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 TestingMom.com. “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 TestingMom.com — 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
By LISA GUERNSEY
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
By KENNETH CHANG
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 www.TestingMom.com 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 FundEducationNow.org.

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 stephanie.banchero@wsj.com and Arian Campo-Flores at arian.campo-flores@wsj.com

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 www.TestingMom.com.

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.”

The New Teacher Assignment

In today’s Wall Street Journal, Sue Shellenbarger writes an excellent piece on the do’s and don’t's of helping your kids get the teacher that will work best for him. CLICK HERE to read this piece at the Wall Street Journal website. I recommend that you go there just to read the parent’s comments! I absolutely love that Sue wrote about this topic. This was a huge issue at the schools my kids attended. Parents were always jockeying to get their kids assigned to the most popular teacher’s class. Our kids went to private school where we could barely afford the tuition, much less the extra donations to the annual fund. There, parents who gave the biggest gifts to the school always got the most consideration when it came to teacher placements. Still, Sue Shellenbarger offers some great advice here on things you can bring up to influence your child’s placement, without risking your child’s good standing with whatever teacher to whom she is assigned.

Dread of August: The Kids’ Teacher Assignments, by Sue Shellenbarger
As parents worry their kids will get stuck with a dud, more schools are trying to limit their input.

August brings high anxiety for many parents awaiting big news for fall: Who will be their child’s teacher? Will it be someone creative and inspiring? Or will they get stuck with a burnout, a bore or a scary drill-sergeant type?

Now, that angst is being further intensified by a combination of factors, including a less experienced teacher pool, faster gossip grapevines and schools’ increased strategies to limit parents’ involvement in the teacher-placement process.

In fact, school officials are sending a strong message to parents: Don’t ask. A growing number of principals hold parents at bay by sending questionnaires in the spring that ask for general information about a child, but prohibit requesting a specific teacher. More principals are skipping parent input altogether, setting firm policies that teacher assignments are up to the school.

Maybe that is because news of an unwanted teacher match can inspire less-than-productive interactions. “I’ve had parents get angry and pound on my desk” to protest their kids’ placement, says former principal Trish Dolasinski of Scottsdale, Ariz. Some pull out the violins, she adds, saying such things as, “When Billy saw he had Mrs. Smith, he was in tears. We’ve had the worst weekend of our lives. It’s been horrendous.”

Current and retired principals say they have seen parents threaten to quit the PTA or PTO, withdraw their child from school or band together with other parents to get a teacher fired. Some take their complaint to the top, storming district offices to meet with the principal’s boss. (Firing tenured teachers is a multi-step process governed by state laws and union contracts; even for new teachers who can be fired more easily, principals typically keep a tight rein on the process.)

For parents, of course, the stakes can feel very high. If they don’t protest, and their child has a bad experience, it could derail their academic development. But because many parents look to educators to be a nurturing mentor for their child, many fret that complaining about a placement or meddling too much will put them on that teacher’s bad side, making life even harder for their kids.

Teachers expect parental angst and most try to allay it early. Lori Attias, a teacher at Lindley Elementary School in Greensboro, N.C., says she was a little nervous when she was assigned two years ago to teach a blended classroom of third- and fourth-graders. “It was a challenge,” she says. At the open house before school, parents were more anxious than usual, she says. One father who towered over her by nearly a foot “came up next to me and said, ‘How do you intend to handle this?’ I’ll never forget it,” she says.

She explained her plans for lessons and scheduling, reassuring parents she would help the two grades “gel as a class” while still getting the specific instruction they needed. “One of the most important things you do as you start the year is to get parent support,” she says.

Hollis Oberlies, mother of two elementary-age students, was one of those anxious parents. She says she was initially dismayed when the principal assigned her daughter Jessica to the blended classroom, in part because she had “heard a lot of horror stories” about them—and because she had requested a stable setup after Jessica’s second-grade teacher took several months off for maternity leave. By the end of the year, though, she says her daughter was thriving.

As the nation’s schools undergo a wave of teacher retirements, some 25% of teachers have only five or fewer years in the classroom, “a precipitous decline” in experience since the late 1980s, when the typical teacher had 15 years’ experience, according to a study by the National Commission on Teaching & America’s Future, a Washington, D.C. nonprofit advocating teacher quality.

That may explain why some 43% of parents report being “extremely worried” about their kids’ elementary-school teacher assignments, according to a poll last month of 306 parents by CafeMom, a social-networking and community website.

