NYC G&T Admissions Process Has Begun!

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For those of you living in NYC, the DOE just posted its calendar laying out the key dates for the 2014-2015 school year. CLICK HERE to see the calendar online. Here are some of the key dates to be aware of:

October 7 – November 8 – You can request that your child be tested by going to the DOE website. The new G&T Handbooks should be out October 7.

October 16 – 24 – The DOE will hold information sessions in each borough of Manhattan. Check the calendar to see when there will be a session near you!

January 6 – February 5, 2014 – If your K – 2nd grade child is already in a NYC public school, his or her G&T assessment will take place at school sites around the city.

January 4, 5, 11, 12, 18, 19, 25, 26, 2014 – Pre-K and non-public school students’ G&T assessment is administered at selected sites

* NOTE – Pre-K families who are applying to Hunter College Elementary – they will have Round 2 testing January 28-31. You may want to avoid choosing the January 25 – 26 weekend to avoid having so much testing for your child in such a short period.

Early April, 2014 – Score reports and applications are sent to eligible students. Between this date and April 18, you will be able to tour Citywide and District G&T schools to decide which ones to list as your choices.

April 18, 2014 – Application Deadline

Week of May 26, 2014 – Decision letters mailed to families!

Week of June 9, 2014 – Deadline to register for placement offers.

Look for the new G&T Handbooks to be out around October 7, 2013. One of the changes we are expecting is that the two tests given for G&T placement – the OLSAT and the NNAT2 – will each count for 50% of a child’s overall score. Last year, the NNAT was 65% and the OLSAT was 35%. For more information on this, CLICK HERE.

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Breast-Feeding and Intelligence Links Tighten, by Avery Johnson

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In this article, by Avery Johnson, we learn that children’s IQ scores are higher if they nurse until at least 1 year old. If you would like to read the article in the Wall Street Journal, CLICK HERE. It is hard to know if the conclusions from this study are true, and they are just talking about a 4-point increase. We know there are many other things that impact a child’s IQ – including raising them in high-language households, which can lead to a 38 point increase in IQ scores. Still, with this information about breast feeding (along with all the other benefits we know it offers children), the logical conclusion is that if you can manage it, it is a good thing to do. When my kids were born, I had to go back to work after 3 months, so I wasn’t able to breast feed past 6 months. But as moms, we do the best we can, and that goes for breastfeeding and everything else we do for our kids throughout their lives!

Breast-feeding longer can make children smarter. That’s the conclusion of a study published Monday in JAMA Pediatrics, a Journal of the American Medical Association.

In many ways, the study won’t surprise proponents of breast-feeding, who have long posited a connection between nursing and cognition and now have an additional piece of research to back up their argument. Skeptics could likely stick to the view that what matters most is how smart a baby’s mom is, or that social pressure to breast-feed can have its own problems for children’s development by creating stressed-out parents. However, the findings are likely to add muscle to public health advocates’ push to increase breast-feeding rates, which start out around 75% but slump to an average of 25% at a baby’s first birthday, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Previous studies on the topic have had difficulty adjusting for all other factors that might influence a child’s IQ, were limited by their small size or didn’t account for length of nursing, said Mandy Belfort, the JAMA study’s lead author and assistant professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School.

The JAMA study isn’t the first to examine a link between nursing and intelligence, but researchers say it is more conclusive because of its size and how it has isolated variables such as the mother’s IQ and the child’s upbringing. The researchers examined and rated each child’s environment based on factors such as how many books are available, and gave each mother an IQ test. They also asked detailed questions about factors that might influence IQ, such as child care, income and parental education. They then subtracted those factors using a statistical model. Dr. Belfort said she hopes that “what we have left is the true connection” with nursing and IQ.

Breast-feeding is hard to study in a randomized trial because it is unethical to put some children in the non- group, Dr. Belfort said, which leaves researchers with observational studies such as the one she conducted. Researchers at Boston Children’s hospital followed 1,312 babies and mothers from 1999 to 2010. They found out how many of those children were still consuming their mothers’ milk at their first birthday, and then tested the children’s intelligence at ages 3 and 7.

Intelligence is a strange brew of nature and nurture and isolating one factor is challenging. Breast-feeding in the first place has a lot to do with class and wealth, with richer, better educated women typically opting to make the effort to nurse their babies.

Children who were still nursing after a year had higher receptive language scores at age 3, which means they understood what was being said to them better than their formula-fed peers. At age 7, the breast-fed children scored higher on verbal and nonverbal intelligence tests.

In 3 year olds, every month of breast-feeding raised cognition scores by an average of .21 point. Each month of breast-feeding was associated with a .35 more verbal IQ point and a .29 more nonverbal point in the 7 year olds. A full year of nursing would boost a child’s IQ by about 4 points over a child who didn’t nurse, said Dr. Belfort, a significant bump considering that IQs average around 100. That is for children getting some breastmilk in their diets; those consuming only breastmilk before starting to eat solid foods around six months of age saw even greater advantages.

“For an individual person, it would be hard to tell a two or three point difference in IQ, but it would matter a lot for society,” said Dr. Belfort. “If we can shift the IQ up, we would have to invest less resources at the low end.” Meaning that with improved IQ scores across the board, less funding would have to be spent on remedial education programs.

Dr. Amy Tuteur, an obstetrician who writes a blog called skepticalob.com, is unconvinced by a four-point increase in IQ, saying the bump needs to be bigger to prove that it isn’t just random variation. “Intelligence is multifactoral and the idea that any one thing can make a big difference right away makes me skeptical,” she said. “American IQ has been increasing steadily, it rose when breast-feeding rates were going down and it rose when breast-feeding rates were going up.”

The possible link between breast milk and brain development is only starting to be teased out. Some theories suggest that it isn’t the content of the milk but the bond between mother and child developed while nursing that accounts for some of the boost. Other ideas hinge on nutrients found in breast milk such as DHA and ARA, which are fatty acids linked to brain development. Some formula companies put DHA and ARA in their offerings.

“There are nutrients in breastmilk that don’t really exist anywhere else, and we don’t fully know why,” says Dimitri Christakis, a pediatrician at Seattle Children’s Hospital Research Institute and wasn’t involved in the research.

He wrote an editorial in JAMA pediatrics on the study and leads an advocacy group called the Global Breast-feeding Initiative. In the editorial he contends the JAMA study should put skepticism to rest about whether breast-feeding is best for brain development and that society should make it easier and more acceptable for moms to nurse.

For Amra Chudleigh-Neal of Thousand Oaks, Calif., intelligence is just one more reason for her to breast-feed her 6-week old daughter. She said her older child, now 7, has above average IQ, which Ms. Chudleigh-Neal said could be in part because she exclusively breast-fed until her daughter was 6- months old.

“It tends to be a little more of a sacrifice to nurse the second child, you think ‘oh my gosh is it really worth it’ but looking back with my older child I believe it did make a difference,” she said. Ms. Chudleigh-Neal receives extensive support from The Pump Station, a Los Angeles-area nursing resource center that helps with things like connecting moms to lactation professionals.

Not everyone can breast-feed successfully, and that needn’t make parents worry. “Talk to your baby, hold your baby and read to your baby,” Dr. Belfort said. “There are so many different factors in a child’s development.”

One difficulty in studying breast milk is that every feeding can vary based on the mother and what she has eaten. So the Boston researchers also examined a component in mothers’ diets that might be responsible for children’s brain development: fish, which contains DHA.

The authors found that more than two or more servings of fish per week seemed to confer IQ benefits, but that boost in children’s cognition wasn’t statistically significant.

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How to Get Your Kid to Bed on Time, by Sumathi Reddy

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I always love the articles Sumathi Reddy writes for the Wall Street Journal and this one is no exception. It can be found at the WSJ Website by CLICKING HERE if you would like to read it there. This is something that I’m always telling parents whose children will be tested soon – get your child on a regular sleep schedule and stick to it in the weeks leading up to the test. It is especially important not to disrupt your child’s sleep schedule the weekend before the big test. So if a test is on Monday, don’t let your child stay up an extra hour on Friday or Saturday night! This can impact test scores. There’s great advice in this article, so I hope you’ll take the time to read it!

Going to bed at the same time every night could give your child’s brain a boost, a recent study found.

Researchers at University College London found that when 3-year-olds have a regular bedtime they perform better on cognitive tests administered at age 7 than children whose bedtimes weren’t consistent. The findings represent a new twist on an expanding body of research showing that inadequate sleep in children and adolescents hurts academic performance and overall health.

The latest study considered other factors that can influence bedtime and cognitive development, such as kids skipping breakfast or having a television in their bedroom. After accounting for these, the study found that going to bed very early or very late didn’t affect cognitive performance, so long as the bedtime was consistent.

