NYC Families – Lots of Pre-K Spots Are Opening Up – Apply Now – April 23 Deadline!

Attention Parents of NYC Preschool students: 21,440 new spots will open up for Fall, 2014 now that De Blasio got $300 million in funding for free kindergarten Classes in NYC. 20,000 more seats will open up in 2015. Here is the note I received about it. Be sure to check out those links if you are looking for pre-K in the City!


We are happy to announce that new full-day, public school pre-kindergarten (pre-k) programs will be available this September! For a list of these new full-day options, please see our Pre-K Expansion Guide, which is available on the pre-k website or at an Enrollment Office next week.

The deadline to submit your public school pre-k application is Wednesday, April 23. If you already submitted an application and want to apply for one of these new programs, you can update your program choices through your online application account or by submitting a new paper application at an Enrollment Office.

If you have any questions, please contact or visit our pre-k website. You can also find translated versions of Pre-K Admissions resources on the following pages: Arabic, Bengali, Chinese, French, Haitian Creole, Korean, Russian, Spanish, Urdu.

We look forward to supporting you through this exciting process!

Pre-K Admissions Team

4-Year-Olds Still Prep for Private School Test, Even if No Longer Required, by Amy Zimmer

Amy Zimmer did an excellent job capturing the latest when it comes to testing and test prep for NYC private schools for the 2014-2015 school year. Things are still very much in the air. Look for more schools to announce what they will be doing in the coming weeks and months. As Amy said, there will be more informal testing done during school visits than before, plus many parents will go ahead and have their child take the ERB even though many schools will say that it is optional. To read this article at the DNAinfo website, CLICK HERE.

MANHATTAN — A high-stakes admissions test for private school will no longer be required across the board as it has been for decades — but that won’t stop families signing up to take it, parents and education experts said.

The Independent Schools Admissions Association of Greater New York — a coalition that counts nearly 140 of the area’s private schools as members — recently told schools that they could decide whether to continue requiring applicants to take the ERB, as it’s commonly called.

The relaxation of the demand is based on concerns that youngsters were over-preparing for the $568 exam, school insiders said.

But since some schools have chosen to keep the ERB as a requirement for kindergarten admission and others are making it optional, parents are still feeling pressure to prepare their kids and sign them up for the test, experts said.

Families tend to apply to 12 schools on average since admissions rates are so low, and odds are good that at least one of those schools will require the ERB.

“Now it makes it harder for parents, not easier, because if some of the schools to which you would like to apply require it — even one — your child is going to have to take that test,” said Victoria Goldman, an education consultant and author of “The Manhattan Family Guide to Private Schools.”

Even families that only apply to schools where the ERB is optional will likely still take the test, she said, to prevent the schools from assuming the child did poorly on the test and that’s why no score was submitted.

Some schools have begun announcing their decisions on the ERB, and more are expected to do so soon as they gear up for April school tours and as ERB testing begins for students starting kindergarten in the fall of 2015.

The test evaluates kids on verbal and non-verbal skills, including vocabulary and identifying patterns, in a one-to-one setting over 40 to 50 minutes.

One school that will continue requiring the ERB is the elite Riverdale school Horace Mann.

The school issued a statement on its website, explaining that the ERB score was only part of a child’s application but “the only piece of the application that is consistent and objective for our applicants.”

At Downtown’s Léman Manhattan Preparatory School, the ERB will be optional starting this year, said Drew Alexander, the head of school.

“If a parent wishes to invest in the test and include [it] in their child’s application, they are at will to do so,” Alexander said. “However, we are cognizant of the fact that these are 5-year-old children and look at so much more than a test score during the admission process.”

Like many other elite private schools that have long required the ERB, Léman also does a more qualitative assessment of prospective students, including interviews with families and recommendations from preschools. Many also observe students during a formal “playdate.”

“Now the interview piece is going to be more probing,” Goldman said of the schools that are no longer requiring the ERB.

She is concerned that “a consistently inconsistent” process would be even more stressful on 4-year-olds who will likely be subjected to longer in-school evaluations in place of the ERB.

Karen Quinn, best-selling author of “Testing for Kindergarten” and co-founder of online test prep service, worried that families will feel burdened by the options.

“If [parents] are applying to schools that still want the ERB, many parents will feel they need to prepare their kids for the ERB and for some kind of unknown testing — which is more prep than they had to do in the past,” she said.

An Upper East Side mother of a 4-year-old boy, who plans to apply to the UN International School and the World Class Learning Academy and who asked not to be named, said she was still prepping her son for the ERB and recently bought TestingMom’s $297 IQ Fun Park.

“We will prepare for ERB as much as we can,” the mother said, “by reading more books, continue doing puzzles, play the IQ game [and] hope for the best.”

ISAAGNY Decides on ERB testing for NYC Private Schools

Recently, ISAAGNY met and decided that NYC’s private schools can each use their own approach to assessing young children’s abilities in their admissions process. It looks like some schools will continue to use the ERB, while others may choose a different test or approach to measuring a child’s skills. In fact, this is how private schools in L.A. assess students. When kids come in for their school visit, they are taken aside for part of the time and administered a “test.” Parents don’t know what the test is. Each school does its own thing. It allows the schools to evaluate students based on whatever criteria is important to that school.