Principals try to balance dozens of factors in making up classes, including ability level, race, gender, learning style, behavior and special needs, says Nancy Flatt Meador, president of the National Association of Elementary School Principals in Alexandria, Va.

Some factors “don’t lend themselves well to being written down in a handbook, such as, ‘We need to be sure that the five worst-behaved kids in the grade don’t get assigned to the same classroom,’ ” says Celine Coggins, founder of Teach Plus, a Boston advocacy group.

A growing number of principals handle class-placement announcements like college admissions, sending parents a letter in August naming their child’s teacher. Some schools post class lists after the school office closes on the last weekend of the summer, to prevent parents from storming the office. Others post lists at an open house a day or two before school starts, in hopes that meeting a new teacher face-to-face at the event will defuse complaints.

Dr. Dolasinski, the former principal, once supervised a teacher who was unpopular with parents because she tended to be aloof in conversations. But in the classroom, she was caring and methodical, and excelled in teaching math and science, says Dr. Dolasinski, a Scottsdale, Ariz., writer for PTO Today, a magazine for parent groups.

Principal Aaron Woody of Lindley Elementary School, where Ms. Attias teaches, walks a line between allowing parents some input without giving up control. He sends parents of each of the school’s 450 students a questionnaire every March asking for information, but prohibiting requests for specific teachers. About 30 parents hand-deliver the questionnaire and ask to talk. He meets with all of them to hear out their concerns.

In May, he meets teachers at each grade level, using the questionnaires to help make up class groups for the next grade. He assigns a teacher to each group, then sends parents a letter in August. In the fall, he meets with every parent who complains.

All the meetings with parents “take a lot of time,” about 15 hours a year, he says. But it also builds trust. Early in his five-year tenure as principal of another school, he granted a few parent requests to change teachers, usually based on information the school didn’t have, such as an older sibling’s previous experience. But as parents got to know him during the last three years, changes dropped to zero. He is seeing the same pattern as he begins his third year at Lindley.

Mary Herbenick had a specific second-grade teacher in mind last year for her daughter Kara, to help build confidence in her reading skills. An active school volunteer, Ms. Herbenick knew the teacher strongly urged the children “to strive and achieve and read, read, read,” she says. She protested when Dr. Woody placed Kara with a different teacher. He listened and explained his reasons, including information from Kara’s previous teacher, she says.

As it turned out, the new teacher encouraged Kara to “read in a way that worked for Kara … My daughter is very theatrical and the teacher would say, ‘Can you act that out?’” Ms. Herbenick says. Kara now loves to read.

But Ms. Herbenick remembers how difficult it was when Dr. Woody asked her to “trust the process,” she says. “I agreed. But I was nervous.”

The ABCs of a Happy Teacher Match

How parents can help place their child in a classroom that suits him or her best.

DO:

Write school officials in advance
Identify your child’s optimal learning style—visual, verbal, or hands-on, alone or in groups, with structure and routine or with creativity or spontaneity
Mention any other student who might disrupt learning if placed in the same classroom
Describe older siblings’ experiences with particular teachers, positive or negative, if you think it is relevant
Let the school know about any family circumstances, such as a divorce or a move, that may affect behavior or learning needs

DON’T:

Ask for a specific teacher by name
Expect special treatment because you volunteer at school a lot
Yell at the principal, pound the desk
Threaten to get the teacher fired
Show your child disappointment or anger over a teacher assignment
Bypass the school principal and take your complaint to district officials

Sources: PTO Today, SchoolFamily.com, National Association of Elementary School Principals

NYC Testing Results for 2013 Decrease by 30 Percentage Points

Here is a story that is about to play out across the country. To read it at the NY Times Website, CLICK HERE. The whole country (well, 45 out of 50 states) is moving to Common Core Standards in 2014. NYC DOE went ahead and tested students based on these new, harder standards in 2013. The results are not good. However, this is to be expected when moving students from easier to tougher standards. It may take years before kids test as well as they did with the older, easier standards. What is sad is that politicians are trying to make this into a political issue – Mayor Bloomberg failed in his quest to improve the NYC schools. That is not what happened here. I don’t know if moving to these tougher standards is a good or a bad thing. I do know that the dip in scores has everything to do with a tougher test that students weren’t yet prepared for. It is not a political failure.

