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By Judy Baum
My son is in 6th grade this fall. Is it too early to be thinking about high school admissions? What can I do to get prepared?
Dear Anxious Dad:
It's never too soon for a middle school family to start thinking about high school, however, 6th grade is a big transition year for kids – they are figuring out how to fit into a new school and trying to keep up with academic demands. For a while, at least, I would keep thoughts about high school to yourself, even as you familiarize yourself with the admissions process.
Having navigated the search for middle school, you are already somewhat of a pro, and there is much information to help ease you into high school admissions. There is a lot to learn. For starters, track down a copy of New York’s City's Best Public High Schools by Clara Hemphill and the Insideschools staff, which has in-depth reports on some of the city's finest schools. Become familiar with the Find a School section on Insideschools, where you'll find profiles of every city high school. Think about which school will suit your child’s interests and strengths, but realize that kids change a lot in middle school.
Pick up a copy of the annual Directory of the New York City Public High Schools. You can find it online but I recommend getting the very hefty paper copy from the local borough enrollment center. This telephone-book-size publication is easier to browse and includes various tips that I do not find online.
The High School Directory lists the admission requirements for each school, while the Specialized High Schools Student Handbook is devoted to the eight specialized exam high schools, as well as LaGuardia, the arts school. It includes general procedures on how to apply and a sample exam.
By the way, if the specialized schools are on your radar, and your child qualifies based on his standardized test scores and family income, look into the Specialized High Schools Institute. Your son may apply in the 6th grade, and, if accepted, begin to attend classes during the summer between 6th and 7th grades.
Next year, consider attending the Department of Education admissions workshops for 7th and 8th graders and their parents. Check the DOE website and the Insideschools calendar for schedules. The enrollment office sponsors summer workshops to introduce different types of high schools.
Keep in mind that the 7th grade scores are the ones that appear on the high school application, so help your child focus on studying and maintaining good attendance. You might also start attending high school fairs in the fallwhere you can meet faculty and students from most schools. New small high schools are usually introduced at fairs in February.
This year, be informed, but not obsessed. Let your son enjoy acclimating to middle school before you start moving on to the next phase.
Dear Judy -
Recently, my 8th-grade son was scheduled for a dentist appointment first thing in the morning, followed by a medical appointment. He was very late to school and when he got there, despite notes from the doctors he saw, he was marked late. When I asked why, I was told that medical appointments are not excused. He will have to return to the dentist a few times and has medical condition that will require ongoing treatment. How will this affect his applications to high school? How can I get these latenesses removed from his record?
Dear Worried Mom:
Lateness goes along with attendance in evaluating a kid’s commitment to education, and schools are looking for students (and families) who make school a priority. But just one non-excused lateness won’t make a difference. When rating kids, schools look down on a pattern of persistent lateness and absence.
While 90% attendance was formerly a promotion and graduation requirement, it no longer is. Now student must be shown to be making progress toward that goal. But the issue remains important, so it is a good idea to make sure that records are correct for both attendance and lateness.
How to determine if your son’s lateness was unfairly categorized? Your school should have a stated policy about both absence and lateness. According to Chancellor's Regulation A-210, “Each school is required to submit annually, on or before October 31st, an Attendance Plan that delineates the school’s attendance program as a component of the Office of School and Youth Development’s Consolidated Plan.” You should ask to see this policy so you know in advance what the rules are.
The regulation also states that, “…If students have been absent from school for reasons other than illness, documentation of the reason for the absence is to be presented to the school (e.g., examination schedule of special examination, court order, etc.). Absence notes submitted by parents are to be maintained for one year after the end of the school year.” My guess is that lateness is part of this plan, but I have not had confirmation of that.
It is important that the guidance counselor enters the specific codes which explain the reasons for the student's absences; admissions staff will be able to see that information. To be certain that the schools you are applying to get the message, write a letter to accompany the application explaining the reason for his lateness and absences and noting the medical excuses that you submitted. Better yet, ask the guidance counselor to write the letter, and make sure that he or she enters the proper code so that the receiving schools can call up the record and see for themselves.
Another strategy: if your son is applying to a school that requires a personal interview, he can bring up the subject - if he feels comfortable about discussing his medical condition. Schools won't hold it against him if the absences are excused and explained.