For NYC parents, the big question now is, “what do I do?” In the past, you could do a bit of prepping so that children would know what to expect on the ERB, and that would be it. There was only one test to get ready for. Now, depending on the number of schools you are applying to, some may ask for the ERB while others may do their own test (and you won’t know what it is). Here is the good news. There are only so many things that a 4 – 5 year old is expected to know and understand and be able to do. In my book, Testing For Kindergarten, I call these the “7-Abilities” Students need for testing and school success. They are: Language, Information/Comprehension, Thinking, Memory, Fine-Motor, Mathematics, and Visual-Spatial Reasoning. As long as your child is really solid when it comes to these abilities, he or she should do fine on any kindergarten admissions test they have to take. At, we have an entire kindergarten readiness section that takes you through each of these abilities, practice questions from all kinds of different tests that assess these skills, and ideas for parents on how to build these skills with their children through fun activities and games you can do at home. Take a look and get started in making sure that your child is “solid” when it comes to any of the skills and abilities that private schools will be testing for now that the ERB is no longer a requirement in NYC.

Here is Sophia Hollander’s article on what is happening with ERB from the Wall Street Journal. To read the article there, CLICK HERE.

Decision Fragments New York City’s Private-School Process
Universal Standardized Admissions Test Likely Will No Longer Be Used by Most Schools

by Sophia Hollander

A coalition including some of New York City’s most prestigious private schools captured the attention of parents and educators last fall when it announced a search for an alternative to its longstanding admissions test.

Now, the answer appears to be in, and it won’t fit neatly into a test sheet’s bubble: There is no single solution.

For the first time in nearly half a century, there likely will be no universal standardized test used by the majority of the city’s independent schools, education officials said. Instead, each school has been asked to devise its own admissions plan, which may include new exams, strategies and targeted games—or even sticking with the old test, which has been administered in some form since 1966.

Officials at the Independent Schools Admissions Association of Greater New York announced the decision at a meeting of school leaders on Wednesday, according to people at the meeting. Association officials didn’t respond to calls and emails requesting comment.

For years, kindergarten applicants to many private schools—most of them 4 years old—have had to go through a fiercely competitive process: take the Early Childhood Admissions Assessment, commonly known as the ERB; go through an interview with school officials; and participate in a play group. Now, families—who are advised to apply to multiple schools—will have to navigate a more fragmented admissions process, officials said.

The decision ended a five-month study of alternatives to the ERB, a version of the Wechsler Preschool and Primary Scale of Intelligence. The rise of test-prep companies undermined its validity, some school officials said. Some also worried about the expense ($568 this year). Still, 3,173 applicants took the test in 2012-13.

Some private school administrators praised the schools association for empowering schools to shape their own admissions processes. Others questioned whether the change would create more stress for families.

“I’m disappointed because I would have liked more central direction,” said George Davison, head of Grace Church School in Greenwich Village, cautioning that the changes could “drag out the process” for parents.

Officials at the Educational Records Bureau, which administers the test, criticized the decision. It “will create significant new burden on schools, parents and children,” said Anne Sullivan, vice president of member services, in an email. She said many schools were interested in continuing using the test.

“We’re reviewing the recommendations, and we’ll make a decision about the tools that we’ll use—including the ERB—in the coming weeks,” said Kevin Ramsey, the communications director for Trinity School on the Upper West Side.

The association’s decision to not replace the ERB reflects a growing unease among educators regarding the role of standardized tests for admissions. Earlier this week, the College Board announced an overhaul of its signature test, the SAT, in an effort to improve its fairness and reliability. Last year, New York City revamped the admission tests used for its gifted and talented program, which also covers kindergarten admissions.

At the meeting this week, private school administrators were presented with a range of admissions strategies and games designed to evaluate abilities, including one test administered via iPad, according to multiple meeting participants. They also proposed a series of workshops to learn more about different approaches.

Some schools praised the varied approach.

“I think ISAAGNY did a fabulous job in offering all these different ways that we can measure children,” said Teri Hassid, head of the lower school at Friends Seminary, which had already stopped using the ERB.

One game presented at the meeting involved telling a story with three animals or objects as characters, Ms. Hassid said. Midway through, the teacher asks the child to add an additional element, like a toy or a boat. “That measures flexible cognitive thinking,” Ms. Hassid said.

Families may still have to take the ERB, said Suzanne Rheault, CEO of Aristotle Circle, a tutoring and educational consulting company. Some schools, including Horace Mann, have declared their intention to continue requiring the test. Others may make it optional—which families may interpret as mandatory for the most competitive schools.

“I think it’s just a shame to go through all this hassle, create all this uncertainty and at the end of the day what parents are probably going to have to do is continue to take the ERB” while preparing for additional exams, said Ms. Rheault.