Results of New Testing Standard Could Complicate Bloomberg’s Final Months
By JAVIER C. HERNÁNDEZ

Michael R. Bloomberg has staked much of his reputation as the mayor of New York City on improving students’ test scores, and has trumpeted gains in math and reading as validation of his 12-year effort to remake the city’s schools.

But the mayor’s telling of history is poised to receive one of its most vigorous challenges yet on Wednesday, when New York State is expected to report drastic drops in student performance across the state because of a new set of tougher exams.

In New York City, the proportion of students deemed proficient in math and reading could decrease by as many as 30 percentage points, city officials said, threatening to hand Mr. Bloomberg a public relations problem five months before he is set to leave office.

Already, many of Mr. Bloomberg’s rivals — the teachers’ union, parent groups, and several of the Democratic candidates vying to succeed him — have begun to use the prospect of a steep drop in scores to call into question the mayor’s record on education.

The United Federation of Teachers on Friday released a 1,000-word memo, in part blaming Mr. Bloomberg for poor test results, saying he had not done enough to train teachers for the new standards, known as Common Core.

But City Hall has dismissed those claims, and on Sunday the schools chancellor, Dennis M. Walcott, fired back. He said that a decline in scores was inevitable as part of a switch to more rigorous standards, and that it would take several years before students performed at high levels. Mr. Walcott, who has repeatedly criticized labor officials and mayoral candidates this election season, called the union’s efforts “despicable.” He urged the public to look at Mr. Bloomberg’s full record, citing improvements in graduation rates.

“This is about our students and the responsibility to prepare our students for the rigors of the 21st century,” Mr. Walcott said in an interview with The New York Times, which he requested.

As his mayoralty winds down, Mr. Bloomberg has sought to burnish an image as a savior of a school system rife with racial and socioeconomic disparities.

But several of the Democratic candidates for mayor have rejected that portrayal, seizing on anger among some parents rankled by what they say is his unilateral approach to governing. Bill de Blasio, a candidate and the public advocate, said on Sunday that the latest test results would be a “major wake-up call.”

“We can’t keep working at the margins and focusing on a handful of niche schools,” Mr. de Blasio said in a statement. “We need a game-changer to raise outcomes for kids across the board.”

William C. Thompson Jr., another Democratic candidate, said the city should devote more resources to helping teachers with the new standards, echoing the position of the teachers’ union, which has endorsed him.

“The current administration has forced teachers to implement new standards without giving them the curriculum they need to do it successfully,” Mr. Thompson, a former city comptroller and Board of Education president, said in a statement. “Tests should not be gotcha moments.”

The city said it had spent three years developing curriculum and was offering additional training to teachers this summer. The Common Core standards, adopted by 45 states and the District of Columbia, have garnered praise for their emphasis on free-form thinking, but they have met resistance in some corners, including from conservatives skeptical of national standards, and parents wary of testing.

The outcry facing Mr. Bloomberg may soon confront officials across the country; many states are expected to administer Common Core exams in the 2014-15 school year. New York was one of the first states to create tests aligned with the standards, but the exams were met with mixed reviews when they made their debut in April. Teachers said they had not received adequate preparation, and some students said the tests were too hard.

The exams required students to complete more open-ended questions and analyze lengthy passages of text, much of it nonfiction. The tests demanded a deeper understanding of a narrower set of topics and analysis previously reserved for higher grades.

Advocates of Common Core acknowledge that scores may drop initially, but say that over time the new standards will help students develop better critical thinking skills.

The Common Core exams replaced New York State tests that critics said had created a culture of rote memorization. In 2010, responding to complaints that scores had become inflated, the state tests were changed and made harder to pass, prompting a similar round of questions about claims of progress. Last year, in New York City, 47 percent of students in the third through the eighth grades were deemed proficient in reading, compared with 60 percent in math.

The city has said it will account for the decline expected this year, so that teachers and students are not unfairly punished.

Aaron M. Pallas, a professor of sociology and education at Columbia University, said the changing standards would make it difficult for the public to judge how schools were performing.

“The fear is that the lower scores are going to lead to the perception that all of a sudden our schools are doing worse, our teachers are less effective,” he said. “Neither of those is true. This is just a much higher bar being set for judging whether students are on track for college and career readiness.”

