ERB Test is Going Away in NYC – What Does It Mean?

Here is a great piece in the NY Times about how NYC parents feel about the ERB test going away. CLICK HERE to read it at the NY Times website. My feeling is…don’t celebrate too quickly. The schools will replace it with some assessment (to be decided) and some schools will stick with the old test. My prediction is that kids will end up taking more tests rather than fewer to qualify for private school after the ERB goes away. Only time will tell!

Your 4-Year-Old Scored a 95? Better Luck Next Time

When other preschool parents bragged that their children had aced the admission test for New York City private schools with a top score of 99 in every section, Justine Oddo stayed quiet. Her twin boys had not done as well.

“It seemed like everyone got 99s,” recalled Ms. Oddo as her sons, now 7, scampered around a playground near Fifth Avenue. “Kids you thought weren’t that smart got 99s. It was demoralizing. It made me think my kids are not as smart as the rest of the kids.”

Her sons’ scores? Between them, they had one 99 and the rest 95s, which would still put them in the top 5 percent of all children nationwide.

A decision last week by a group of private schools to move away from the test, commonly known as the E.R.B., will spare many 4- and 5-year-olds from a rite of New York childhood that dates back half a century. But it could also bring an end to a particular New York status symbol — a child with knockout scores — and to the uncomfortable conversations that occur each year when results start rolling in.

From the Upper East Side to Brooklyn, score-dropping in playdates and parks is common, with high marks flaunted by the parents of children who excel with 99s and anguished over by those who have to explain anything less.

One wealthy couple even celebrated their daughter’s 99s by throwing a catered bash at their Hamptons home with their closest preschool friends, said Bige Doruk, founder of Bright Kids NYC, which prepares several hundred children for the test every year. “I was thinking to myself, ‘What are they going to do when their kid gets into their school of choice?’” she said.

On, the Web site where parents chat about their children, the ubiquitous 99s prompted one person to question whether that score was really special since “they seem to be a dime a dozen.” In response came complaints of rampant test-prepping and outright lying.

At the other end of the scale, some parents are quick to offer excuses for a relatively low score: their child was sick, tired or having a bad year. Amanda Uhry, founder of Manhattan Private School Advisors, said that one mother tried to explain away her daughter’s 68 by saying she had been bullied in preschool. “Whether it’s the E.R.B. or sports, parents see their kids as an extension of themselves,” Ms. Uhry said. “It reflects on them. They think, ‘What did I do wrong?’”

All this has led many private schools to try to discourage parents from comparing E.R.B. scores. Some have even likened it to one’s salary — the less said, the better. At the Mandell School, which has a preschool and kindergarten-through-eighth-grade school on the Upper West Side, administrators suspected that a few parents were actually inflating numbers in conversation. “We felt particularly ardent about the damage that that kind of information could do,” said Gabriella Rowe, the head of school at Mandell, which stopped requiring the E.R.B. for admission in 2010.

Last week the Independent Schools Admissions Association of Greater New York, which represents more than 140 private schools, cited concerns that scores had been inflated by widespread test preparation and thus was no longer an accurate measure of ability. It said that it would stop recommending its members use the test as an entry requirement after next year, though a new assessment is expected to be developed in its place. Most schools in the group are expected to follow the recommendation.

The test, a version of an exam known as the Wechsler Preschool and Primary Scale of Intelligence, consists of two sections: verbal (which includes vocabulary and comprehension) and performance (picture concepts and block design, among other skills). Students receive three percentile scores, one for each section and a combined mark; a proud parent might let it be known that their child was a “99 x 3” or simply a “99.”

The name E.R.B. is actually a misnomer; the test’s actual name is the Early Childhood Admission Assessment. E.R.B. stands for the Educational Records Bureau, which administers the test.

The bureau issued a report defending the test, saying that while scores had increased, they had done so only gradually over time. But the report also acknowledged “the alarming number of children” who score in the highest percentiles: in each of the past few years between 62 and 70 percent of the applicants to the independent schools represented by the association reached the 90th percentile, meaning they were in the top 10th of a national norm of students who took a version of the Wechsler test, and between 18 and 29 percent scored at the 98th percentile. However, the report said the average E.R.B. child was, statistically speaking, a higher performer than the average American child and that “this is not a new trend.”

Still, among parents the coaching issue has become the preschool version of steroids in baseball, with any chart-busting score arousing suspicion. Debra Mesnick, a pediatrician whose children took the E.R.B., said she knew parents who were prepping their children even though they acted as though they were not. “There were the names of $200-an-hour tutors floating around, but people didn’t admit to using them,” she said. Such is the touchiness of the issue that discussing the test has become its own test of social etiquette. Francesca Andrews Goodwin, whose three daughters attend Grace Church School in Greenwich Village, said that she was tight-lipped about her daughters’ results. “I found it very rude when people talked about it openly,” she said.

Jae Chun, a lawyer, said he would try to discreetly change the subject. “When someone told you their child scored an 80 percent, it was very awkward to say your child scored a 99,” he said. Another parent, Marie Bishko, said that parents became stressed because the E.R.B. “divides children into two piles” — the 99s, and everyone else.

Even more damaging than the social pressure is the potential for a nonstratospheric score to color a parent’s own perception of a child. One mother of three children said that her first son scored 99, but her second one received only a 90. “For a moment, you have to check yourself,” said the mother, who declined to be identified, but who admitted being surprised and disappointed.

Ms. Oddo, 45, whose sons now attend second grade at the Saint Ignatius Loyola Grammar School on the Upper East Side, acknowledged that she was a little embarrassed by their E.R.B. scores until she “came back to earth.” She added: “If you get a 95 on a test at school, that’s great. No one would expect your child to get 100s.”

Still, Ms. Oddo said she never talked about her sons’ scores at the time. And she was not the only one, she noted. Other than 99s, the only scores she heard were in the 70s and 80s, which were so low as to be credibly attributed to a lack of focus or just a bad day.

“People who had 80s, they always had justification,” she said. “Nobody talks about it if it’s in the 90s.”