“The surprising thing was the later bedtimes weren’t significantly affecting children’s test scores once we took other factors into account,” said Amanda Sacker, director of the International Center for Lifecourse Studies in Society and Health at University College London and a co-author of the study. “I think the message for parents is…maybe a regular bedtime even slightly later is advisable.”

The researchers suggested that having inconsistent bedtimes may hurt a child’s cognitive development by disrupting circadian rhythms. It also might result in sleep deprivation and therefore affect brain plasticity—changes in the synapses and neural pathways—at critical ages of brain development.

Sleep experts often focus largely on how much sleep children get. While that is important, “we tend to not pay as much attention to this issue of circadian disruption,” said Judith Owens, director of sleep medicine at Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, D.C., who wasn’t involved with the study.

Insufficient sleep and irregular bedtimes may each affect cognitive development through different mechanisms, Dr. Owens said. “The kid who has both [problems] may beat even higher risk for these cognitive impairments,” she said.

The study, published online in July in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health, examined data on bedtimes and cognitive scores for 11,178 children.

The children were participants in the U.K.’s Millennium Cohort Study, a nationally representative longterm study of infants born between 2000 and 2002.

Mothers were asked about their children’s bedtimes at 3, 5 and 7 years of age. Nearly 20% of the 3-year-olds didn’t have a regular bedtime. That figure dropped to 9.1% at age 5 and 8.2% at age 7. Mothers were also asked about socioeconomic and demographic characteristics and family routines.

When the children were 7 years old, they received cognitive assessments in reading, math and spatial abilities. The poorest test scores were recorded by children who went to bed very early or very late, and by those who had inconsistent bedtimes, said Dr. Sacker. But once other factors in the home were taken into account only the inconsistent bedtime was associated with lower scores, she said.

A consistent pattern of sleep behavior mattered. “Those who had irregular bedtimes at all three ages had significantly poorer scores than those who had regular bedtimes,” Dr. Sacker said. This was especially true for girls who didn’t establish consistent bedtimes between 3 and 7 years old.

Yvonne Kelly, a co-author of the study and a professor in the department of epidemiology and public health at University College London, said the researchers aren’t sure why girls seemed to be more affected. She noted that the difference in scores between these groups of girls and boys wasn’t statistically significant for the reading and spatial tests, but it was for the math test.

“I don’t think for one moment that boys are immune to these things and girls are more affected,” Dr. Kelly said.

The researchers didn’t have data on the total number of hours children slept overnight because mothers weren’t asked about what time the children woke up.

In general school-age kids—kindergarten through eighth-grade—should be getting about 10 hours of sleep, while 3- and 4-year-olds might need 11 to 13 hours, including day-time naps, said Shalini Paruthi, director of the pediatric sleep and research center at SSM Cardinal Glennon Children’s Medical Center at Saint Louis University.

Dr. Paruthi said the good news from the study is that the majority of the children went to bed at a consistent time, reinforcing advice from sleep specialists. “The younger the child is, the better it is to get into the habit of a regular bedtime,” said Dr. Paruthi, who wasn’t affiliated with the study. She recommends a 15-minute, pre-bedtime routine to help the brain transition from a more alert to a quiet state.

And in order to keep the body’s internal clock in sync with the brain, bedtimes on weekends and in the summer should only stray from the normal time by an hour or less, Dr. Paruthi said. “The internal clock in the brain and the body like to have consistency every day,” she said.

Write to Sumathi Reddy at sumathi.reddy@wsj.com

New research suggests that for young children, having a regular and consistent bed time affects cognitive performance years later.

So how do you get your child to get to sleep at a regular time?

Experts say school-age children — kindergarten through eighth-grade — should be getting about 10 hours of sleep while three- and four-year-olds might need 11 to 13 hours, including daytime naps.

One trap to avoid is putting your child to bed too early. They may not be able to fall asleep, so don’t be surprised when they’re up at the crack of dawn. Putting them down too late, of course, can make it harder for them to fall asleep as well, since they may be overtired.

Other tips:

1. Bed time routines are key. Judith Owens, director of sleep medicine at Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, D.C., says three to four calming and enjoyable activities (bath time, reading a book) make for a routine. Shalini Paruthi, director of the pediatric sleep and research center at SSM Cardinal Glennon Children’s Medical Center at Saint Louis University, says having a routine, even on weekends and in the summer, is important, even if it’s short. “Try to do the usual bedtime routine, just a little faster,” she said.

2. Avoid electronics in the evening, particularly an hour before bedtime or in the bedroom, says Dr. Owens. The light from the screens can inhibit normal melatonin production in the evening, says Dr. Paruthi.

3. Try to keep bedtimes within one hour every night – even on weekends and during the summer. Even more important, wake-up times should be within an hour every day.

4. Make sure your child doesn’t have a sleep disorder. Dr. Paruthi says two frequent and easily treatable disorders are obstructive sleep apnea and restless leg syndrome.

5. Keep the bedroom dark and quiet (night lights are OK). The temperatures should be between 65 and 72 degrees.

6. Finally, try not to use bed time as a punishment and staying up as a reward, says Dr. Owens. It sends the wrong message to children.

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Get Your Child to Eat Vegetables

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In today’s Wall Street Journal, Alison Gopnik writes about how to get kids to eat their vegetables. This is a MUST read for every parent. My children were picky eaters growing up, especially my son. He used to brag that nothing green had ever passed his lips. No matter what we did, we couldn’t get him to eat his vegetables. Today, he struggles with his weight and I am wracked with guilt that I didn’t work harder to inspire him to eat his vegetables. If only I’d read Alison’s article and tried this approach! I encourage everyone to read this and give it a go. If you’d like to read the piece at the Wall Street Journal website, CLICK HERE. The author, Alison Gopnik, has a book called The Scientist in the Crib: What Early Learning Tells Us About the Mind. To order this book on Amazon CLICK HERE. I just ordered it because I find the subject of early cognitive development so fascinating. But we’re getting off the subject here…which is getting kids to voluntarily eat their vegetables!

Before we get to Alison’s article, I also wanted to tell you about a wonderful post on this subject from Ellen Seidman called “9 Ways to Get Kids to Eat Vegetables: Tips From Kids!” She went right to the source – kids – for ideas on how to convince, cajole, or inspire the little ones to eat their veggies. I tried to create a link for it, but it doesn’t seem to be working. So, just Google “Ellen Seidman 9 Ways To Get Kids to Eat Vegetables” and you should find this post. In a nutshell, here’s what she says, but you should really read the article because it is accompanied by beautiful pictures and really cute quotes from kids:

1. Let kids grow veggies themselves. Plant a garden and let them eat what they help grow.
2. Don’t demonize veggies and make them like medicine. Don’t say “you can’t have dessert until you eat your vegetables.”
3. Make delicious salads with veggies. Veggies don’t have to be soggy and boring.
4. Mix veggies into foods kids like. [Karen’s suggestion: Pick up Jessica Seinfeld’s Deceptively Delicious: Simple Secrets to Get Your Kid’s Eating Good Foods to help you do this. I will tell you that Sam (my vegetable-hating son) loved everything I made from this cookbook.]
5. Let kids make foods with vegetables themselves. They will want to eat what they prepare.
6. Explain why veggies help their bodies. [Note from Karen: see information below!]
7. Edamame – kids love it! It’s healthy.
8. Serve cold veggies with Ranch dressing. Kids will eat anything with Ranch dressing on it.

Okay, so here’s Alison’s piece on the science behind getting kids to eat their vegetables:

How to Get Children to Eat Veggies, by Alison Gopnik

To parents, there is no force known to science as powerful as the repulsion between children and vegetables.

Of course, just as supercooling fluids can suspend the law of electrical resistance, melting cheese can suspend the law of vegetable resistance. This is sometimes known as the Pizza Paradox. There is also the Edamame Exception, but this is generally considered to be due to the Snack Uncertainty Principle, by which a crunchy soybean is and is not a vegetable simultaneously. But when melty mozzarella conditions don’t apply, the law of vegetable repulsion would appear to be as immutable as gravity, magnetism or the equally mysterious law of child-godawful mess attraction.

In a new paper in Psychological Science, however, Sarah Gripshover and Ellen Markman of Stanford University have shown that scientists can overcome the child-vegetable repulsive principle. Remarkably, the scientists in question are the children themselves. It turns out that, by giving preschoolers a new theory of nutrition, you can get them to eat more vegetables.

My colleagues and I have argued that very young children construct intuitive theories of the world around them (my first book was called “The Scientist in the Crib”). These theories are coherent, causal representations of how things or people or animals work. Just like scientific theories, they let children make sense of the world, construct predictions and design intelligent actions.