Richard Scarry’s Books for Busy Children

In today’s Wall Street Journal, Meghan Cox Gurdon writes about the evolution of “Richard Scarry’s Best Word Book Ever.” If you would like to read the piece at the WSJ website, CLICK HERE. It is a fascinating piece (for those of us who love Richard Scarry’s books). I never thought about how the world had changed from the time he began writing books until now, but of course it has. And mores that were acceptable to all of us in the 50′s and 60′s are no longer the norm! In Richard Scarry’s world, the woman was the nurse and she worked in the kitchen. The man was the soldier and he worked in the fields. That has changed and with it, editors changed his books. A new 50th edition of “Richard Scarry’s Best Word Book Ever” is coming out. According to the author, it’s not as wonderful as the original book. I would absolutely love to get my hands on an original edition and see what she is talking about! Still, if you ask me, there’s nothing like Richard Scarry books for kids!

In my own world of helping children get ready for testing, the one book I invariably recommend to parents is “Richard Scarry’s Best Word Book Ever.” It represents page after page of Richard Scarry putting pictures of things that go together into categories. Analogy is one of the first big thinking concepts that children are expected to master for school and testing (and life and thinking). Richard Scarry books help children “get” this in the most delightful way possible. Enjoy this article and if your child hasn’t yet started a collection of Richard Scarry books, why not start with this new 50th Anniversary Edition of “Richard Scarry’s Best Word Book Ever!”

scarry

Scarry Stories for Small Children
Meghan Cox Gurdon celebrates Richard Scarry’s books for busy children.

By Meghan Cox Gurdon
The grown-up world as depicted in children’s books often seems both dull and taxing, a complicated and distant place to which no child with any sense ought to be in a hurry to get. A couple of generations ago, by contrast, the legendary children’s book author and illustrator Richard Scarry made adulthood seem industrious and purposeful, an inviting realm to which children must naturally aspire. Born in 1919, Scarry imbued his cheerful, colorful work with the can-do spirit of mid-20th-century America. His more than 100 picture books are populated by anthropomorphic animals engaged in productive work: billy goats hoeing fields, owls operating lathes, sows baking bread.

Scarry loved to depict tools and machinery in his drawings—combine harvesters, forklifts, trowels, saws and gears. He died in 1994, so he missed the next great blossoming of American ingenuity. With his knack for finding witty, telling details, he might, in time, have slipped smartphones and earpieces into his characters’ possession. That he would have chosen to depict the passivity that technology has brought to the culture—adults with heads bowed and thumbs scrolling in silent thrall, sedentary children living virtually—is harder to imagine. There are no inactive creatures in Scarry’s eventful tableaux, let alone portrayals of indolence or torpor.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the book that made the Boston-born illustrator famous. In the fall of 1963, Golden Press published “Richard Scarry’s Best Word Book Ever” to immediate acclaim. With its large, inviting pages, bright colors and hundreds of droll little drawings, the book introduced young children to the splendid panoply of objects and personalities that they might see in a city, or at the beach or at the airport, as well as to various professions, parts of the body, and shapes and sizes, and to the many types of cars, trucks, ships, planes, trains, foodstuffs, clothes, toys and zoo creatures.

With more than 1,600 labeled objects, the book had, as Leonard Marcus put it in “Golden Legacy,” his 2007 history of the deliberately affordable children’s-books imprint, “the festive atmosphere and compressed design of a theme park.” Scarry’s first best seller offered a commercially successful combination that “translated for parents to good value, and for children to a bounty of worldly possibility to explore.”

Never out of print, “Richard Scarry’s Best Word Book Ever” has sold 4.5 million copies in the U.S., and Random House is marking its half-century anniversary by reissuing it—and other books in the Scarry oeuvre, including “Richard Scarry’s Busy, Busy Town”—with a clean, streamlined design and unifying logo. The anniversary edition is welcome, of course, not least if it brings Scarry to parents or children who may somehow have missed him. But it is a sad fact that the book of 2013 is a bland simulacrum of the original. As a cultural artifact, it shows in sometimes poignant ways how much half a century has wrought in cultural expectations—and perhaps in childhood itself. A young child picking up the new edition may well feel the delight of his counterpart 50 years ago—Scarry’s charm survives the relaunch—but he will have no way of knowing that children in 1963 held a heftier and much richer volume.