Losing Is Good for You, By ASHLEY MERRYMAN

I am a HUGE fan of Ashley Merryman and Po Bronson and all their books. Here is a terrific piece she wrote in todays’s NY Times. To read it at the NY Times Website, CLICK HERE. I highly recommend their new book, Top Dog: The Science of Winning and Losing to all parents!

LOS ANGELES — AS children return to school this fall and sign up for a new year’s worth of extracurricular activities, parents should keep one question in mind. Whether your kid loves Little League or gymnastics, ask the program organizers this: “Which kids get awards?” If the answer is, “Everybody gets a trophy,” find another program.

Trophies were once rare things — sterling silver loving cups bought from jewelry stores for truly special occasions. But in the 1960s, they began to be mass-produced, marketed in catalogs to teachers and coaches, and sold in sporting-goods stores.

Today, participation trophies and prizes are almost a given, as children are constantly assured that they are winners. One Maryland summer program gives awards every day — and the “day” is one hour long. In Southern California, a regional branch of the American Youth Soccer Organization hands out roughly 3,500 awards each season — each player gets one, while around a third get two. Nationally, A.Y.S.O. local branches typically spend as much as 12 percent of their yearly budgets on trophies.

It adds up: trophy and award sales are now an estimated $3 billion-a-year industry in the United States and Canada.

Po Bronson and I have spent years reporting on the effects of praise and rewards on kids. The science is clear. Awards can be powerful motivators, but nonstop recognition does not inspire children to succeed. Instead, it can cause them to underachieve.

Carol Dweck, a psychology professor at Stanford University, found that kids respond positively to praise; they enjoy hearing that they’re talented, smart and so on. But after such praise of their innate abilities, they collapse at the first experience of difficulty. Demoralized by their failure, they say they’d rather cheat than risk failing again.

In recent eye-tracking experiments by the researchers Bradley Morris and Shannon Zentall, kids were asked to draw pictures. Those who heard praise suggesting they had an innate talent were then twice as fixated on mistakes they’d made in their pictures.

By age 4 or 5, children aren’t fooled by all the trophies. They are surprisingly accurate in identifying who excels and who struggles. Those who are outperformed know it and give up, while those who do well feel cheated when they aren’t recognized for their accomplishments. They, too, may give up.

It turns out that, once kids have some proficiency in a task, the excitement and uncertainty of real competition may become the activity’s very appeal.

If children know they will automatically get an award, what is the impetus for improvement? Why bother learning problem-solving skills, when there are never obstacles to begin with?

If I were a baseball coach, I would announce at the first meeting that there would be only three awards: Best Overall, Most Improved and Best Sportsmanship. Then I’d hand the kids a list of things they’d have to do to earn one of those trophies. They would know from the get-go that excellence, improvement, character and persistence were valued.

It’s accepted that, before punishing children, we must consider their individual levels of cognitive and emotional development. Then we monitor them, changing our approach if there’s a negative outcome. However, when it comes to rewards, people argue that kids must be treated identically: everyone must always win. That is misguided. And there are negative outcomes. Not just for specific children, but for society as a whole.

In June, an Oklahoma Little League canceled participation trophies because of a budget shortfall. A furious parent complained to a local reporter, “My children look forward to their trophy as much as playing the game.” That’s exactly the problem, says Jean Twenge, author of “Generation Me.”

Having studied recent increases in narcissism and entitlement among college students, she warns that when living rooms are filled with participation trophies, it’s part of a larger cultural message: to succeed, you just have to show up. In college, those who’ve grown up receiving endless awards do the requisite work, but don’t see the need to do it well. In the office, they still believe that attendance is all it takes to get a promotion.

In life, “you’re going to lose more often than you win, even if you’re good at something,” Ms. Twenge told me. “You’ve got to get used to that to keep going.”

When children make mistakes, our job should not be to spin those losses into decorated victories. Instead, our job is to help kids overcome setbacks, to help them see that progress over time is more important than a particular win or loss, and to help them graciously congratulate the child who succeeded when they failed. To do that, we need to refuse all the meaningless plastic and tin destined for landfills. We have to stop letting the Trophy-Industrial Complex run our children’s lives.

This school year, let’s fight for a kid’s right to lose.

Ashley Merryman is the author, with Po Bronson, of “NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children” and “Top Dog: The Science of Winning and Losing.”

Private Schools Are Expected to Drop a Dreaded Entrance Test, By JAVIER C. HERNÁNDEZ

On Wednesday it was announced that NYC would drop the current ERB test as a measure of qualification for private school admissions. Today, the NY Times wrote about it. CLICK HERE to read the article on the Times’ website. CLICK HERE to read the parent comments, which are very interesting.

Private Schools Are Expected to Drop a Dreaded Entrance Test
For generations, families have dreaded and despised the exam used to determine the fate of 4- and 5-year-olds seeking entry into the elite world of New York City private schools.

But next year, the test, commonly known as the E.R.B., is likely to be dropped as an entry requirement by most of the schools. A group representing the schools announced this week that, because of concerns that the popularity of test-preparation programs and coaching had rendered its results meaningless, it would no longer recommend that its members use the test.

“It creates a lot of anxiety in families and kids that is unnecessary,” said Patricia Hayot, the head of Chapin School, who leads the group, the Independent School Admissions Association of Greater New York. “We’re being brave. We’re trying to explore a new way.”

The decision quickly upended the frenzied arena of private school admissions. The association represents 130 private and independent schools, including some of the city’s most respected institutions: The Dalton School, Riverdale Country School and Packer Collegiate Institute, among others.

While the schools are free to continue using the exam, Dr. Hayot said she expected the vast majority to scrap it after the association’s contract with the exam’s administrator ends next spring. (At least one school, Horace Mann, said on Thursday that it would stick with the test.)

For years, public and private schools across the country have grappled with questions about the value of standardized admissions exams. The city’s Education Department, responding to concerns that too many children were being coached for the test to enter gifted and talented programs, modified its own exam this year, which backfired when even more students qualified for the programs.