Preschoolers already have some of the elements of an intuitive theory of biology. They understand that invisible germs can make you sick and that eating helps make you healthy, even if they don’t get all the details. One little boy explained about a peer, “He needs more to eat because he is growing long arms.”

The Stanford researchers got teachers to read 4- and 5-year-olds a series of story books for several weeks. The stories gave the children a more detailed but still accessible theory of nutrition. They explained that food is made up of different invisible parts, the equivalent of nutrients; that when you eat, your body breaks up the food into those parts; and that different kinds of food have different invisible parts. They also explained that your body needs different nutrients to do different things, so that to function well you need to take in a lot of different nutrients.

In a control condition, the teachers read children similar stories based on the current U.S. Department of Agriculture website for healthy nutrition. These stories also talked about healthy eating and encouraged it. But they didn’t provide any causal framework to explain how eating works or why you should eat better.

The researchers also asked children questions to test whether they had acquired a deeper understanding of nutrition. And at snack time they offered the children vegetables as well as fruit, cheese and crackers. The children who had heard the theoretical stories understood the concepts better. More strikingly, they also were more likely to pick the vegetables at snack time.

We don’t yet know if this change in eating habits will be robust or permanent, but a number of other recent studies suggest that changing children’s theories about whether success is innate or the result of effort can actually change their behavior too.

A quick summary of 30 years of research in psychology yields two big propositions: Children are much smarter than we thought, and adults are much stupider. Studies like this one suggest that the foundations of scientific thinking—causal inference, coherent explanation, and rational prediction—are not a creation of advanced culture but our evolutionary birthright.

A version of this article appeared July 13, 2013, on page C2 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: To Get Children To Eat Veggies, Add Science.

The Press Release

Here is the press release from Stanford University on the research. To read it online, CLICK HERE.

Every parent has a different strategy for trying to get his or her kid to eat more vegetables, from growing vegetables together as a family to banning treats until the dinner plate is clean. New research suggests that teaching young children an overarching, conceptual framework for nutrition may do the trick.
The new findings, published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, show that a conceptual framework encourages children to understand why eating a variety of foods is ideal and also causes them to eat more vegetables by choice.
Psychological scientists Sarah Gripshover and Ellen Markman of Stanford University hypothesized that preschoolers would be capable of understanding a more conceptual approach to nutrition, despite their young age.

“Children have natural curiosity — they want to understand why and how things work,” the researchers explain. “Of course we need to simplify materials for young children, but oversimplification robs children of the opportunity to learn and advance their thinking.”

Gripshover and Markman developed five storybooks aimed at revising and elaborating on what children already know about different nutrition-related themes, including dietary variety, digestion, food categories, microscopic nutrients, and nutrients as fuel for biological functions.

The researchers assigned some preschool classrooms to read nutrition books during snack time for about 3 months, while other classrooms were assigned to conduct snack time as usual. Later, the preschoolers were asked questions about nutrition.

The children who had been read the nutrition books were more likely to understand that food had nutrients, and that different kinds of nutrients were important for various bodily functions (even functions that weren’t mentioned in the books). They were also more knowledgeable about digestive processes, understanding, for example, that the stomach breaks down food and blood carries nutrients.

These children also more than doubled their voluntary intake of vegetables during snack time after the three-month intervention, whereas the amount that the control group ate stayed about the same.

When the conceptual program was pitted against a more conventional teaching strategy focused on the enjoyment of healthy eating and trying new foods, the results showed that both interventions led to increased vegetable consumption. Yet, the children in the conceptual program showed more knowledge about nutrition and a greater overall increase in vegetable consumption.

Further research is needed to determine whether the conceptual intervention encourages healthy eating habits outside of snack time and whether it’s effective over the long-term, but Gripshover and Markman believe that the intervention shows promise.
“In the future, our conceptually-based educational materials could be combined with behaviorally-focused nutrition interventions with the hope of boosting healthy eating more than either technique alone,” they conclude.

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For more information about this study, please contact: Sarah J. Gripshover at sarahjg@stanford.edu.

The APS journal Psychological Science is the highest ranked empirical journal in psychology. For a copy of the article “Teaching Young Children a Theory of Nutrition: Conceptual Change and the Potential for Increased Vegetable Consumption” and access to other Psychological Science research findings, please contact Anna Mikulak at 202-293-9300 or amikulak@psychologicalscience.org.

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Too Many Geniuses, by Jeff Wise

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Jeff Wise has summed up the issues surrounding NYC’s G&T testing debacle this year in this excellent article that appeared in New York Magazine. To read the article at the magazine’s website, CLICK HERE. Do go to the site because the comments are worth reading as well. At TestingMom.com, we dealt with parents this year on both sides of the debate. Personally, I think it is wrong that a child who scored perfectly on the test ended up with a 1 in 12 chance of getting into a gifted program this year. I’m hoping that in 2013, the NYC DOE will finally change the rules (and then not bend to parent pressure and change their minds) so that these kids are can be placed in the classrooms where they can best be taught. It will be interesting to see what happens to this case on appeal.

Too Many Geniuses
The real talent of the city’s gifted-and-talented program is getting in.

Long before summer’s first heat wave, temperatures were running hot among the parents of New York’s 4-year-olds. A series of gaffes by the test-publishing company Pearson undermined the ­credibility of the city’s gifted-and-talented testing program and forced families to hang fire over their kindergartners’ academic fate. Then, just as that problem seemed close to resolution, an NYU mathematics professor named Alexey Kuptsov, along with three other parents, sued the Department of Education, claiming the admissions process was flawed, causing more delays and rousing the ire of New York parenting blogs.

Like any system that creates an elite benefit and doles it out to a lucky few, New York’s G&T program has long been a lightning rod for anxiety and resentment. Alongside some 70,000 places in standard-track general-education kindergarten classrooms, the DOE offers about 2,700 seats in G&T programs, which originated to serve the small percentage of kids so brilliant that they’re at a disadvantage in a normal classroom. Within each school district, certain schools maintain gifted classrooms open to the children living there. In addition, a handful of elite public schools are open to top-scoring students from anywhere in the city. To qualify for either type, kids take an aptitude test and receive a raw score and a percentile ranking. A child must rank in the 90th percentile or above to be eligible for a district program, 97th or above for citywide.

At first glance, the system looks highly selective, but the numbers are misleading. A child who’s ranked in the 99th percentile hasn’t outperformed 99 percent of actual fellow test takers but a mathematically generated hypothetical national population. Twenty percent are in the “97th percentile”; 40 percent are in the “90th.”

What was conceived of as a special curriculum for the truly exceptional has come to be seen by many (including me, the father of a 4-year-old) as more about providing a shot at a high-quality alternative to the often unimpressive general-education schools that kids are otherwise assigned to by default. “Gifted education is the Chihuahua pulling the semi trailer out of a ditch,” says Elissa Brown, a professor of education at Hunter College.

At least it’s something. For most of us in the city’s successful-but-not-affluent middle class, New York has become a real-life reality show in which every year more of our cohort gets voted off the island. Along with a rent-stabilized apartment, a good public school is one of the handholds that lets us hang on for a little bit longer. I personally inherited my three-bedroom on the Upper West Side from a friend whose son missed qualifying for G&T by one point; rather than settle for gen-ed at his grade-C local school, he pulled up stakes for Wilton.

There’s a constituency, then, for keeping G&T entry criteria broad, even if doing so defeats one of the main benefits of gifted education—to create an environment for kids where everyone is as brilliant as they are. This drawback is baked into district G&T programs, which are numerous enough that hyperselectivity is never really the point. The citywide programs, on the other hand, offer just 304 kindergarten spots. But even there, so many kids qualify—this year, 2,827 incoming kindergartners met citywide placement criteria—that the seats are distributed by lottery.

The DOE tried to return G&T to its roots last fall, announcing that it would scrap the lottery and award seats based on merit, selecting kids by raw-score rank from the top down. It also declared that students would be given a new combination of tests that would presumably be less susceptible to test-prep gaming, which many believe has become endemic.

But parental pressure forced the DOE to reinstate the lottery system, and then in April, after the new test results came back, it turned out that the test’s ­publisher, Pearson, had ­miscalculated thousands of kids’ results. The DOE said that G&T placement letters would be delayed until after the results were corrected. Then while examining its own data, Pearson discovered another batch of errors. More delay.

As a matter of politics, the DOE could raise kids’ scores to fix an error, but not lower them. So the number qualifying for G&T ballooned, rising to 40 percent from last year’s 35 percent. This was great for kids whose scores went up, but for kids who truly were exceptional, the change only watered down their already slim chances of getting into a program. Kuptsov’s daughter, for instance, got a perfect score; if the DOE had granted seats based on pure performance, she could have chosen any program she wanted. As it was, her odds of getting into a citywide program were about one in twelve.