The world that Richard Scarry presented in the original edition was excitingly broad and open and chronicled with vivid specificity. Children could pore over pages crowded with labeled pictures of all sorts of birds (the quail, pheasant, wren, bittern), buildings (a cathedral, pyramid, fort, skyscraper), flowers (clover, pansies, asters, foxgloves) and houses (the igloo, grass house, half-timbered house, chalet). These images drew young imaginations up and out, inviting them to appreciate the astonishing variety of things. The labels gave children a kind of mastery over them.

The world as it appears in the 2013 relaunch is narrower in scope and confined to categories already familiar to most little children. Oh, a bunny still works as a cashier at the supermarket, uniformed cats patrol the zoo and we see a tiger cub getting his checkup from a lion-doctor with a hurt tail (the bandage forms a neat bow). But gone are all the vivid and particular birds, plants and buildings, the “Out West” tableau, with its covered wagon, blacksmith and frontier locomotive, and two pages about tidying up one’s house, along with the category of “music making,” which showed animals making merry on instruments such as the bassoon, piccolo, cornet, saxophone and oboe.

Gone, too, are courtly little authorial observations and depictions acceptable in the “Mad Men” era that today would irritate feminists. The “handsome pilot” and “pretty stewardess” who used to work on the passenger jet have been dryly replaced by a “pilot” and “flight attendant.” Two pages dedicated to fire fighting used to show a “brave hero” in fireman’s garb climbing a ladder to save a “beautiful screaming lady.” The drawing is unchanged, but now it is simply a “fire fighter” rescuing a “cat in danger.”

These aren’t sudden changes. Over the years and through ensuing editions, successive editors have tweaked Scarry’s labels and small bits of text to remove traditionalist presumptions and install a more egalitarian, “enlightened” view. A small bear in the original book “comes promptly when he is called to breakfast,” whereas the same bear in the new edition “goes to the kitchen to eat his breakfast,” uncommanded by his parents. The sex of characters has been changed throughout so that males and females aren’t confined to traditional roles.

On the first front cover, a female bunny makes breakfast while her farmer-husband works outdoors; the new book loses the logic of the original by depicting one male-and-female pair in the kitchen and another couple in the field. Driving home the idea that daddies cook too, one of the little piglets helping mother pig in a kitchen scene has been—rather alarmingly, when you think about it—relabeled “father pig.” In a section titled “When You Grow Up,” the (male) soldier has been replaced by a (female) judge. One may be sympathetic or not to the editorial urge to modernize, but the result here is an artifact with less pungency and a lot less information. The new edition has 21 fewer pages than the original and some 360 fewer objects. So while it may still count as “Richard Scarry’s Best Word Book Ever,” it definitely isn’t his most comprehensive. The original is more striking and delightful, whatever you may think of its traditional gender depictions or the retrograde inclusion of “Indian” and “squaw.”

Such terms were, of course, uncontroversial when Scarry got his start in children’s-book illustration shortly after World War II. During the war he had worked for the Morale Services Section of Allied Headquarters in North Africa, illustrating manuals and drawing maps with skills he had developed at art school in Boston. By 1948, he was illustrating ad copy for Simon & Schuster, a job that quickly turned into a contract to create artwork for Golden Books. In his history of the imprint, Leonard Marcus writes that Scarry’s editors found him “round-faced and wide-eyed,” a tall and “meticulously groomed, solemn young man.” It was while pursuing his new career that he met and married Patricia Murphy, an advertising copywriter. Along with their domestic collaboration, the two joined creative forces for picture books, including “The Bunny Book” (1955), a cozy, lovely and still popular paean to the twin joys of work and family.

Scarry was a warm and playful parent, according to his son, Richard “Huck” Scarry, who has perpetuated his father’s legacy by completing unfinished manuscripts as well as producing Richard Scarry-style books of his own. “My father intensely loved what he was doing. His drawings are so fun and funny because he had fun creating them,” Huck Scarry said recently in an email from Switzerland, where Richard moved the family in 1968 after discovering the thrill of downhill skiing. The illustrator was fond of the Mittel-European aesthetic and often added alpine touches to his drawings. The oft-occurring character of Lowly Worm, for example, wears a green Tyrolean hat modeled after one that Scarry bought in 1950.

Poking around his father’s studio not long ago, Huck Scarry—who himself inspired the oft-appearing character of Huckle Cat—discovered a portfolio of unfinished sketches under a table that seemed to form an entire, if unfinished, book about Lowly Worm. He has completed and colored in the undated drawings, which he believes his father created around 1990. Random House plans to publish “The Best Lowly Worm Book Ever” in August 2014. It is an agreeable thing, this discovery, for in our sedentary, touch-screen era, young children surely need the industrious and purposeful animal role models of Richard Scarry’s busy world more than ever.