Bottom line, if you are still uncomfortable with the way your specific incident was handled, contact the office that is responsible for attendance:
Office of School and Youth Development
Mandated Responsibilities Unit
N.Y.C. Department of Education
52 Chambers Street - Room 218
New York, NY 10007
Our high school is overcrowded by the capacity standards in the DOE Blue Book. Our school has corrected the DOE calculation of space twice and our submittal has gone unacknowledged. Meanwhile, our3800 students fill a school with a capacity of 2100. What can be done to have the legal capacity enforced?
Bayside H.S. PTA President
It is not useful to argue over the capacity figures since the Blue Book (officially, the Enrollment-Capacity-Utilization Report) already shows that Bayside is severely over-enrolled. As far as I can tell, while the legal capacity is based on square footage of each room divided by 20, the standard of the NYC Building code, there are ways to manipulate the figures. Either way, your school is severely overcrowded and you need a solution.
Arguing over the numbers does not solve the problem. As you know, most of the larger high schools in your area and other parts of the city, are also overcrowded. It’s a complex problem, because parents and kids want schools like Bayside, with its proven track record and safe environment, so demand is high. But the current Department of Education policy favors carving small schools out of large dysfunctional ones, and funneling leftover kids to still standing large schools, like yours.
So how to proceed? As the PTA president of a large, high- performing high school, much of what I say is probably old news to you, but perhaps there is something you missed.
I would start by inviting a representative of the DOE's Office of Portfolio and Planning to speak at a PTA meeting to clarify any plans they have in the works for your area of Queens. It is likely they do, having taken on Forest Hills High School overcrowding with the founding of Queens Metropolitan High School. GothamSchools reports that at an October 5 meeting at PS 58 in Queens, DOE Executive Director of School Improvement Alex Shub told parents a new 1,100 seat high school is going to be built in Maspeth. He acknowledged that parents want a "large comprehensive high school" and "not a bunch of boutique schools..."
Next widen your base and set up a collaborative process with the Borough President’s office, the community board, your local council member, and congressperson. Work with the School Leadership Team, and rope in the SLT’s from other area high schools because any solution is likely to affect all the high schools in Queens, or at least your part of Queens. SLT support is crucial as it brings the principal and the faculty on board.
Support of the local elected officials adds credibility, expertise, and public pressure. That is important to keep in mind whether you are looking for long term solutions -- involving new buildings or annexes -- or quick fixes such as trailers in the yard, restricting enrollment through screening or zoning, or any other strategies yet to be devised.
Once you have a a detailed description of the problems that overcrowding is causing, and some ideas for a remedy, bring the issue to the Citywide Council on High Schools for consideration. According to Andrea Anna Lella, president of the CCHS, no proposal can be considered if it breaks the law, such as making your school, or schools around you, less diverse. On the other hand, it would be a plus to increase diversity through your plans.
Hearings at the CCHS can lead to a formal request to the DOE to develop a plan. Before the DOE acts, it wants assurance that there is good faith resolve to accept a plan. That’s why, at this point your work intensifies, even though the Department of Education takes the lead. All parties must stay involved, monitor the process, and help devise a workable solution.
I have an 8th-grader preparing for high school. I just received her citywide test scores for ELA and math. I understand the grading/scoring scale has changed -- her scores fell by 100 points. I wonder if this is something other families are noticing and how it will affect the admissions process for next year? Is there a way to obtain the test and the answer sheet, or an opportunity to appeal the scores/test?
In order to check the accuracy of your child's scores on the statewide tests, or gain some insight into the answers she gave, first speak to the school principal. According to Grace Pepe, the Department of Education's director of assessment operations, every principal has an “item analysis” for each child’s tests. You can ask the principal to discuss the test with you, or if this does not yield the detail you are after, I suggest you go the next step to look directly at your daughter's test along with a qualified person who can explain it to you.
To do this, ask your principal for a parent request form to see a copy of the standardized test and the answer sheet. You’ll need proof that you are the student’s parent so you may either get the principal to attest to that or you can have the form notarized.
As for how scores will affect high school admission, remember, there is a lot more than standardized tests that high schools look for including course grades and attendance. They also look at raw test scores, not just the Level 1,2,3, or4 designation. This allows them to judge students based on past experience. However, you should keep in mind that there will be some effect of the “higher bar” and choose schools carefully to match your child’s eligibility and learning style.
With the citywide high school fair scheduled for this weekend, Oct. 2-3, and the borough fairs to follow on Oct. 16-17, I would use the opportunity to speak to representatives from the schools your daughter would like to apply to. Ask them about their selection criteria and how lower test scores will affect admissions this year.