The rise of the test-preparation industry, with guidebooks, tutoring sessions and sample questions aplenty, has raised questions about whether standardized tests accurately measure a child’s abilities. But a viable alternative has proved to be elusive, given the desire for a way to measure students against a single yardstick.

The Educational Records Bureau, the nonprofit organization after which the test is named and which administers the exam for private school admissions, defended the test on Thursday.

“We feel having a uniform assessment is in the best interest of schools, parents and children,” said Elizabeth Mangas, a vice president of the organization. “We look forward to working with the schools going forward.”

Ms. Mangas said that in recent surveys of private schools in New York City, 80 percent reported that they found the E.R.B. to be useful. The exam’s makers also argued that the growing use of test-preparation programs was not skewing the results, pointing to data showing that average scores had remained roughly the same over time.

But Dr. Hayot said that a task force assembled by the schools association had found the results to be “tainted” by test preparation and recommended that the exam no longer be used in admissions for kindergarten and first grade, the common entry points for private elementary school. Last year, 3,173 students took the test for those grades, according to the bureau, which has administered the test since 1966.

The E.R.B. test is derived from an exam known as the Wechsler Preschool and Primary Scale of Intelligence, which measures, among other things, vocabulary and the ability to identify geometric shapes. At many admissions offices, test scores are considered alongside interviews with prospective families and students, recommendations from preschools and observations of students in group settings.

The association is working with experts to develop a new assessment by February. Dr. Hayot said it was too early to say what the assessments would look like, but she said the group was considering ways of measuring noncognitive skills, like resilience and attention span. She also said the group might consider providing written evaluations of students, rather than a score.

George P. Davison, head of Grace Church School, said he hoped a new assessment would emphasize the ability to identify numbers and letters, and test a student’s fine-motor skills.

“If a 4-year-old can’t recognize their name, that tells you something useful,” he said. “You’re not going to hire a $2,000 tutor to teach them their name.”

Finding an adequate substitute could prove challenging. For all the criticism of the test, it provided a valuable tool for schools having to wade through hundreds or thousands of applicants, and having a single test used by virtually every school, SAT-style, kept young students from enduring a battery of them.

Victoria Goldman, the author of a guide to elite schools in New York, said it was important to have a way to independently evaluate students in what can otherwise be a highly subjective process.

“You are making a decision with these families for 13 years in some cases,” she said. “That’s like a marriage. It’s really important to know what you’re dealing with.”

The test-preparation industry, which has blossomed in New York, greeted the decision tepidly, predicting that parents would soon be searching for ways to train their children for the new exams, however different they might be.

“Any uncertainty that you place in the process creates an absolute boom in test prep,” said Suzanne Rheault, chief executive of Aristotle Circle, one of the city’s more popular coaching programs. “People prep. They try to get information. They don’t want their kids to be guinea pigs.”

But several private school leaders rejoiced on Thursday. “I didn’t think I would see it in my lifetime,” said Lydia Spinelli, director of the Brick Church School, an Upper East Side school for children ages 3 through 6, many of whom take the E.R.B. to get into private elementary schools. “For too long, it’s been a cloud over our practice.”

Perhaps no group will be more relieved than parents, who must now pay more than $500 just to take the exam, even before shelling out money for practice books and tutors.

Anne Yoakam Ellsworth, 43, a resident of the Upper East Side who writes a blog about parenting and politics, recalled trying to get her daughter, Rosemary, now 9, into a private school that prohibited practice courses or exams. She said the situation was frustrating. Many parents wanted to follow the rules, but they worried about leaving their children at a disadvantage.

“I think it’s great,” she said of the decision to end the test. “It causes some parents so much anxiety.”

Julie Turkewitz contributed reporting.

How To Survive Elementary School, by Susan Edelman

I’m very excited to be included in this article in today’s NY Post. There’s lots of good advice in Susan Edelman’s piece. Read it at the NY Post site by CLICKING HERE.

Elementary school is harder than ever. Kindergarten is going beyond the ABCs, crayons and building blocks to teach kids how to write “informative reports” and develop “algebraic thinking.” The goal, under the new Common Core standards, is to start building skills needed to succeed in college or career early, so kids graduate without needing remedial classes. Entering the fifth grade, parents should start looking into middle-school options, a nail-biting experience because there’s a lack of great ones, and those outside your home district are highly competitive.

“Parents, make it known from day one that you’re really interested in being part of your kids’ education. Teachers usually give parents a way to communicate, such as their e-mail addresses and invite you to tell about your children. Take that opportunity immediately and with enthusiasm. Write out a little something about your kid. For example: ‘Tommy is a good kid, but a little shy, especially around grown-ups. His biggest academic challenge last year was that he was too quiet in class, so anything you can do to give him confidence to participate and be more of leader would be wonderful.’ Always keep it positive, even if you’re worried or having problems.”
— Kim Nauer, director of Schools Watch at the Center for NYC Affairs, mother of two

“Go to PTA or parent association meetings. They can be a tremendous source of intelligence on your school. The principal or other top staffer usually gives a presentation on topics like the new Common Core curriculum and tests, or a new anti-bullying law.”
— Kim Nauer
“Get up to speed on the Common Core curriculum and exams. What they’re teaching in schools and how they’re testing is changing a lot. You should be reading the news and getting as much information as you can every step of the way, so you can explain to your kids what’s going on. Keep the pressure on so they do their best, but let them enjoy learning and not get into a frenzy about the massive failure rates. The parents are the only people who can hug these kids through this. Get active so parents have a voice in all this.”
— Kim Nauer

“Get kids comfortable with the idea that math is part of everyday life. Point out numbers. If you’re grocery shopping, tell them how much ground chicken is per pound. Discuss how many pounds you need, and what’s the total cost — not even expecting them to do the multiplication, but just showing them that it’s there. Compare things, point out fractions, cook with your kids. Show them, ‘Oh, look, 1/3rd is bigger than 1/4rd.’ Math is all around us all the time, and if kids get that at a young age, it won’t be so scary and so foreign.”
— Actress Danica McKeller, author of “Girls Get Curves, Geometry Takes Shape” and “Kiss my Math”