By interesting coincidence, “Richard Scarry’s Best Word Book Ever” came out at the same time as a very different but also popular and enduring work, Maurice Sendak’s “Where the Wild Things Are.” The two books seem almost, at this remove, to be like the two faces of the era. Whereas the young Sendak went for moody colors, emotional ambiguity and the lurking id, Scarry gave children the friendly assurance that life is pleasant and comprehensible and chock-full of whiz-bang inventions. There is no need to choose between the two authors, of course. But there is every reason to take Scarry’s worldview, for all its sunniness, just as seriously as Sendak’s, and to make Scarry’s books—updated or not—part of every child’s experience.

Study Finds Spatial Skill Is Early Sign of Creativity, By DOUGLAS QUENQUA

Here’s an interesting article from Today’s NY Times. It seems that visual-spatial reasoning abilities may be a better predictor of future creativity and innovation than math or verbal skills. These are the abilities that are assessed on tests such as the Naglieri Nonverbal Abilities Test or on the spatial portions of the CogAT or OLSAT tests. To read this article at the NY Times Website, CLICK HERE.

Study Finds Spatial Skill Is Early Sign of Creativity

A gift for spatial reasoning — the kind that may inspire an imaginative child to dismantle a clock or the family refrigerator — may be a greater predictor of future creativity or innovation than math or verbal skills, particularly in math, science and related fields, according to a study published Monday in the journal Psychological Science.

The study looked at the professional success of people who, as 13-year-olds, had taken both the SAT, because they had been flagged as particularly gifted, as well as the Differential Aptitude Test. That exam measures spatial relations skills, the ability to visualize and manipulate two-and three-dimensional objects. While math and verbal scores proved to be an accurate predictor of the students’ later accomplishments, adding spatial ability scores significantly increased the accuracy.

The researchers, from Vanderbilt University in Nashville, said their findings make a strong case for rewriting standardized tests like the SAT and ACT to focus more on spatial ability, to help identify children who excel in this area and foster their talents.

“Evidence has been mounting over several decades that spatial ability gives us something that we don’t capture with traditional measures used in educational selection,” said David Lubinski, the lead author of the study and a psychologist at Vanderbilt. “We could be losing some modern-day Edisons and Fords.”

Following up on a study from the 1970s, Dr. Lubinski and his colleagues tracked the professional progress of 563 students who had scored in the top 0.5 percent on the SAT 30 years ago, when they were 13. At the time, the students had also taken the Differential Aptitude Test.

Years later, the children who had scored exceptionally high on the SAT also tended to be high achievers — not surprisingly — measured in terms of the scholarly papers they had published and patents that they held. But there was an even higher correlation with success among those who had also scored highest on the spatial relations test, which the researchers judged to be a critical diagnostic for achievement in technology, engineering, math and science.

Cognitive psychologists have long suspected that spatial ability — sometimes referred to as the “orphan ability” for its tendency to go undetected — is key to success in technical fields. Earlier studies have shown that students with a high spatial aptitude are not only overrepresented in those fields, but may receive little guidance in high school and underachieve as a result. (Note to parents: Legos and chemistry sets are considered good gifts for the spatial relations set.)

The correlation has “been suspected, but not as well researched” as the predictive power of math skills, said David Geary, a psychologist at the University of Missouri, who was not involved in the study, which was funded by the John Templeton Foundation. The new research is significant, he said, for showing that “high levels of performance in STEM fields” — science, technology, engineering and math — “are not simply related to math abilities.”

Testing spatial aptitude is not particularly difficult, Dr. Geary added, but is simply not part of standardized testing because it is considered a cognitive function — the realm of I.Q. and intelligence tests — and is not typically a skill taught in school.

“It’s not like math or English, it’s not part of an academic curriculum,” he said. “It’s more of a basic competence. For that reason it just wasn’t on people’s minds when developing these tests.”

It is also a competence more associated with men than women. In the current study, boys greatly outnumbered girls, 393 to 170, reflecting the original scores of the students in the ’70s. But the study found no difference in the levels of adult achievement, said Dr. Lubinski, though the women were more likely than the men to work in medicine and the social sciences.

« Previous PageNext Page »