You can also pose that question directly to DOE enrollment officials who will be leading workshops at the fairs. Another option is to attend one of the many admissions workshops the DOE enrollment office is hosting between October 12 and November 10. There is always time for Q&A at the end of the presentations. Be sure to attend open houses and tours for schools on your daughter's list -- that's another good place to figure out her options. Check out our post: HS update: Workshops, tours, fairs, & deadlines for more suggestions and information.
I'm a currently a freshman and I hate my high school. I really want to transfer out. I want to talk to my guidance counselor about transferring but I have a few questions:
1. Can I get the transferring papers now or do I have to wait for the rest of the year to get it?
2. Can I only apply to 1 high school, or can I apply to more, or will it be like the 8th grade high school application list?
3. When will I get the result for my transfer?
4. Will the high school I apply to check my grades for 8th grade or 9th grade?
from Sadia U
Sounds like your first impressions of high school were really negative. You are right to address the problem right away since the high school admissions process starts soon.
But first, I would urge you to give the school a chance. Most 9th graders need a few months to adjust to high school. Look for something that you can relate to -- a club or after school sport, or another activity where you’ll have fun and find kids who share your interests. Maybe you'll find a class that you love, or a teacher who is especially inspiring.
If you are still unhappy after giving it a try, then consider applying to another school for 10th grade. You'll need to fill out an application as you did last year, listing up to 12 choices. The schools will look at your most recent grades and test scores -- those from the 8th grade rather than the 7th.
Ask your guidance counselor to give you an application when they come out in early October. Check online for dates of high school fairs and application deadlines. Individual school websites will be listing open house and tour dates soon. The citywide high school fair is at Brooklyn Tech on Oct. 2-3. You will hear the results for sophomore year placement in the spring and then, if necessary you can go through an appeals process.
If you apply to one of the specialized high schools and are accepted, you will hear the results of your application earlier, in February. But make sure you get a ticket for the test, or audition, from your guidance counselor before Oct. 6.
Try to get a better sense of the schools before you list them and do not list any school that you are not certain you wish to attend. Limit your choices to schools that you are convinced will be a better fit than your present school. Note that not all schools have openings for 10th graders.
A second way to transfer involves talking to your guidance counselor about a mid-year transfer. But you have to be very persuasive because transfers are usually allowed only for health, travel, or safety reasons. If you have a documented reason under those categories, or you are able to convince the guidance counselor that the curriculum does not suit you and that there are other schools where you would flourish, you might have a chance – but only a chance. The school system does not like transfers.
No matter which path you take, you’ll have to spend at least a few months in your current school. Look for ways to make your time productive and bearable. You could be pleasantly surprised.
I was wondering if you knew about the situation with some Regents exams being discontinued. I know that only a few language Regents are being kept, and the language I am taking isn't one of them. How can I get an Advanced Regents diploma?
As you know, in order to get an Advanced Regents diploma you must have completed three years of a language other than English, and pass a Regents exam in that language. But many languages offered by the city high schools do not have Regents exams attached to them. This will not jeopardize your chance of earning an Advanced Regents diploma (formally called a Regents Diploma with Advanced Designation.)
According to Grace Pepe, Director of Assessment and Operations at the Department of Education, the "NYC Languages Other Than English" (LOTE) test is a Regents-like comprehensive examination offered in 15 languages for native language speakers in grades 11 and 12 and for students taking a course in one of these languages. The test is an option for earning Advanced Regents credits. The NYC LOTE is currently offered in Albanian, Arabic, Bengali, Chinese (simplified), Chinese (traditional), Greek, Haitian Creole, Hindi, Japanese, Korean, Polish, Punjabi, Russian, Urdu, and Vietnamese.
However, there are now some languages that formerly offered Regents exams but no longer do – German, Latin, and Hebrew were just voted out as a cost cutting measure. Italian got a last minute reprieve, at least until the end of 2011; Spanish and French Regents exams are still given.
According to Steve Katz, director of the Office of State Assessment, the New York State Education Department approves the use of the SAT II subject exams for Regents credit in several languages. NYC could approve New York State substitutes for foreign language Regents but the city will likely provide its own exams, as they have in the past.
My advice: Contact your principal or your assistant principal of foreign language for information on what exam you'll need to take after three years of language study. You can also read a Q&A covering current state requirements for earning LOTE credits, including modifications or exceptions for students with disabilities and students whose native language is not English.
According to Katz, there is an ongoing review of assessment in world languages that will result in recommendations for changes in testing to the Board of Regents. From what I hear, there is ongoing discussion about Regents assessments in all subjects: stay tuned for developments as we all race to the top – or at least to graduation.