And so, Kuptsov filed for an injunction to prevent the DOE from sending out placement letters until it could review its ­procedure. That’s when the shitstorm erupted on parenting blogs. Not only did Kuptsov’s lawsuit leave prospective public-school parents on tenterhooks about their children’s future, the city’s entire kindergarten classroom-allocation system was put on hold, public and private alike, because it shut down the usual summerlong game of musical chairs that is unofficially dubbed “attrition rounds,” in which parents who get their kids into a gifted program pull them out of private schools or gen-ed programs somewhere else, opening up spots for kids who will in turn open up seats elsewhere, and so on. This domino effect can run well past the start of the school year even in the best of times. “All these problems are prolonging the agony,” says educational consultant Robin Aronow.

“People were saying terrible things about me,” says Kuptsov, fresh from the experience of becoming, for a few weeks in late May and early June, the most hated New Yorker on Urbanbaby.com. Sample comments: “The guy is deranged”; “Really embarrassing himself”; and “What a self-serving A-hole.” Kuptsov didn’t back down. “In mathematics, it’s either right or it’s wrong,” he says. “You have to do what’s right.”

Finally, on June 7, Manhattan Supreme Court justice Alice Schlesinger heard the case. “Let’s not get caught up in numbers,” the DOE’s lawyer pleaded, claiming that the test scores are not accurate enough to rank one child over another. The judge agreed. “Frankly, I think all children are gifted,” she said. On June 14, the placement e-mails went out. Kuptsov’s daughter did not get a seat at any G&T program. (Neither, for the record, did my son.)

Parents who received placement offers had until the end of June to respond, after which the DOE will see what seats remain and then send out another round of placement letters, most likely in August. How the allotments will play out after that, nobody knows, but many parents will likely find their anxiety smoldering on through October.

For his part, Kuptsov says he and his family plan to sit tight in Manhattan Beach. He’s considering putting his daughter in a private school. Meanwhile, he’s pressing on with his lawsuit, which an appeals court is expected to hear in September at the earliest. “The placement has happened, so it’s not going to affect my kid,” he says. “But there’s a value in finding the truth.” He’s not too worried about the public scorn either. “You don’t want to be politically correct,” argues Kuptsov. “You want to provide the service to the kids who need it.”

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THE DECISION, IN RETROSPECT, by Anna Li

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Anna Li is one of our www.TestingMom.com parents who really struggled last year with whether or not to send her daughter to private school after her little girl was accepted to a terrific NYC gifted and talented program. If you would like to read about all she considered while making this decision, take a look at the essay that follows this one. It is now one year later and Lili just finished kindergarten. We asked Anna to let us know if she had made the right decision, choosing public school over private. Here is what she wrote…

Today I visited my daughter’s classroom for their end-of-the-year celebration. Her music teacher had prepared the students to sing two songs from The Sound of Music, in addition to other original songs about their Kindergarten experiences. While they were performing, their computer teacher dropped by to make sure everything was set for the photomontage presentation. Diplomas were handed out, bows were taken. It was adorable and there were few dry eyes in the room.

My daughter goes to public school.

A year and a half ago I had planned and prepared and navigated through the Kindergarten application process. I went through regulations, applications, guidelines, deadlines, and more deadlines, all the while keeping my child happy throughout the process as I camouflaged my anxiety.

Like some of you, we saved a spot with a deposit at a private school in the West Village, which we truly adored. When we finally received our Gifted & Talented seat assignment, we compared both schools carefully. We looked reading, writing, math, languages, arts, computer, sciences, physical education, nutrition, humanity, and finally homework load and commute.

In the end, we felt both schools were on par with each other, accounting for their differences: one offered foreign language (private), the other: none. One began computer in Kindergarten (public), the other, 2nd grade. One had a pool and a bicycle-riding program (public!)… The list goes on. I believe that parents will have to supplement at any school, so we opted for the one that saved us $37,000 annually.

By now, you have made your decision. You did all your homework, but hopefully you were also warned by principals and parent coordinators not to ignore the less obvious, like homework load, commute and personality of the school. Your job was not to get your child into the best school; it was to get your child into the right school.

All year long, I’ve asked myself if we succeeded in choosing the school in which our Lili was meant to be.

Lili’s current education is more rigorous that that of our local school, and I can see the results. She is currently reading at almost second grade level, and she does writing and math workshops daily, which allow her to write stories and express herself more effectively. The school also fills out her week with music, art, dance, theatre, computer and cooking. And she has made the kind of friends she’d stick up for in a playground.

One of the biggest draws for us is that the school has a Kind and Gentle program, which they practice daily. (My daughter loves school so much, that she makes her friends play “school” when she has them over on playdates. This is torture for her boy-friends, who I have overheard ask, “Am I done yet?”)

Despite my daughter’s successes this year, there are, of course, some regrets I have about our decision.

First, I underestimated the travel factor in my child’s day.

I am one of the lucky mothers; the yellow bus was not a problem for my child. Many kids cried and refused, adding an additional commute to the entire family’s day. However, the 40-minute ride home from school -and hers is by far not the longest- is in lieu of valuable playtime. By the time she returns home, all her neighborhood friends are well into their playdates. On days when she has afterschool, between travel time and homework, there’s no time for play. Plus she’s not just losing free time; her friendships are slipping away because she’s absent from the neighborhood.

I also didn’t quite realize what impact homework would have on our schedule. Yes, she reads chapter books, and has correct handwriting. However, in order to do this, her schooldays are more structured, as are her afternoons. Couple travel with homework, and free time becomes a real challenge. Each week we take home reading, writing, and math. I say “we” because Lili and I are in it together. Her angst is my angst, just as her joys are mine too.

I will admit, Lili is on the verge of over-booked, although she has far less afterschool than some of the other children in her class. I manage my daughter’s schedule/workload by mothering overtime to make sure she is happy, not just entertained. I camouflage homework to seem like it’s our game, which works most of the time. I have her friends over so she can spend more time with them after doing homework – I have an entire agenda, which includes everything from candy and sure-fire dinners, to large-screen TV movie showings and marshmallow decorating. I jump through hoops, basically, because she is still just a five year old, albeit going on fifteen.

As far as I’m concerned, Kindergarten is one of the last times a child has to be truly carefree. Free play is invaluable to a young child’s intellect, to her ability to process what is happening to and around her. When we trade free play for structured classes in the name of getting ahead, we are doing just that: getting ahead of ourselves.

It may sound to you like I am not happy with my decision. On the contrary: I am thrilled. Yes, I mourn the sweet simplicity of a neighborhood experience for my daughter. But this first year has been a gift nonetheless. Lili loved her teacher so much, she sometimes called her Mama, and vice versa. She marched around those hallways and up and down the stairs like she owned the place. She now wakes up and reads half a dozen books by herself in bed, before beginning her day.

Ultimately, I wonder how this accelerated early education will affect her, or her future. Will it make it easier for Lili to get into a better middle school? Will we see a domino effect, thus helping her to an excellent high school? Should I even be thinking this far in advance?

I look back on last year, when I wondered why I was jumping through all those hoops. Now, as Kindergarten has come to an end, I am able to understand how my daughter has grown, and learned to deal with her experiences. I realized, this past year, that the onus of choosing the right kindergarten was about setting my child up for a lifetime of not just learning, but loving to learn.

Making the right kindergarten choice is possibly one of the biggest educational decisions of a child’s lifetime. If they are in love with learning in their early years, there’s no holding them back. Lili has found her spot at her Chelsea school. She was just introduced to her First Grade teacher for next year, and now I’m finding pieces of paper from Lili practicing writing her name. My daughter is at home in her school, and that’s all I want for now. Who knows where she will be for middle school, but she has told me there are plans in the pipeline to be a pilot or a doctor. As long as there’s a twirly skirt involved.

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Choosing Between Private or Public School – A Mother’s Story, By Anna Li

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I wanted to share with you a wonderful essay that was written last year by one of our TestingMom parents, Anna Li. In this essay, Anna shared her experience navigating the NYC school admissions process. If you aren’t from NYC, you’ll be glad you aren’t after reading this! If you are, I hope this will help prepare you for what is to come!

The End of a Journey, Almost, by Anna Li – Part 1

If you applied for a Kindergarten spot to the New York City’s Gifted and Talented Program for your child, then welcome to the finish line. The G & T placement offers are being released this week, marking the end of the brutal trifecta that some New York parents went through this year with the goal of securing the best educational option for their children.