“Create a clear, quiet, well-lit ‘homework’ space at home with supplies your child needs to do homework each night. Create a homework folder so work can easily be found and turned in the next day.
“Block off a daily pleasure reading time at home. You can read to your younger child, or older kids can read to themselves. Reading both non-fiction and fiction is key to school and testing success. Focus on whatever interests your child and is age-appropriate. Some examples; “The Biography of Rosa Parks” by Wil Mara; “Pluto: The Dwarf Planet” by Christine Taylor Butler; “Is it a Dinosaur?” by Susan H. Gray.”
— Karen Quinn, co-founder of

Have your child memorize your phone number. With today’s smart phones, many don’t remember the numbers.
If your child rides a bus to school, make sure your bus driver knows both you and your child. If possible, get the driver’s phone number so you can text him/her if you won’t be at the bus stop on a certain day”
— Michael McCurdy, gifted and talented guru, NYC public-school dad

“Kids now have cellphones in the third grade. Set rules. Start with setting a password, so when it’s lost — and it will be — it keeps others from accessing his or her contacts and information. Tell them to never leave a cell phone unattended. Friends can use it to harass other people in your kid’s name, called posers, or cyberbullying by proxy — that happens frequently. The most common type of cyberbullying in the third and fourth grades is extortion — kids will threaten to divulge secrets if their target doesn’t do whatever they want.”
— Parry Aftab, Internet privacy and security lawyer, executive director of

“Most schools serve breakfast as well as lunch. I see kids chugging down chocolate milk and sugar-laden cereals at 7 a.m. Look at what’s being served in the cafeteria and decide whether that’s best for your child, or maybe you should pack something else.”
— Keith Ayoob, pediatric nutritionist and professor at Albert Einstein College of Medicine

“Fall kicks off the middle-school admissions process for both public and private schools. Incoming Fifth graders and their parents should start thinking about their options. Students can apply to a a zoned school or aim for another in the district, borough or a citywide program.”
The DOE has posted important dates for those seeking public-school seats in the 2014-2015 school year:
— Robin Aronow, consultant and founder of School Search NYC

Kindergarten Applications Going Digital, By VIVIAN YEE

Great news! It will now be easier to apply to kindergarten in NYC. You can apply on-line. To read this article at the NY Times website, CLICK HERE.

They line up in the predawn chill, clutching original birth certificates and passports, utility bills and lease agreements, all for the chance to enter their children into one of New York City’s most agonizing lotteries: the kindergarten application process.

For these parents, who are required to fill out forms in person at each school they want their young children to be considered for, the kindergarten application period each winter means long lines and stacks of paperwork. Starting next year, however, parents will be able to apply online through a Department of Education Web site, ranking their school choices and submitting a single application.

The online application, called Kindergarten Connect, was tested in 2012 in three districts — one each in the Bronx, Brooklyn and Manhattan — and “significantly more” parents applied early for kindergarten spots as a result, the city said.

Parents expressed support for the move, the city said, with 75 percent of 1,800 respondents in a survey praising the online option.

Though the process is evolving, school options and priority enrollment rules, like preferential admission for siblings of current students, will not change, the city said. All prospective kindergartners are entitled to attend public schools in their zones, which are determined by where they live. But many parents also apply for magnet programs or more coveted schools outside their zones.

Parents may still register their children the old way — in person, even on the first day of school. But in recent years the Department of Education has opened the application process several months in advance, and at some schools so many students apply that seats are assigned by lottery. Those who are not picked, as well as those applying later, may be offered seats in schools with open seats.

The application period, which normally begins toward the end of January with a deadline around the beginning of March, will remain unchanged.

The process at charter schools, which already use an online enrollment Web site, will not change.

At popular public elementary schools, which often receive so many applications their admittance rates resemble those of selective colleges, the news is likely to be greeted with relief. Under the current system, staff members at each school must check and sort all the applications, including birth certificates or passports and two items as proof of address. (Under the new system, parents will submit those documents in person after their children are assigned to a school.)

At the Brooklyn New School in Carroll Gardens, a parent coordinator transcribes about 650 applications each year into a computer database, said Anna Allanbrook, the principal. The school accepts about 100 kindergartners each year.

The coordinator “does the job of I don’t know how many people,” Ms. Allanbrook said. “It’s really a tremendous amount of time.”

Her only concern, she said, was that the ease of submitting applications to multiple schools from home would encourage parents to apply to more schools just because they were well-regarded, without having done their research. In-person applications encourage parents to visit, she said.

Still, she applauded the change, saying, “I think that’s what we should be doing in this day and age.”

Test Preparation Industry Booming as Parents Gird for Common Core Standards, by Amy Zimmer

Today’s DNAinfo New York is talking about how the test prep industry is booming due to the introduction of Common Core Standards. Even if you aren’t in NY, this article is relevant because Common Core Standards are being introduced into 45 states by 2014. If you’d like to read this piece at DNAinfo New York, CLICK HERE.

MANHATTAN — It’s only the first week of school for most New York City kids, yet many families are already fretting over the new, more difficult English and math exams.

That’s good news for at least one New York City industry: test-prep companies. These entrepreneurs say they’re seeing a significant uptick in business as families brace for tougher tests aligned to the new Common Core standards.

“Parents were extremely upset about how difficult the tests were and how their children just weren’t prepared,” said Karen Quinn, a testing expert and co-founder of “Kids were distressed as well. They don’t like to go into a test and feel unprepared and unable to answer the questions.”

In response, companies across the city have been speedily creating study guides and other tools based on the Common Core, which emphasizes critical thinking, reading comprehension and problem solving in both English and math.

In some respects, they appear to be responding faster than the schools themselves.

Teachers have said the Department of Education began rolling out the new standards before adequately training them. Many families also worry that school lesson plans aren’t yet up to speed — the recent dismal exam scores reflect that — and have been looking for other ways to bolster their kids’ test scores, leaders from the test-prep industry said.

“A lot of teachers don’t like the test. They feel it takes away from class time,” said Suzanne Rheault, CEO and founder of Aristotle Circle, which offers tutors, advisers and test-prep books. “Most say it’s not meaningful.”

