadmap for Raising Confident, Creative, Compassionate Kids.

In 2010, she was one of over 500 early childhood experts who signed a petition warning that Common Core would be harmful to young children.

The Common Core standards do not reflect the “development characteristics and needs of young children. They are imposing expectations on young children that are inappropriate in a variety of ways,” she said.

One of the main problems, Carlsson-Paige believes, is the Common Core requires K-3 children to “learn specific content, facts and skills at certain ages.” But children, especially young children, develop at different rates. To get children to learn the same things at the same time, teachers must “drill them,” which has resulted in “an enormous increase in direct teaching and direct instruction.”

In states that have embraced the Common Core, the direct instruction is replacing proven techniques that early childhood education experts advocate.

“The direct instruction has replaced hands on, active learning and play, which really are the bedrock, or cornerstone activities of early childhood that really solidify learning,” Carlsson-Paige explained. “Children learn through active engagement and play in the early years. Skilled teachers know how to connect skills appropriately to play as they see what children are doing and where they are on the developmental spectrum.”

The direct instruction is damaging to children, she said, because it encourages children to believe that “the information is outside of themselves, rather than they have a capacity construct it from within.

Photo Credit: Ken Colwell via Flickr (CC-By-NC-SA 2.0)

Standards Stressing Kindergarteners Out

27.1n014Parents here is what the Common Core is doing to your children.

From the New York Post:

Way beyond the ABCs, crayons and building blocks, the city Department of Education now wants 4- and 5-year-olds to write “informative/explanatory reports” and demonstrate “algebraic thinking.”

Children who barely know how to write the alphabet or add 2 and 2 are expected to write topic sentences and use diagrams to illustrate math equations.

“For the most part, it’s way over their heads,” a Brooklyn teacher said. “It’s too much for them. They’re babies!”

In a kindergarten class in Red Hook, Brooklyn, three children broke down and sobbed on separate days last week, another teacher told The Post.

When one girl cried, “I can’t do it,” classmates rubbed her back, telling her, “That’s OK.”

“This is causing a lot of anxiety,” the teacher said. “Kindergarten should be happy and playful. It should be art and dancing and singing and learning how to take turns. Instead, it’s frustrating and disheartening.”

The city has adopted national standards called the Common Core, which dramatically raise the bar on what kids in grades K through 12 should know.

The jargon is new, too. Teachers rate each student’s performance as “novice,” “apprentice,” “practitioner” or “expert.”

Kindergartners are introduced to “informational texts” read aloud, such as “Garden Helpers,” a National Geographic tale about useful pests.

After three weeks, kids have to “write a book about what they’ve learned,” with a drawing and sentences explaining the topic.

In math, kids tackle concepts like “tally chart,” “combination,” and “commutative property,” DOE records show.

Read the rest.

Folks this isn’t rigorous.  This is INSANE and shows that the Common Core ELA and Math Standards were written by those who don’t have an iota of a clue about basic child development.  Have they read Erik Erickson’s stages of social-emotional development and Piaget’s stages of cognitive development?

Then there’s language development.  Here are some benchmarks for a typical five year-old.

  • Can use many descriptive words spontaneously-both adjectives and adverbs
  • Knows common opposites: big-little, hard-soft, heave-light, etc
  • Has number concepts of 4 or more
  • Can count to ten
  • Speech should be completely intelligible, in spite of articulation problems
  • Should have all vowels and the consonants, m,p,b,h,w,k,g,t,d,n,ng,y (yellow)
  • Should be able to repeat sentences as long as nine words
  • Should be able to define common objects in terms of use (hat, shoe, chair)
  • Should be able to follow three commands given without interruptions
  • Should know his age
  • Should have simple time concepts: morning, afternoon, night, day, later, after, while
  • Tomorrow, yesterday, today
  • Should be using fairly long sentences and should use some compound and some complex sentences
  • Speech on the whole should be grammatically correct

And for a six year-old:

  • In addition to the above consonants these should be mastered: f, v, sh, zh, th,1
  • He should have concepts of 7
  • Speech should be completely intelligible and socially useful
  • Should be able to tell one a rather connected story about a picture, seeing relationships
  • Between objects and happenings

At seven years-of-age:

  • Should have mastered the consonants s-z, r, voiceless th, ch, wh, and the soft g as in George
  • Should handle opposite analogies easily: girl-boy, man-woman, flies-swims, blunt-sharp short-long, sweet-sour, etc
  • Understands such terms as: alike, different, beginning, end, etc
  • Should be able to tell time to quarter hour
  • Should be able to do simple reading and to write or print many words

I hope this angers you.  It does me.


If you think the frustration will stop in Kindergarten, think again.  Perhaps this is a case of unintended consequences.  More than likely it’ll be the basis for a push for earlier and earlier government intervention into early childhood.

The Anti-Testing Rebellion

Standardized-TestingIs sweeping the nation.  In Texas 445 school districts have joined together in adopting a resolution calling on their state lawmakers to decrease the emphasis on high-stakes standardized testing.  Robert Scott, the Texas Education Commissioner back in February said that the focus on high stakes testing has become a “perversion” of what policymakers had intended.

Schools, parents and students are tiring of life in public schools being centered around tests – practice tests, pre-tests, revise tests, prep tests, and on and on and on.

Is there any education actually going on?

This isn’t just limited to Texas.  Stephanie Banchero in the Wall Street Journal noted that more than 500 youth in Everett, WA skipped state exams in protest early last month.  Parents of students in New York City Schools are getting involved.  Parents in Florida are signing a petition against the use of FCAT, Florida’s standardized test.  I noted in mid-May that if kids failed that particular test all the state of Florida was going to do was lower the standard.  How about addressing the problem?

Michael Benjamin in the New York Post writes that the rebellion in New York isn’t student driven, but union-driven.

This is all part of the broader assault on the No Child Left Behind law and on the Obama administration’s mandate tying teacher evaluations to achievement tests. It’s not student-driven, it’s union-driven.

Yes, “parent” groups oppose “high-stakes” testing, claiming that the tests are useless and only serve to stress out students. But these are mostly fronts for the United Federation of Teachers or other unions — which are really out to stop student-test data from being used to expose some teachers as unfit.

They can’t admit publicly that they oppose any serious measure of teacher competence, so they work to undermine each measure that comes along. They’ll blame poverty, race and now “error-plagued” tests to explain why students don’t perform well on state and federal assessments.

For themselves, many teachers and administrators truly worry that test results will unfairly make them look bad. Intentionally or not, some project those fears onto students, feeding student anxiety and parental angst.

While I’m sure that is partly, if not entirely true, it is also true in that in classrooms across this nation the TEST is what is being taught.  Is this really the type of education we want our kids to have?  Also, it demonstrates that standardized tests at the state level and/or the federal level simply don’t have the impact they had hoped they would have.  It’s time for something new… it’s time for some local innovation and local solutions.