Good luck for the new school year!
I am wondering how we parents can help offset the impact of budget cuts. Any suggestions as to what parents can do to keep school programs going despite the loss of staff and funding?
With schools set to open in a few weeks, now is a good time to plan your supportive activities: not just fund raising, but hands-on contributions as well. Fund raising may have reached its saturation point in some schools, considering the lagging economy and ongoing unemployment rate, while other school communities have never been able to raise funds on a large scale. But parents who are working less -- or not at all -- now may be able to take time to volunteer to help schools which may be strapped for resources.
A good place to start is the lunchroom: there are never too many hands in the cafeteria to help kids during the sometimes chaotic mealtime and to button up their coats for outdoor recess. Some parents are cut out for playground supervision (good at sports, love games) others may enjoy conducting a board game club, teaching knitting, or reading with kids on those forbidding winter days. Other ways to help out: volunteer in the school library, collect lunch money, of course accompany classes on field trips.
As an individual, you can speak with your child’s teacher to work out a helpful ongoing role in the classroom. As a group, class parents can organize to contribute to the classroom library, visit local merchants for donations of school supplies, develop a schedule of parent led mini-lessons on, say, cooking, science, chess, sewing, knitting, sing-alongs -- whatever parents can do that the school budget no longer supports. After school programs will also need the same kind of help.
Note: Some principals do not yet welcome parents to the classroom. Your Parent Association should place this issue front and center. Principals should recognize the benefits that parent involvement brings to the kids.
Parents can make a big difference in the arts. Kids learn from the arts so parents may consider sponsoring a school wide “let's put on a play” project. That means kids, parents, teachers, and school staff, take part. This project is guaranteed to raise money – everyone wants to see their children and neighbors on stage, and it helps keep the arts alive in school. With a part for everyone from stagehand, to costume-maker to actor, it's loads of fun, according to some schools that already do it.
Don’t fail to weigh in on budget and policy issues with city and state legislators. Check out the Panel on Education Policy agendas, attend meetings of your district's Community Education Council, as well as the district presidents' council and your own school's Parents Association.
Now is the time to start planning with your fellow parents about how you can help alleviate your schools’ money woes.
With all the talk about professional tutoring giving the edge in admissions tests for selective schools and G&T programs, I am beginning to worry. We can’t afford much in the way of extra tutoring. Isn’t there any other way to prepare for these tests?
Dear Perturbed parents,
There are do-it-yourself ways to prepare for high stakes tests, but the most important strategy: Don’t let your child wait until the last minute to cram. Help her to develop good study habits from the beginning. Kids won’t perform well on tests without a solid foundation in the subject, no matter what their parents pay for test prep.
I recently came across Tutor in a Book: Better Grades as Easy as 1-2-3, by Alexandra Mayzler and Ana McGann, and published by Adams Media. The two authors combine their experience as students and tutors to provide the tools for ongoing successful studying. These include organization, time management, study techniques to fit your learning style, study partners (parents!), asking teachers for help and most important, keeping up to date. All of which add up to a real understanding of the subject and a well-prepared test taker.
Now comes the prep part –- getting ready for a particular exam. You want to become familiar with the format and content, for instance, of the specialized high school achievement test (SHSAT) or the SAT for college admissions. To do this, Mayzler and McGann suggest the student compose a sample test. Although this is a good way to review of the material, nothing substitutes for the actual tests themselves.
I recommend prep books such as those published by Barrons and others such as Princeton Review. Take enough of the tests published in these books and you will probably cover all the material likely to show up on the real thing. You become familiar with the format of the test, and you’ll find out where you need more study. There are also prep books and plenty of online resources for Regents exams. The total you pay for the books won't add up to a fraction of the price of formal test prep courses. And you can probably arrange a book swap with other parents whose children have already used the guides.
During the year, your kids can get a leg up on learning by signing up with non- profit organizations that offer after school homework help and other activities. Take a look also at the Inside Schools feature, Free Enrichment Programs, which lists resources for in-depth learning experiences during the school year and in the summer.
Just a word about gifted and talented testing. You can get workbooks for this kind of prep as well. But, hey, four-year-olds don’t need to cram for exams. Instead, read to your kids, talk to them about what you read, what you see on daily walks, count steps on the slide, count squirrels in the park –- in short, be your child’s first educator, without putting pressure on her to perform.
Pre-k and day care teachers practice this kind of education all the time. That said, it can’t hurt to play with a test or two to have the kids become familiar with the format. My favorite strategy (borrowed from educational consultant Robin Aronow) is to tell your kid on the day of the test, ”these folks want to see what a four year old can do.”