If you don’t know what I’m referring to, first of all, you are lucky. If you have heard rumors or unreasonable tales, I tell you now: it’s all true. Every word. I was born and raised in the Washington Square area of New York City, and being a cool native, I swore I wouldn’t sweat it out. But, a cucumber I was not. We did it all, and though we started on the right foot and with all good, controlled intentions, curves came up on our road that were so sharp, our wheels lifted.

The options NYC parents have, aside from their local public schools are, in a nutshell: private school, Hunter College Elementary School (which is free but blessedly not under the Department of Educations’s rule), and finally public Gifted & Talented programs both on a district wide and citywide level.

Since last September, here is a summary of what some parents have had to do to apply to private school: preliminary school tours, ERB testing (how we all refer to the ISAAGNY test, though the test itself is the WPPSI), testing fees and scheduling, application fees, application essay writing, second round of school tours, parent interviews, and child “play dates” where school faculty interact with your child in order to decide if she or he will be the right fit for the classroom they desire to create. This process is multiplied ten or fifteen times by many NYC parents who must apply to that many schools in order to get a few acceptances.

The Hunter College Elementary School application process encompasses an entirely different test, the Stanford-Binet, strict scheduling, hefty testing fees, and a complicated application procedure, all simply to qualify high enough to make it to the second round of testing. Your child’s play and interaction with others during the second test will possibly earn him or her an invitation to one of 50 spots citywide.

The NYC Department of Education Gifted & Talented application involves yet another pair of new tests, the OLSAT and the BSRA, stricter application procedures, and one to two rounds of touring.

Has anyone noticed I didn’t bother to mention preparing your child for any of this mentally, emotionally and intellectually? Nor did I mention the fact that, as parents, our jobs are to judge every single thing we see, smell, touch, hear, read and feel about these schools and their representatives?

Some families have settled on their Kindergarten decision at this point. Other than the 50 Hunter College Elementary “acceptees,” some have opted to stay with their public school, while others have made a decision on a private school. You might think this is the easy part, the coasting to the finish. The testing and applications process were demanding enough, especially when trying to protect a small child from feeling the weight of performance. However, unreasonable obstacles abound right to the end.

Private school placement offers went out in February, giving parents five days to return $7,000-$10,000 for a deposit, along with the legally binding signed contract. With an average annual tuition of $37,000 for K-5th grade, along with increases, miscellaneous costs, and donations as a matter of course, this adds up to a quarter of a million dollar decision.

For parents who had applied to the NYC public school Gifted & Talented program, which can be as good as, and in some cases exceed private school curricula, they opted to put that private school deposit down in February knowing that, depending on their G & T placement in May, they might have to forgo that deposit money in the end. However, that February decision was not the most difficult one. The next contractual payment for private school tuitions of $15,000-$25,000 are due in the spring. For some very unlucky gamblers, it was due a few days ago. More dramatically, some payments are due sometime this week. If the G & T placement announcements are as little as one day off a private school contract, that could be a $15,000 detail.

To make matters worse, many parents are right now waiting to hear about placements in schools that they did not have the opportunity to tour. To their credit, the DOE released our children’s scores much earlier than anticipated. But as luck would have it, scores were announced during Spring Break. Emails went out Monday April 9th, letters arrived closer to Thursday April12th. By Tuesday school tours started filling up, Wednesday most were gone. Many parents simply missed their opportunity to sign up.

Anderson had no sign up until Friday, April 13th: about 2pm the sign up was open; by 5pm it was full. I managed to tour every school I wanted to see, and for your entertainment’s sake, here’s how my experience went: on Monday the 9th I drowned in pride from seeing my daughters score, missing the important first 24 hours I should have been using to sign up for tours. I spent the next two days hovering over the school websites doing due diligence. I was late in signing up for a NEST tour, since the only tour opening left was Friday April 20th, from 1-3pm, which was a comical tour offering since the G & T application were due that same day. Anderson had announced that their tour sign up would be available Friday the 13th. I had my husband on watch while he was at work, and I carried my Ipad in front of me as I shopped in H & M for my daughter’s summer clothes. I looked insane, but we got a spot.

My tour week was even more laughable: Monday morning while on a PS 11 tour, I got a call from a good friend whose son attends NEST, who knows the head of the PTA, who said they had just opened up another 20 seats for NEST’s Tuesday afternoon’s tour. I, and three other sets of parents, secretly signed up for those added spots while trying hard not to insult the gracious PS 11 parent coordinator tour guide. That afternoon I went with my friend to pick up her son at NEST, where I got to experience that process, see the yard, speak with teachers and parents, and cajole a few students in to telling me what their workload was like.

That night, I went to Anderson expecting a pervasive attitude since they only allowed parents of 99% scorers in to the tour. However, the lively parent coordinator told us that there were roughly three times the applicants for the citywide spots available. This means that any child scoring a 97% or 98%, in essence, did not do well enough to get a spot, simply due to the numbers. Kindergarten G & T felt more like Harvard Medical. (NEST issued the same warning, but only DURING their tour. A friend of mine told me she and her husband briefly considered faking an emergency phone call to exit their tour. Not to sound uninterested, but it was her fourth one in three days.)

Lower Lab began with only one scheduled tour. So many parents complained that they sliced that tour’s time in half to split it with another group of parents. We rounded up our week with our second tour of PS 33. To add absurd to this scenario, all these tours were taking place during testing week. The majority of classrooms we were supposed to be looking at were locked or had their walls covered up so the students could come in and test the next day.

I’d love to share my opinions about all of these schools, but each one of us, as parents, has a hundred different reasons why we liked or didn’t like a school. Both Anderson and NEST warned us not to chose their school because of the name, that we must be wary of the right fit in terms of homework schedule, commute, extra-curricular life in the early years – in essence, so many of the things that matter but whose considerations sometimes fall by the wayside. (I know of a set of parents who chose Hunter even though they hated it.)

Hopefully we keep our intuition up for what would be the best fit for our child. But who’s to say what the best for our own children? Is it the school that’s outstandingly rigorous, or the art’s based program, the neighborhood experience? (Another friend of mine chose Chapin over Hunter.)

We wound up listing a district wide as our first choice because my husband could commute with our daughter. He works late every night, and sees her only in the mornings. That relationship took precedence over opting for an “A-List” school. Though, even as I sit here, waiting for the email to pop up with my G & T placement offer, I am still not sure we made the right decision. By choosing a district wide school, we’ll have to go through the application process again in six years. I’m certainly not keen on that. By then, I’ll have just rested up from this one.

If we opt to attend a G & T school, I will have to call the private school whose spot we are holding with a deposit. I did not go through this process lightheartedly. When they accepted my daughter, they sent a personal note which told me they really talked to her, listened carefully, watched her, saw how she cared for the other children in the room, and how naturally courageous she was when conversing with adults as her peers. They didn’t just look at her ERB score, or fulfill a profile. In return, I will say that that school felt like home to me. I know I would disrupt them if I pulled her spot, and for that I would be deeply sorry. I am sure many parents feel the same as I do.

There is no easy road. To choose the right education for our children is a huge responsibility, second only to making them feel loved. Why do we go through this arduous race to secure specific schooling here in New York City? My mother-in-law doesn’t understand why we have put ourselves though this process. She says that where she is from, you get on a bus and go to the nearest school and that’s that. This holds true for most of the country. However, I truly believe New York City parents have access to some of the finest early education available in this country, a fact not easy to ignore.

A good friend of mine, a fellow native New Yorker who’s escaped across the river to New Jersey so she could live in a home with a yard, told me her seven-year-old daughter was currently studying trapezoids in math. I told her that was SO three-years-old for us Application Moms. I was joking, in part. Good luck to each and every one of you; may you find the right school for your child.

Part 2

I don’t know how the rest of the New York City parents feel who applied for the public school’s Gifted & Talented program, but I am still reeling from last week when the G & T placements came in. Although we had nothing but fortunate options, I cannot shake the mental and physical exhaustion from what I have had to accomplish while navigating through what I feel is an unbalanced, certainly unjust system.

We were of those NYC parents who chose to put down a deposit at a private school in order to secure a spot, while waiting to see if our daughter scored high enough to merit a Gifted & Talented seat in the public school system (read: free). There was no way to predict how well she would do; I know of children who far exceeded the Hunter College Elementary test cut off while did not earn a G & T placement later on.

Like approximately 1,200 other New York parents of top scoring children, when we received Lili’s ranking of 99%, we elatedly assumed she could go anywhere in the city. It was one of the finest moments for my husband and me, being eligible for something of such excellence, without financial consequences.