Yet the stakes are high. The test scores can determine whether students will need summer school or repeat a grade and are also used to determine entrance into elite middle and high school programs.

“If you’re a parent it does matter, especially if you want to get your kid into a ‘gifted’ middle school,” Rheault said.

Aristotle Circle began offering detailed assessments in 2012 on New York Common Core standards for reading and math that can pinpoint a student’s grade level in specific content areas. (For instance, a third grader might be able to do fractions at the sixth-grade level, but perform poorly on multiplication, Rheault explained.)

These assessments, which cost $99, have become “the No.1 requested service for families attending public school, surpassing our OLSAT/NNAT [for gifted and talented programs] and Stanford-Binet/Hunter test preparation,” Rheault said. “As a follow-up, many families request our peer tutors review materials and go over areas of weakness.”

Requests for peer-tutors — college grads from NYU, Columbia and Barnard, with rates that start at $50 an hour — were up 700 percent in June compared to last year, Rheault said.

Bright Kids NYC, a tutoring and test-prep material business, doubled the number of fall classes at its Financial District and Upper West Side locations from about 30 to 60, and it plans to hire 70 additional teachers by January to lead the sessions that run from $25 to $42. Bright Kids is also hosting fall workshops to explain the Common Core in detail, its CEO and president Bige Doruk said.

“We had a big wave last spring, particularly [of students] in fourth and seventh grade, and then this summer we did a lot of one-on-one tutoring. We’re going to get more and more demand,” Doruk said.

Bright Kids is even working with a handful of educators to offer supplemental classes at schools and has a full line of English Language Arts (ELA) and math prep books on the way.

Last month’s release of the results from the new state tests nudged even more families into action, industry experts said. Parents saw how well the gifted and talented schools performed — the top four scoring schools on the fourth-grade ELA, for example, were all G&T schools, according to an analysis — and many called asking for a preparation boost, said Doruk, whose son attends Lower Lab, a G&T school on the Upper East Side that ranked third in the city.

Experts from — whose biggest market is helping kids prep for the G&T and private-school admissions exams — have partnered with online educational providers from across the country that are aligning their material with Common Core standards. Members of Quinn’s site pay between $10 and $40 a month for access to animated lessons, game-like quizzes and other materials that specifically target the New York ELA and math tests.

“We’ve noticed a significant rise over the last year in parents seeking help with general achievement, ELA and math test preparation,” Quinn said.

Still, she emphasized that the “official” tests based on the Common Core standards haven’t been created yet.

“The [city’s Department of Education] created their own tests based on these standards and administered them before teachers had even been trained to deliver content that fulfills these standards,” Quinn said.

“Everyone expects that it will take several years for the teaching to catch up with the more rigorous Common Core standards and that test scores will suffer during that time, as a result.”

Regardless, it’s important to keep in touch with teachers to stay abreast of your child’s performance, Quinn added.

“Know what your child is expected to learn each year,” she advised. “If your child is falling behind, learn where that is happening and make a plan with the teacher to jump in and help.”

Licensed Clinical Social Worker Morris Cohen offers advice on how to talk to children about test results here.

Field-Testing the Math Apps, By LISA GUERNSEY

September 2, 2013

Here is another article in today’s NY Times – Science Section. To read it at the Times website, CLICK HERE. This will be of particular interest to parents of very young children who are beginning to learn math and other subjects through on-line computer programs and iPad applications. These programs are wonderful supplements to real-world learning!

Field-Testing the Math Apps
LAWRENCE, Mass. — Elias was shy at first. “He’s 4,” his teacher whispered when he would not say his age. He made no sound as his peers rushed to the tables with the iPads. When a friend grabbed the device to take his photo, he covered his eyes with his hands.

Maybe it was the room full of strangers that had him a little spooked. Six software developers and designers from WGBH, the Boston public television station, had descended on his classroom at the Little Sprouts child care center here, bearing a fleet of rubber-cased iPads.

Their mission was to test prototypes of math apps they had been working on for months — tools designed with the help of researchers in child development and cognitive science — and to learn from pupils like Elias. Would he understand how to play the games? Would he like them? Would he learn anything?

One of the adults crouched alongside the boy and showed him Breakfast Time, an app meant to lay the groundwork for understanding fractions. A waffle appeared on screen. “Can you slice it?” the man asked Elias.

Educational apps have been booming in the six years since the arrival of the iPhone’s touch screen, despite the warnings of some educators that children will spend too much time with devices and too little time exploring the physical world. The iTunes store offers more than 95,000 educational apps, many of them free.

Nearly three-quarters are aimed at preschoolers and grade schoolers, according to a 2012 report by Joan Ganz Cooney Center, a research organization affiliated with Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit producer of “Sesame Street.” A coming survey of members of the National Association for the Education of Young Children shows that nearly 3 in 10 classrooms have an iPad or other tablet. Proposals to provide each child with a tablet have popped up in school districts around the country.

Rising concern about the foundations of math education has helped fuel this hunger for apps. A 2009 report from the National Academy of Sciences found a lack of exposure to math at home and in preschool settings, especially for children in low-income families. Among other things, it recommended increasing the informal opportunities for children to learn math, including through “software and other media,” and that teachers get better math training.

The WGBH developers in Elias’s classroom are part of a project called Next Generation Preschool Math financed by a $3 million, four-year grant from the National Science Foundation. Two research organizations — E.D.C. and S.R.I International, both of which have expertise in evaluating educational technologies — are leading the project, known as NextGen. Its aim is to develop and evaluate apps, teachers’ guides and tools for tracking children’s progress on the path to enjoying and excelling in mathematics.

Scientific research on the educational value of apps is nearly nonexistent. The NextGen project is trying to change that, through a painstaking process that includes not just software development but also testing, data gathering, observations of classroom dynamics, interviews with teachers, assessments of children’s learning and controlled comparisons. This school year, in 16 classrooms in New York and California, researchers will assess children at the beginning and end of a four-week unit to see whether the apps — and an accompanying set of materials for teachers — make any difference.