Remember also, there are loads of noteworthy schools on all levels, elementary, middle and high school, that don't require special tests for admission. Be sure to look for these in our Find a School section as great alternatives to exam schools.
Other parents are sure to have some low-cost or no-cost tutoring suggestions. Please share them in comments below.
Dear Judy: I am about to file a 2nd round application for pre-K, but I can’t make up my mind between a program that is in a public school and one that is located in an off-site location. What is the difference between school-based pre-K’s and others?
Dear Pre-K Dad,
Not every public school has a pre-K program, mainly because of space limitations, so the state allocated funds for comparable programs in other locations. These sites, called CBOs -- short for Community Based Organizations -- include day care centers, community centers, independent schools, churches or church schools, Head Start programs that go through kindergarten, and others. That’s the origin of the title Universal Pre-K, or UPK. Public school or CBO, they all have to meet the standards set by the state and city.
Of course each is an individual program and should be judged on its own merits. That's why it is essential, whenever possible, to visit the school or CBO site. What to consider? Do you like the way kids are treated? Are they doing creative work with plenty of play or is the class mostly stressing academics? Is the classroom bright and cheerful? Are there toys, blocks, a dress-up corner, books? Are there outdoor and indoor play areas? Are there enough adults supervising? Can you reach the program without too much hassle? Take a look at our tips for applying to pre-K for more suggestions.
Your own expectations for the pre-school experience will help you make up your mind once you have looked closely at your choices.
There are some differences, however. Is the program full or half day? If half day, is there provision for after school care? In day care centers, where many CBO programs are situated, kids merge into full day care seamlessly and the sites are often open until 6 pm to give working parents time to collect their children Some of these – indeed many – only take families with limited income so you have to check your eligibility.
Many pre-K programs in public schools still offer half days. Even if it is a full day program, you have to make separate arrangements for after school. But, some CBO's offer only half day programs as well, so there is no blanket rule there either.
The Round 2 application process closes July 30 but placement offers won’t be sent out until late August. School starts September 8 and parents can register until September 17. One of the UPK directors I spoke with at a CBO said that they can take applicants up to October 31. Indeed, in the last two years at least, the DOE has been advertising lots of pre-K openings well into the fall, both at CBO's and at schools.
As for public school pre-K’s, since there are not enough to accommodate all kids in the most sought-after programs, they tend to fill up more quickly. But the Round 2 directory lists many popular schools that still have open seats – available first to students who do not yet have a placement. Students who have already been given assigned to a school, may re-apply but aren’t given first priority.
Keep in mind that even if your child gets a spot in a public school pre-K, that is no guarantee of a kindergarten spot – especially if the school is not zoned for your address.
Public Advocate Bill DeBlasio and the Alliance for Quality Education (AQE) released a joint report today evaluating how the Department of Education handles school co-locations. Its conclusion: The DOE does not adequately plan for school co-locations, does not sufficiently involve parents in the decision-making process and falls short on assessing the impact that co-locations have on the education of all students in the building.
The report comes on the heels of the DOE's announcement last week that nine new schools opening in September will squeeze into school buildings they had been promised, even though the host schools, part of the 19 schools originally slated to close, will remain open in all grades — at least for one more year.
It challenges the adequacy of Education Impact Statements (EIS) that the DOE is required to issue before placing new schools in existing school buildings. The Public Advocate's office and AQE claim that the statements, as issued by the DOE, do not account for safety, the impact on students learning English, students with disabilities, and the maintenance of physical education and arts programs. The report also recommends additional time and opportunities for the statements to be made public and for parents to study and comment on them.
The report, Breaking Down Barriers: An Evaluation of Parent Engagement in School Closures and Co-locations, is based on an analysis of 39 Educational Impact Statements - including those for the 19 schools that were slated for closure this year, and 25 of the 66 schools that the Panel for Educational Policy approved for co-location in the 2010-2011 school year. It also includes a survey of 874 parents from 34 affected schools.
In response, the DOE issued this statement:
We are always looking to improve our community engagement efforts. With a better public process in place, more parents will understand the urgent need to replace schools that fail children year after year with new schools that have been shown to perform far better. We wish the Public Advocate showed the same amount of concern for our children stuck in failing schools as he does for DOE processes.
Among the report's recommendations is placing a moratorium on co-locations until more detailed statements are created and adequate opportunity for public comment is provided for.
Read the full report here.
Does your child attend a co-located school? Please comment below.