Little did we know that in order to get a seat in the G & T program, our child not only had to score in the 99%, but then had to simply be lucky enough for the computer to pull her name early enough in its “lottery” to be assigned one of 400 seats. For entry to the citywide programs, the very best gifted schools that go to eighth grade or through high school, a child needs to score 97%-99%. This year, only one in three 99% scoring students had a chance of a citywide seat. As a glimpse: Anderson had 38 available seats, NEST a similar number. Of course we were going to gamble $7,000 on a spot at a private school.

After we received my daughter’s placement notice from the Department of Education via email last Friday, I felt that it was only fair that we make an immediate decision if we were to withdraw my daughter from the private school she was slated to attend in order to give that admissions office as much time as possible to fill the empty seat we might leave. I myself attended New York City private schools, all of which I loved. They helped me to be the well-rounded individual I believe I am today. I had always dreamed my child would attend similar institutions, but this dream was about to cost us a half a million dollars.

It seems as though, these days, a deposit at a private school serves merely as a reservation, like a restaurant seating. This part of the application process, which has gone so greatly askew, cannot be good for the private school system. Eventually private schools will find a way to stop parents from “making reservations”, and that will surely be heavy-handed. The ping pong effect is this: they charge an inordinate tuition, parents hedge bets waiting for something (anything?) more affordable, and last minute changes are forced upon the private school admissions offices as parents wait for answers that come on an entirely different timeline. It’s a process that is becoming increasingly disrespectful to both sides.

Anyway, our notes from all of the tours and interviews told us that our first choice Gifted school where our daughter was placed was right on par with the private school which had our deposit. If this hadn’t been the case, if we felt in any way that a public school education would short change our daughter, we would spend this money without blinking.

I spent the rest of that Friday composing a note of withdrawal to the Admissions Office of the West Village private school that had accepted her. If you were in my shoes, you may have felt some of what I did: regret, remorse, self-doubt, relief. It may be hard to understand why I was not simply happy at choosing an excellent school whose tab is picked up by the city. Since we put down our deposit in February, we had increasingly become more and more comfortable with the idea of sending her to this private school, befriending the black hole in our income that would be her tuition cost. The school to which I am referring had not just accepted her, but complimented her in a way no other institution had, making me feel that she was special to them as an individual. They wanted her as much as we wanted them. I surreptitiously share this with you, because one could apathetically assume a school would want any child along with her $40,000 annual tuition payments. However, a good school, one worth it’s salt, can easily fill their classroom seats. In fact, our NYC schools are so overcrowded, a failing school can fill its seats.

I know I was not the only parent who was withdrawing her child from a school right before summer. Many parents were forced to play this unfortunate game due to the misaligned schedules of our NYC scholastic options. However, I nonetheless felt I was doing a disservice to that school which opened their arms and their doors to my child. I composed that note thanking them for their most sincere appreciation of my girl, and I tried my best to convey how regretful I was. I hoped they would understand we were not in the position to treat such a hefty bill so lightly. I sent chocolates as well, not to sweeten them up but to try to relieve some of the bitterness I tasted at giving up our place in their wonderful school.

The next school day I called to confirm the Head of Admissions received my package. The receptionist was not sure, so I asked my husband to follow up with an email. I simply could not bear to read her possible words of displeasure or even retaliation. What happened was this: that Head of Admissions who had written us a heartfelt, caring, stunning note when our daughter was accepted in February responded to my husband now with words such as “heartbreaking” and “understanding”. She said it was a pleasure to know us ever so briefly, that Lili was exceptional and she would thrive anywhere, and she wished us all the best. Her note, I dare say, made me wonder if it wasn’t too late to get my spot back. Oy vey, us New Yorkers would say.

Although I did not try to get my private school spot back like a lunatic, I still have reservations: did we make the right choice? I am sad to leave her present school, with a superbly competent staff and community of remarkable parents, but somehow I suspect this is the right fit for our girl. I suppose no parents can know the answer until their child is experiencing the school and is learning and is most importantly: happy. Although I do not believe in homework, I do believe in teaching up to young children, so it’s the Gifted & Talented route for us.

I am sure not all of you had as a difficult an experience. I am positive, though, that we are all wondering why this process of getting a four-year old in to Kindergarten is so confusing and difficult? Could ISSAGNY and the DOE align their schedules to simplify the application process and perhaps alleviate the private school “reservation” trend? I am two degrees from knowing President Obama, and have briefly considered to writing him for help, but I know that even he is not powerful enough to fix the problems embedded in the Department of Education.

Today I took my daughter to her new school to register her for next fall. Each step was thrilling and frightening: sharing a bagel and cream cheese while waiting for the bus, conversing during the ride, crossing the streets, seeing what her new neighborhood would be. The little voyage was so mundane and so meaningful. Upon arrival, the security guard spoke to my little girl with empathy and warmth and pointed the way to the Main Office. Upon entering, we met the principle who introduced himself to Lili. He asked her to join him for a chat, and she bounded off, and, no, I did not cry. However, when they returned, the principle did report that Lili told him of our impending Disney trip. She informed him she would be going “nudie.” I asked him if I were still allowed to register. Thus, the beginning of our Lower School experience.

Truthfully, we are excited by this Chelsea school because it teaches not only accelerated mathematics, but global kindness. The humanity of the school is what we thought would get our daughter to someplace truly special. Although touted as the holy grails of education, we felt the citywide schools were a little too on the fast track for us. They are advancing their pupils, which is an understandable desire for some parents. I just feel that all children will all get to the finish line, their own finish line, no matter where their starting block is placed, no matter who gets a jump ahead of the whistle. Just as long as they get to play along the way, and remember to be kind.

Cheers to all of you who are done with the Kindergarten process. High school applications CANNOT be this hard.

Anna Li, born and raised in New York City, graduated Grace Church School, The Trinity School, and Vassar College. She is a writer, event producer and a mother.

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NYC Gifted and Talented Placements Delayed Over Legal Disagreement – Hearing on Injunction Held Today!

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The NYC DOE was delayed from making gifted and talented admissions offers after several parents filed a lawsuit challenging the department’s admission’s process to these highly competitive programs. Parents argued that the methodology behind the admissions formula was flawed, giving priority to siblings of current students who didn’t score as high as other students. They said that because so many kids scored in the upper percentiles, siblings of current G&T students had an unfair advantage. They claimed this was a violation of the NYS Equal Protection Clause. They wanted the DOE to hold off on sending out placement offers until the court ruled on the claim. When the case was brought, State Supreme Court Justice Alice Schlesinger asked city lawyers to promise not to send anything to parents until after June 7, when the court could first hear the matter.

Today, the hearing was held. The parents had asked for an injunction to prevent offers from going out while the case was ongoing. The judge denied the injection. She did agree to issue a temporary restraining order while the Plaintiff appealed her decision. The Appellate Division will hear the case by next Tuesday. If they do not reverse this judge’s order and issue an injunction, G&T placement offers will probably start going out next week.

At several points, the judge seemed incredulous that 4-year-olds were being tested for kindergarten admissions, and she seemed to downplay that these test results are really that important. When the plaintiffs’ attorney tried to compare G&T testing for kindergarten to high school entrance exams, the judge said the two situations aren’t comparable.

As for the legal basis of the judge’s decision: The test for granting a preliminary injunction requires (a) a likelihood of success on the merits, (b) irreparable injury to the plaintiff if the injunction isn’t granted, and (c) a balancing of the equities (basically, that the “fairest” thing to do would be to grant the injunction). The judge actually did go through the test point by point and said (a) the plaintiffs were unlikely to win the case at the end of the day, (b) the “worst case scenario” is that a kid doesn’t get into a G&T program at all, which she said isn’t “irreparable,” and (c) therefore the equities tilted toward the DOE.

All in all, it was a disappointing result for the Plaintiffs and for parents who don’t have an “in” via the sibling preference policy. Parents with one child already in the G&T program are probably relieved with this outcome. We’ll see what happens next week in Appellate court.

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Why Analogies – or Comparisons – Matter So Much

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This morning I came across an intriguing article about a book that I am going to buy! The article was in the Wall Street Journal. CLICK HERE to read the piece in the journal. The book is called Surfaces and Essences: Analogy as the Fuel and Fire of Thinking. CLICK HERE to find it on Amazon.

At my other site, www.TestingMom.com, we create practice questions for different intelligence tests given to young children. Across the board, every test has at least one and usually several subtests that assess a child’s understanding of analogies. A large triangle is to a small triangle as a large square is to a small square. F is to Z as 3 is to 8. Hat is to head as glove is to hand. And as kids move into higher grades, the analogies get more complex. Pen is to typerwriter as typewriter is to computer. Curb is to street as coast is to ocean. I’ve often wondered, why does ever test have so many analogy questions. Are analogies really that important to a child’s thinking skills?