But the NextGen team is already learning a lot about the challenges of creating apps that are fun, easy for little hands to use, and able to provide evidence that children are actually learning something.

“This is like the sixth iteration that we’ve brought to the field,” said Christine Zanchi, executive producer of children’s media for WGBH. Her team had been trying to perfect the user interface that prompts children to slice the Breakfast Time waffles into equal parts. In past tests, children pushed too hard on the screen or used their fingers in a sawing motion. Some 2-year-olds put the waffle to their lips as if to taste it.

When the developers first observed children using apps already on the market, they noticed a tendency to touch and tap everywhere. “Inhibiting that tap-tap-tap is really hard for them at that age,” Ms. Zanchi said. Teachers, she said, have urged her team to design games that give children time to think.

Math games sound deceptively simple: Flash numbers on the screen, add animation, and voilà, you have shown a child how to count. But these kinds of apps are based on a misunderstanding of what children need to know, said Herbert P. Ginsburg, an expert in mathematics education at Columbia University and an adviser to the NextGen project.

“It’s not just ‘I can count 1, 2, 3, 4, 5,’ ” he said. “It’s ‘What does 5 mean?’ ”

Phil Vahey, a researcher at S.R.I. in San Francisco and an investigator on the NextGen project, agreed. Simply knowing the words for numbers, he said, “doesn’t set children up for much deeper understanding of math like ‘This gets smaller by two’ or ‘This gets larger by this amount.’ ” Without that foundation, concepts like scaling and fractions can be baffling when they are introduced in elementary school.

In the first year of the NextGen project, the WGBH designers focused on making sure children had fun, while the researchers were adamant about making sure they could see evidence of learning. The waffle game, for example, was colorful and inviting but also calibrated to see if children understood how to distribute equal parts to a corresponding number of plates. In math speak, this is known as “equipartitioning.”

When Elias was asked to slice the onscreen waffle, he tentatively drew his finger across it. The waffle split into two.

He giggled. “One here, and one here,” he said, looking suddenly at ease as he dragged the slices to two plates.

Could the same idea not be taught with the real thing? Asked that after the testing session, three teachers at Little Sprouts had quick answers. They do use “real” objects throughout the day. But the apps allow more variations, they said, and are spurring them to try new ways of introducing equipartitioning concepts during meals and other activities. After playing a NextGen app called the Lemonade Game, a teacher, Melisa Perez, decided to reinforce it the next day with real cups and ice cubes. “I said, here are two friends and you have cups and ice. How are you going to make it equal?”

Last year, the National Association for the Education of Young Children published a position statement on technology in early childhood. It agreed that interactive technology had a place in early education but added nuance: “With guidance, these various technology tools can be harnessed for learning and development. Without guidance, usage can be inappropriate and/or interfere with learning and development.”

Another phase of the NextGen evaluation will examine what kind of guidance teachers need. However, the project is not set up to test whether showing teachers new methods for teaching math without the apps would do just as much good.

That worries Colleen Cordes, the editor of “Facing the Screen Dilemma,” a report from a coalition of advocacy groups that focuses on the downsides of new technology. With projects like NextGen, there is too much of an emphasis on “novelty,” she said, adding, “That’s been a real sinkhole for education for decades.”

But Ashley Lewis Presser, an E.D.C. researcher who is the project’s principal investigator, noted that apps were fast being adopted already, in the absence of research on how well they work. One part of the project is to “figure out how to help teachers implement well,” she said — for example, “how much ‘math talk’ was elicited by the activity.”

At Little Sprouts that morning, Elias had a teacher nearby. “Let’s count what you have,” she said when the game moved up a level. Instead of cutting his waffle into just two parts, he had progressed to four, then eight. Shy no more, he put the slices on each plate that came his way, feeding characters on the screen. By the end he had a declaration for the developers watching him play: “They are going to get sick!”

With Common Core, Fewer Topics but Covered More Rigorously, By KENNETH CHANG

September 2, 2013

Here is an excellent article on the way Common Core Standards will impact math education. To read it online at the NY Times website, CLICK HERE. I highly recommend today’s NY Times’ entire Science Section. It is devoted entirely to looking behind the alarming headlines about math and science achievement in the U.S. Be sure to pick up your own copy!

With Common Core, Fewer Topics but Covered More Rigorously
If the new mathematics standards adopted by New York and 44 other states work as intended, then children, especially in the lower elementary grades, will learn less math this year.

But by cutting back on a hodgepodge of topics and delving deeper into central concepts, the hope is that the children will understand it better.

So, for Mayra Baldi, a kindergarten teacher at P.S. 169 in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, that will mean focusing on numbers. “You have to deepen their understanding,” she said. “You have to get them to think more.”

Under the previous New York math standards, kindergartners were expected to learn to orally count to 20 and write the numbers from 1 to 10. Under the new standards known as Common Core, they are to count 100, both by ones and by 10s, and to write all of the numbers to 20. To make time for the additional numbers, the new standards drop rudimentary introductions to concepts in algebra and statistics.

“Historically, in American education, we have done every concept in the world a mile wide and an inch deep,” said Kate Gerson, a senior research fellow at the Regents Research Fund, a privately financed group that advises the New York education department.

The earlier New York standards also called for mastery of math knowledge. But, Ms. Baldi said, “It wasn’t realistic. Now each grade has a focus.”

Brian Cohen, the coordinator for science, technology, engineering and mathematics curriculum for the Skaneateles Central School District near Syracuse said that to adults, it might not seem a big change to extend counting to 20, but the numbers 11 through 19 are the hardest numbers for a kindergartner to grasp.

“When you say the number 14, you hear the ‘four’ before the ‘teen,’ ” he said. “So when kindergartners try to read and write the number ‘14”, they end up writing a ‘4’ and then a ‘1’ — 41 instead of 14.”

Previously, kindergartners could fulfill the standard by memorizing a list of numbers. Now they are to not only say “fourteen,” but also to know it is written as “14” and understand that it represents a group of 14 objects.