According to this article (and book), analogies are everything! Analogies allow us to respond to situations we’ve never encountered, drawing on past experience to know what to expect. Analogies, or comparisons, are the very essence of our thinking life. When you read about gifted children, they are described as kids who are able to make connections to seemingly unconnected things – in other words, analogies. As parents, anytime you can help your child make a connection, you will be teaching them to think analytically. “Look at the bird’s nest. Bird’s live in nests. Where do humans live? Where do bears live? Where do ants live?” It seems simple, but understanding these connections are the very basis for thinking skills that allow us to function in the world of the unfamiliar and predict what will happen next.

When I told my friend, Dr. Marion Blank, about the book, she wrote back, “Human beings are endless pattern perceivers–and maybe analogies are one easy tool for seeing patterns–but of course, there are others as well.” It’s interesting to note that pattern questions are the second most asked-type of questions on intelligence tests (after analogy questions). Here is the article. I look forward to reading the book.

The Analogical Animal, by By DOUGLAS HOFSTADTER And EMMANUEL SANDER
The key to human cognition may well be the ability to compare one thing to another

At the White House Correspondents Dinner last week, President Barack Obama got some laughs when he said that his advisers had suggested he start his speech “with some jokes at my own expense, just take myself down a peg. I was like, ‘Guys, after 4½ years, how many pegs are there left?’ ”

In this remark, few of us would immediately think of “take myself down a peg” as an analogy, but that’s what it is: a comparison between two things, in this case, between the president’s standing and pegs on a board. Mr. Obama did it again later in his speech, complimenting journalists “who took the time to wade upstream through the torrent of digital rumors to chase down leads and verify facts.” “Wade upstream” and “torrent” qualify as analogies, too.

In fact, once you start to look for analogies, you find them everywhere, not just in the metaphors and other figures of speech used by politicians. It is by way of analogy that human beings negotiate and manage the world’s endless variety. We would make an even grander claim: that analogies lie at the very center of human cognition, from the humblest of everyday activities to the most exalted discoveries of science.

When you use the elevator in an unfamiliar hotel, for instance, you tacitly depend on the analogy with countless elevators you have used before. You know that you are most likely to find the elevator by looking for a recessed area in the wall of a corridor, and when you reach that area you expect (and find) a button at a standard height. You expect doors that slide open sideways.

Once inside the elevator, you have to choose a small button you have never seen before, and you must press it with a certain force. You do all of this without thinking about it. You unconsciously depend on prior experiences with thousands of buttons in hundreds of elevators, and you seek the best way to deal with this new button by relying on an analogy between it and your personal category button.

Much the same could be said for when you wash your hands in a sink you’ve never seen before with a piece of soap you’ve never touched before, and of course it’s also thanks to analogy that you deal successfully with the never-before-seen bathroom door, doorknob, electric switch, faucet and towel.

Consider the 2-year-old child who delightedly states, “I undressed the banana!”; or the 8-year-old who asks his mother, “How do you cook water?”; or the adult who inadvertently blurts out, “My house was born in the 1930s.” Each of these spontaneous utterances reveals an unconsciously-made analogy that contains a deep rightness despite a surface wrongness.

In short, we all depend on a never-ending stream of very simple analogies between everyday things, and these mini-analogies follow on the heels of one another all day long, day in, day out. A common piece of folk wisdom says that analogies, by their very nature, cannot be relied on—yet in order to survive, we all depend on this incessant stream of mundane analogies. If the myriad analogies pervading and defining our daily life were intrinsically unreliable, no one would be here to tell the tale or to hear it.

What is true at the prosaic level is just as true at the level of profound scientific insight. In physics, for instance, the greatest breakthroughs by the most creative minds—Newton, Maxwell, Heisenberg, Einstein—were all the fruit of analogies. An excellent example is Einstein’s 1905 hypothesis of a deep parallel between an ideal gas (a container filled with molecules) and a black body (a container filled with electromagnetic radiation but nothing material). He was led to this guess because he had noticed a curious mathematical similarity linking the formulas giving the energy spectra of these systems.

This initially spotted similarity suggested to him that the connection between the two systems might well extend far below the surface. Following this intuition, Einstein carefully calculated each system’s entropy (the disorder present in it), manipulating the two formulas until they looked almost identical. In the formula for the ideal gas’s entropy, the letter N appeared, standing for the number of molecules in the gas; in “the same spot” in the formula for the black body’s entropy, there was an expression that could be interpreted as counting the number of times a certain very small energy would “fit” into the total energy in the black body.

Einstein had compressed the distinction between these two physical systems down into a tiny but telling contrast. He took this hint seriously, interpreting it as telling him that a black body itself contains a vast number of immaterial “molecules of radiation”—particles analogous to the N material molecules in the ideal gas. Even for its finder, this was a profoundly radical idea, because electromagnetic radiation included light.

Einstein’s analogy had suggested to him that light might well consist of small packets of energy analogous to molecules, but this idea flew in the face of the most solidly established facts about light. Looking back, Einstein declared his “light-quantum” hypothesis, based on but one intuitively felt analogy, to be the most daring idea of his life. Indeed, it unleashed among his colleagues an incredibly intense barrage of hostility that lasted many years.

And yet in 1923, Arthur Holley Compton discovered that when an electromagnetic wave “collides” with an electrically charged particle, what ensues doesn’t obey Maxwell’s equations for light waves but the rules of collisions between particles. To the astonishment of physicists, the behavior Compton reported agreed exactly with Einstein’s 1905 predictions. Thus light, at long last, became particulate! Einstein’s little-known analogy constitutes an example of human intelligence at its very finest.

The making of analogies allows us to act reasonably in situations never before encountered, furnishes us with new categories, enriches those categories while ceaselessly extending them over the course of our lives, guides our understanding of future situations by recording what happened to us just now, and enables us to make unpredictable, powerful mental leaps. The attempt to put our finger on what counts in any given situation leads us at times to seeing hidden links between situations despite enormous differences on their surface, and at other times to drawing crucial distinctions between situations that on first glance seem nearly identical.

Analogy, one can say without exaggeration, is the very fabric of our mental life.

—Messrs. Hofstadter and Sander are the co-authors of “Surfaces and Essences: Analogy as the Fuel and Fire of Thinking,” which has just been published by Basic Books.

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NYC DOE Made a Mess of the Gifted & Talented Application Process this year

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What a mess! First, the NYC DOE made a huge deal of their new composite scoring system that would prioritize children for admissions to the city’s G&T program based on the actual scores kids earned. Imagine, kids who did the best would be first in line for the city’s top schools – it was such a fair system. Yet when parents received their children’s scores two weeks ago, the composite scores were nowhere to be found. Instead, children were just given a percentile ranking. When families toured NYC schools, they learned that all kids in the 99th percentile would go into a general lottery that would determine their priority for the city’s best schools. Once they were placed, all kids in the 98th percentile would go into a general lottery to determine their priority, and so on down the line. Kids who made perfect scores on the NNAT and OLSAT now had the same shot at getting into a Citywide program as kids who missed 11+ items. How did parents find out about this? It was mentioned during the school tours. The DOE quietly took information about the composite score out of the G&T Handbook and never made a formal announcement to parents that they had changed their minds about it. Why this fair placement system went away, I have no idea. Parent’s whose children made near perfect scores on the tests are beyond frustrated, as you can imagine. There is a petition being circulated to bring back the composite score for those of you who are interested in signing it.

Next, we learned that tests of 400 kids who took the OLSAT and NNAT last winter had been “misplaced.” Apparently, they were “found” and are now being scored by hand. These parents still don’t know how their kids fared. How was this handled? Poorly! I was in touch with several parents who never got the initially expected email with their child’s score. When parents called the DOE to find out basic info such as – where their child’s test score was – when they would be notified how their child had done – when they could tour schools if their child did eventually qualify, nobody knew anything! Nobody even admitted that their tests had been misplaced! Instead, parents were told that “we’ll call you back when we know something.” “We’ll look into it.” These parents finally learned their child’s scores had been misplaced when the story hit the news. Great job communicating with parents, DOE! As of April 22, these parents still don’t know how their kids scored.

Finally, on Friday, we learned that 2,700 NYC kids were wrongly told that they didn’t qualify for G&T seats because of errors in scoring by Pearson (the test publisher). Here’s how the mistake was described in Al Baker’s article in the NY Times:

“According to Pearson, three mistakes were made. Students’ ages, which are used to calculate their percentile ranking against students of similar age, were recorded in years and months, but should also have counted days to be precise. Incorrect scoring tables were used. And the formula used to combine the two test parts into one percentile ranking contained an error.”