Excised from kindergarten lesson plans, for example, are exercises to identify and create repeating patterns, which were meant as a rudimentary introduction to algebra concepts. “That was a big shift for kindergarten teachers, who used to spend a lot of time on patterns, and now we’re giving all of that time to numbers,” Mr. Cohen said.

Before Common Core, every state had its own version of math standards. Four years ago, governors and state-level officials began an effort to come up with a uniform set of knowledge that students across the country would master, from kindergarten through high school. The result was the Common Core: one set of standards covering reading and writing, the other mathematics.

The Obama administration did not play a direct role in writing Common Core, but it offered a financial carrot — states that adopted the new standards were more likely to receive a slice of billions of dollars in education grants. While states were quick to sign on, some have had second thoughts, either because of concerns about the expense of new textbooks and teaching materials needed, or seeing it as a federal takeover of local education decisions.

In addition, in New York, many parents expressed consternation in August when scores fell sharply on new, more challenging state tests that were based on the Common Core standards.

But New York officials have no doubts. They say the new standards are modeled on the teaching strategies of countries, especially in Asia, that perform better on international comparisons.

“Countries who outperform us are countries that do not cover every single concept that is on those tests,” Ms. Gerson said. “They cover focused concepts. They cover central concepts.”

Ms. Gerson said the Common Core is also intended to end the “math wars,” in which educators and parents battled over whether the emphasis should be on mastering basic math skills or conveying deeper concepts. With fewer topics to cover, “It is not an either/or situation anymore,” she said. “It’s a real return and attention to memorization and recall, drilling around math facts.”

But then students are supposed to be able to figure out how to use their math knowledge to solve problems that go beyond traditional word problems.

New York, like many other states, has been making a transition to the new standards. This fall will be the first school year they are fully put in place in New York.

Ms. Baldi, who taught second grade for the previous four years at P.S. 169 and will teach kindergarten this year, said she had changed how she taught math. In the past, she said she used to present a math topic first before giving exercises for her students to solve. Taking heed of the Common Core’s instruction that “mathematically proficient students start by explaining to themselves the meaning of a problem and looking for entry points to its solution,” Ms. Baldi began to give a new problem “cold turkey,” without introduction or explanation, and let groups of students try to figure it out.

“I’m more of a facilitator, and I’m taking more of a step back,” she said.

Only after the students brainstormed their own solutions would she discuss the different ways of solving it. “I thought that they got a better understanding, because they got to tackle the problem on their own and got to hear from the other students,” she said.

The state has prepared teachers by holding workshops and posting a Web site of videos and documents describing the changing expectations.

In New York City, thousands of teachers, including Ms. Baldi, passed through the doors of Murry Bergtraum High School in Lower Manhattan this summer for one-day workshops to learn about the new teaching materials that most elementary and middle schoolteachers in the city will be using this year.

“It was clear, and the program seemed very clear,” Ms. Baldi said.

The whole process could repeat in the coming years with the newly developed Next Generation Science Standards, which similarly attempt to lay out a coherent, challenging framework for what students need to learn in the 21st century.

Biggest Changes in a Decade Greet Students, By Stephanie Banchero, Arian Campo-Flores

Today’s Wall Street Journal contains an important story about the fight over Common Core standards that is facing every public school in this country today. CLICK HERE to read the story at the Wall Street Journal website. If your child is attending public school, this is something you will hear more and more about in the coming year. 45 states have accepted the new Common Core Standards. They are tougher than the previous “No Child Left Behind” standards. Scores are going to go down as schools transition to these harder standards. High stakes decisions will be made based on student scores. As parents, it is important to understand how standards are changing and what this means to your child. If your child will be tested using the new Common Core standards, be sure to check out for practice questions and school enrichment support. Here is today’s article:

Millions of students heading back to school are finding significant changes in the curriculum and battles over how teachers are evaluated, as the biggest revamps of U.S. public education in a decade work their way into classrooms.

Most states are implementing tougher math and reading standards known as Common Core, while teacher evaluations increasingly are linked to student test scores or other measures of achievement. Meantime, traditional public schools face unprecedented competition from charter and private schools.

Supporters say the overhauls will help make U.S. students more competitive with pupils abroad. But others worry that the sheer volume and far-reaching nature of the new policies is too much, too fast. Already, the changes have sparked pushback.

North Carolina teachers marched on the state capitol last month to protest lawmakers’ efforts to end automatic pay increases for teachers who obtain master’s degrees and plans to let children use tax dollars to attend private schools. In Texas, the birthplace of the student-testing movement, parents prodded legislators to scale back standardized testing of high schoolers. And some Indiana school boards passed resolutions opposing the state’s policy of giving schools letter grades from A to F after media reports showed officials tinkered with the formula in part to boost a charter school’s grade.

“This is the huge fulcrum moment for many of the reforms,” said Rick Hess, director of education policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative Washington think tank. “It’s a lot messier than some might have thought.”

If a significant number of suburban, middle-class parents start pushing back, Mr. Hess said, “the whole reform agenda could blow a gasket.”

Randi Weingarten, head of the American Federation of Teachers, the nation’s second largest teachers union, predicted more turmoil as many states plan to roll out tougher standardized exams in 2015. Already, she said, the country has a “dispirited and demoralized teaching force at the very moment you need them to be at the top of their game.”

The last few years have seen dramatic changes in the U.S. education system, chiefly spurred by Republican governors and President Barack Obama. The president’s Race to the Top education initiative offered $4.35 billion to cash-starved states to adopt policies such as linking test scores to teacher evaluations and expanding charter schools, which are public schools run by outside groups.

Meantime, 45 states and the District of Columbia have adopted the Common Core math and language-arts standards, which lay out what students should know at each grade level.

More than 40 states have agreed to link teacher evaluations to test scores or other student-achievement measures, and four plan to rescind the licenses of some teachers who fail to make the grade.

Moreover, 14 states have passed laws allowing more charter schools and at least eight adopted or expanded voucher programs that let students use tax money for private schools. The number of charter schools grew to 5,997 last school year from 2,559 in the 2002-2003 year.

Now, many of these policies are taking root in the most striking remake of public education since President George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind, a bipartisan 2002 law that forces states to test students annually in math and reading and sanctions schools that fail to measure up.

Many of the current overhauls also shared rare bipartisan support and the blessing of some teacher unions when they were adopted. Ms. Weingarten, for example, has been one of the biggest champions of Common Core.

But similar to the history of No Child Left Behind, the cohesion is fraying as implementation kicks in. Common Core has come under attack from Tea Party activists who see it as an intrusion into states’ rights. They helped convince at least three states to back out of the common exams linked to standards. And Ms. Weingarten helped pressure Education Secretary Arne Duncan to offer states a one-year reprieve on linking test results to teacher personnel decisions.

Mr. Duncan in an interview said that implementing the new education policies can be “challenging, complex and messy” and that he expects to see “midcourse corrections” along the way. “People are struggling to do things that have never been done in the history of the country and that is hard work,” he said.

Chris Knez, a fifth-grade teacher in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools in North Carolina, received specialized training in his previous school district in Common Core math concepts. That helped him teach his students higher-level skills, such as understanding the process of converting mixed numbers to fractions. Still, he worries the new Common Core exams won’t perfectly align with the standards, yet the results will be used against teachers. “You can’t pin so many consequences on something that seems to have such a shaky grounding in the first place,” he said.

In the Comsewogue School District on Long Island, N.Y., hundreds of parents, teachers and others rallied this month to criticize the state’s new and more rigorous exams. About 31% of New York state elementary students were deemed proficient in math and reading this year, down from 65% in math and 55% in English on the 2012 exams.

The blowback has been especially rancorous in Florida, a state long at the forefront of reshaping education. Parents opposed to some of the changes have formed organizations, testified at legislative hearings and mounted social-media campaigns, helping torpedo a “parent trigger” bill that would have allowed parents to demand changes at struggling schools. The parents groups saw the bill as paving the way for more charter schools.

In May 2012, the Florida Board of Education acquiesced to widespread outcry and lowered the passing score on the state’s standardized writing exam after a plunge in the number of students scoring at the proficient level. And last month, the state board voted to tinker with the A-to-F school-grading system to prevent schools from dropping by more than one letter grade.

Such modifications have “led to a lack of trust in this whole reform agenda,” said Kathleen Oropeza, who has two kids in public school in Orlando and co-founded a parents group called

But Patricia Levesque, chief executive of the Foundation for Excellence in Education—an organization created by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who spearheaded many of the state’s education changes—, defends Florida’s standards. She said it is “really important for those of us who believe in high standards and accountability to do a better job of explaining what’s really occurring.”

Write to Stephanie Banchero at and Arian Campo-Flores at

70% of NYC Students Failed Common Core Standards Test This Last School Year

Here are the results of the NYC testing based on Common Core Standards. Scores took a nose dive, as was expected with the new, harder standards. No matter where you live, expect achievement tests scores to go down for a few years until the teaching catches up with the tougher standards. For practice and preparation for these rigorous state achievement tests, visit

NEW YORK CITY — Standardized test scores plummeted among New York City kids this year after the state used tougher math and reading exams pegged to new federal standards.`

According to scores released by the New York State Department of Education on Wednesday, just 26.4 percent of the city’s third-through-eighth-grade students passed the English Language Arts test this year, down from 46.9 percent last year. The city’s kids also fell short of the state’s average 31.1 percent pass rate this year.

Scores also dropped in math, with just 29.6 percent of third-through-eighth graders in the city passing the new standardized tests, down from 60 percent last year. Statewide, 31 percent of students passed the math exam.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg and state, city and federal education officials said the lower test scores — the first based on new federal Common Core standards — were not a cause for concern.

Bloomberg defended the scores at a press conference at the Education Department’s headquarters Wednesday alongside King, Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott and State Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch, saying that the “much more rigorous” tests were difficult to measure against past tests.

“The only ways we know how to use this year’s test to see if they’ve advanced is to compare them to the rest of the state that has taken the same test,” Bloomberg said. “And what we see is that our kids are catching up to the state”

The mayor said the scores show an overall improvement compared to other urban areas in the state. He pointed to New York City’s difference from the overall state numbers — 1.4 percentage points below on English and 4.7 on math — versus other cities, such as Rochester, which was 26 percentage points below the state average in both English and math.

Bloomberg said the new tests were similar to a minor league baseball player who batted .500 jumping to the big leagues and hitting .250 in the more difficult environment.

“That is not necessarily a worse baseball player,” Bloomberg said. “When you take a look at them and understand them, it’s some very good news [in the tests].”

Bloomberg added that the harder new federal standards are “exactly what we need.”

Even with the lower scores, school officials pointed to national test results showing what they said was a consistent levels of college preparedness. For example, the number of students deemed proficient in math on the new tests — 29.6 percent — is similar to the 28 percent who measured similarly proficient on the 2011 National Assessment for Educational Progress test, up from 20.5 percent in 2003.

According to the mayor’s office, students will not be held back based on the new test results. High-scoring students will continue to have access to screened middle and high schools, even if their scores decreased from past years. According to the city’s chief academic officer, Shael Polakow-Suransky, schools will admit students based on their rank on the new tests, allowing students whose scores slipped to still be admitted to the city’s top schools.

Additionally, the administration said teacher evaluations this school year will not be negatively impacted by lower scores. The Department of Education pledged to more than double the funds for Common Core-related teacher development, from $50 million to more than $100 million.

Chancellor Tisch praised Bloomberg for embracing the new standards, as well as for working to improve education in the city.

“New York City has set a bar for challenge, and moving into challenge and embracing challenge,” Tisch said. “This is a courageous movement in the history of the state and the history of the city.”

But critics blasted the scores drop as evidence that Bloomberg’s focus on testing and data-driven improvement has not succeeded.

“Mayor Bloomberg could have changed course years ago. He didn’t. And he ignored the pleas of parents and teachers who said we were headed in the wrong direction,” said Michael Mulgrew, head of the United Federation of Teachers, in a statement earlier this week. “The result is that once again students and schools are paying the price for the mayor’s failed policies.”

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