When everyone was re-scored, 4,735 kid’s scores went up. Only 6 students who were originally deemed qualified for the G&T program had their scores go down, so that they no longer qualified, but the DOE decided to let them stay in the G&T pool anyway.

For what it is worth, I don’t believe that when you make a mistake like this and re-score everyone, 6 scores go down far enough that the kids no longer qualify for G&T and 4,735 go up, qualifying thousands more kids for district and city-wide programs. The way the mistake was described was that the child’s age was recorded in days and months, without adding the precise number of additional days old the child was. If you did add those additional days to each child’s age and then recalculated their scores, many children would be pushed into the next, older age band, requiring them to get more questions right in order to do as well as they did before. As a result, a great many kids’ scores would go down instead of up when the mistake was corrected. And yet, only 6 scores went down, while thousands of scores went up. This doesn’t make sense.

This year, the DOE changed the test to the much harder visual-spatial reasoning NNAT®2 test over the informational Bracken®, a substantially simpler test. This was done because too many kids were earning 90th percentile and above qualifying scores, and the DOE wanted to make it harder for kids to qualify for G&T. Last year, 24% of the kids who tested for G&T qualified for a seat. Now, with the re-scoring of the tests, 35% of the kids who tested for G&T qualified for a seat. I initially felt that this did not make sense – if the test was so much harder, how did more kids qualify? A statistician explained to me that if you are comparing percentiles, the difficulty of the two tests washes away. So, even though the the NNAT is harder than the Bracken, a child can miss more questions on the NNAT and score in a higher percentile, since it is a more difficult test. For example, a child could miss 11 questions and still score in the 99th percentile of the NNAT. They could only miss about 2-3 questions in the Bracken and score in as high a percentile.

Even with that explanation, it still doesn’t make sense to me that so many more kids would qualify for G&T this year than last year. I’d love to read an analysis of why this happened by someone in the know, but with so many mistakes made by the DOE this year, I don’t really feel I could trust any explanation they might give.

At the end of the day, the DOE made a terrible mess of things, creating undue stress for thousands of NYC parents. The scoring system was changed without telling parents, scores were lost and affected parents were kept in the dark until the media spilled the beans (and they are still in the dark and have no one to call for help), and now, thousands of kids were given the wrong scores. I’d hate to be the person in charge of the NYC G&T program this week! But hey, I hear they are hiring at Pearson.

Here are the articles about the errors in grading and the 400 lost tests.

To read Al Baker’s article on the error made in grading the G&T tests for NYC students, CLICK HERE.

More in New York City Qualify as Gifted After Error Is Fixed
By AL BAKER
Nearly 2,700 New York City students were wrongly told in recent weeks they were not eligible for seats in public school gifted and talented programs because of errors in scoring the tests used for admission, the Education Department said on Friday.

The company that both created and scored the tests, Pearson, has apologized for the mistakes, according to the department, which is now scurrying to notify parents that pupils originally locked out of the coveted programs are instead able to apply for seats.

Updated scores will be distributed within 10 days and the deadline for applying to gifted programs, originally Friday, will be extended to May 10, the department said. Only six students were incorrectly deemed qualified for the gifted programs, but they will not lose their eligibility, the department said.

All told, 4,735 students — or 13 percent of all those in kindergarten through third grade who sat for the tests — were affected by the errors, said Erin Hughes, a spokeswoman for the Education Department. Of those, 2,698 are newly eligible for seats in districtwide gifted programs, meaning they scored at or above the 90th percentile.

The other 2,037 will be told they are now eligible for one of the city’s five more competitive “citywide” gifted programs, open to those at the 97th percentile or higher. Those students had been erroneously told they were eligible only for the district programs.

In a terse statement, Dennis M. Walcott, the schools chancellor, said the errors made by Pearson were “unacceptable.” The company also designed the state standardized tests being administered to students this month, and has developed new curriculums that have been endorsed by the city’s Education Department.

“Pearson has an established record in this field and we depend on its professionalism and deep capacity to deliver for the public,” Mr. Walcott said in his statement. “But in this case, they let our children and families down. I have told the company’s officials in no uncertain terms that I expect this will never happen again.”

In a statement, Scott Smith, the president of learning assessment for Pearson, said “the fact that these errors occurred is simply unacceptable to Pearson as we fully understand the importance of accurate scoring.”

“It is clear that we had a breakdown in our processes and we are conducting a complete, extensive investigation of every step,” the statement continued.

Because of the mistakes, the city will withhold $500,000 from Pearson’s contract, which is worth $5.5 million over three years and is in its second year, Ms. Hughes said. Roughly $80,000 of it will go to pay for “communication and outreach” to families, including placing calls to them over the weekend, she said.

Even before the error, the number of students qualifying for gifted seats — 9,020 — was far higher than the number of seats. The new number is more than 11,700. The competition is most acute for the citywide programs, where only several hundred seats are available.

“It’s unfortunate, but this happens,” said Donna Taylor, the principal of the Brooklyn School of Inquiry, a citywide program. “There are a ton of people it has unfortunately affected.”

Besides increased competition for the seats, the higher number suggests that the city has been unable to control the explosive growth in high test scores, which coincided with the growth in test preparation services. Last year, 9,644 students qualified.

The tests this year, which consisted of two parts delivered in one sitting, were revised to make them less susceptible to preparation, which education officials said would also help increase the chances that children from poor backgrounds would gain seats.

Shael Polakow-Suransky, the chief academic officer for the Education Department, said further study was needed to understand what factors could be causing the increase. He said the goal of the new assessments was not to reduce the number of eligible students, but to do “a better job of identifying kids’ giftedness without respect to whether they had prior academic preparation.”

Critics of the Bloomberg administration seized upon the mistakes. The teachers’ union president, Michael Mulgrew, remarked that the Education Department “blames the testing company and tries to bury the announcement on a Friday afternoon.” Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, a mayoral candidate, said it was time for the department to “reassess its relationship with the company.”

The errors were discovered when two parents, one a statistician, complained that their children had been incorrectly scored, the department said.

According to Pearson, three mistakes were made. Students’ ages, which are used to calculate their percentile ranking against students of similar age, were recorded in years and months, but should also have counted days to be precise. Incorrect scoring tables were used. And the formula used to combine the two test parts into one percentile ranking contained an error.

Earlier this week, the department said that score reports for 400 students had been lost, but that those tests had been found and were being scored.

One parent, Rena M. Ismail, 36, who had been told that her 5-year-old son, Hyder, was not eligible for a gifted seat, said the department informed her that her son had scored in the 89th percentile, when, by her math, he was in the 91st.

400 Test Scores Go Missing as School Application Deadline Looms

To read this article, by Melissa Russo, at the NBCNewYork.com website, CLICK HERE.

Four hundred tests taken by kindergarteners, first-graders and second-graders for admission into New York City’s gifted and talented public schools went missing for more than a week, officials confirmed.

The Department of Education said 400 students are still waiting for their scores from the test, despite an April 19 deadline for students to apply to the gifted and talented schools.

One mother told NBC 4 New York her 8-year-old daughter took the test in January in the hopes of being able to attend third grade at a G&T school.

“We were supposed to get results by April 10 via email or a hard copy in the mail,” said the mother, who asked to remain anonymous. “Neither one of those things came.”

She contacted the Department of Education several times, panicked that her daughter would miss the deadline to apply to the G&T program, but said she never heard back from officials.

In an email sent to parents Tuesday, the Department of Education said it was investigating and that if their child’s score qualified them for the G&T program, the application deadline would be extended.

A spokeswoman later told NBC 4 New York the tests have been located and the department was working on scoring them as quickly as possible, though they do have to be hand-scored.

The score reports were not included in the original file report that was delivered from the vendor, according to the spokeswoman. She did not specify where in the delivery process the scores went missing.

The mother whose daughter’s test scores went missing was still frustrated, even after learning that the application deadline would be extended.

“I just feel very frustrated as a parent,” she said.

“I’ve called multiple times. Every time, I’ve had to hold for half an hour,” she said. “They told me there were major problems. They lost a lot of scores. They said everything that could go wrong has gone wrong.”

“I knew he got it,” she said. “I could see it. They told me I was mistaken.

“I am an educated person. I know how to add and multiply, and I knew he got in by his score sheet.”

Kyle Spencer contributed reporting.
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: April 19, 2013

An earlier version of this article misstated who said that the goal of the new assessments was to do “a better job of identifying kids’ giftedness without respect to whether they had prior academic preparation.” It was Shael Polakow-Suransky, the chief academic officer for the Education Department, not Public Advocate Bill de Blasio.

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