Edwin Mullon has two children, now 11 and 10, currently enrolled in private school. The admissions process was a struggle, but he and his wife took solace in knowing that there was a one consistent standard, he said. Parents now might worry about subjective criteria like “who do you know” creeping into the process, Mr. Mullon said.

“I think it’s a nightmare,” he said. “The whole thing is going to become a huge mess.”

Entry Points

Admissions suggestions made to private schools:

Stick with the current standardized test
Add iPad-administered test
Engage kids in storytelling games to test flexible thinking
Ask children to match words with discordant images (i.e., saying ‘day’ to a picture of the moon)
Attend admissions workshops
Source: Private school officials

Common Core Curriculum Stirs up Controversy

I wanted to share the excellent article on the status of common core in NY and other states. The implementation of this new curriculum has been far from smooth. Everyday there seems to be news of a state dropping out of testing consortiums they have initially gone with, parents and teachers protesting the new standards, states pulling back on their commitment to the new standards and more. It’s such a changing landscape, it’s almost impossible to keep up with. If you’d like to read this article at the NY Times website, CLICK HERE. I recommend that you take a look because it does a great job summarizing what has been taking place with these new standards across the country. If you are not sure about the latest with common core in your own state, just google “Common Core in [state name]” and the most recent news about the standards in your state will come up.

I know that many parents are against the new standards because they are harder and have been implemented in such a clumsy way in most places. I’ve been working with them to create practice questions for my other site, And yes, they are much harder. At the same time, I feel that once teachers begin to create and teach lessons to support the learning of these standards, kids will be better off in the end. The standards really emphasize thinking and analysis, which is so critical to success in school and life. They probably should have introduced these standards over a longer period of time, and not tested for them until the children had been taught a curriculum based on the standards for a year or two. Unfortunately, that isn’t what happened and now everyone has a bad taste in their mouths about common core. Still, it seems like it is here to stay. So it is important to understand what it is and how it will impact your child.

Common Core Curriculum Now Has Critics on the Left
By AL BAKERFEB. 16, 2014


The Common Core has been applauded by education leaders and promoted by the Obama administration as a way to replace a hodgepodge of state standards with one set of rigorous learning goals. Though 45 states and the District of Columbia have signed on to them since 2010, resistance came quickly, mostly from right-leaning states, where some leaders and political action groups have protested what they see as a federal takeover of local classrooms.

But the newest chorus of complaints is coming from one of the most liberal states, and one of the earliest champions of the standards: New York. And that is causing supporters of the Common Core to shudder.

Carol Burris, an acclaimed high school principal on Long Island, calls the Common Core a “disaster.”

“We see kids,” she said, “they don’t want to go to school anymore.”

Leaders of both parties in the New York Legislature want to rethink how the state uses the Common Core.

The statewide teachers’ union withdrew its support for the standards last month until “major course corrections” took place.

“There are days I think, ‘Oh my God, we have to slow this thing down, there are so many problems,’ ” said Catherine T. Nolan, a Queens Democrat who is chairwoman of the State Assembly Education Committee.

The objections in New York have become so loud, and have come from such a wide political spectrum, that even the governor, Andrew M. Cuomo, a Democrat, has become a critic. Governor Cuomo has called the state’s execution of the standards “flawed” and appointed a panel to recommend changes.

Republicans are seeking to turn the broad discontent into a liability for him; Rob Astorino, the executive of Westchester County who is considering a run for governor, said of Mr. Cuomo, “He has pushed it from the beginning, and now he is trying to push it off on someone else.”

Common Core advocates like Michael J. Petrilli, executive vice president at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, an education policy group, have been taken aback. “It’s bizarre,” he said. “New York is in some interesting company, right up with the reddest of the red states. And you worry that there will be bleed-over from New York to other states.”

Few in New York are calling for abandoning the standards. And state officials have not backed out of a national consortium developing exams based on the standards, as their counterparts in states like Georgia and Oklahoma have. No state that adopted the standards has gone so far as to withdraw from them.

The loudest of the complaints is based on New York’s decision not to wait for those new Common Core exams, which are expected to make their debut in 2015, but to begin testing students on the new standards last year. Teachers said they had not been fully trained in the new curriculums, and had not received new textbooks and teaching materials; many still did not have them in the fall. As the tests changed, the scores plummeted: Less than a third of the state’s students passed.

In Albany, leaders of both houses of the Legislature called this month for a two-year moratorium on the use of Common Core test scores in teacher evaluations and in decisions about student promotions or admissions. The state teachers’ union has asked for a three-year pause. The state Board of Regents, which oversees education policy and is appointed by the Legislature, has already voted to delay by five years the date by which all high school graduates must pass Common Core-aligned Regents exams.

The state education commissioner, John B. King, Jr., who reports to the Board of Regents, conceded there was an “uneven” rollout of the standards. Looking back, he said recently, “we could have prioritized parent engagement, and helping parents understand what the Common Core is, and is not.”

Yet he staunchly defended the effort, saying Massachusetts went through the same pains two decades ago after it adopted new standards, and now consistently scores as high as the top countries do on international measures.

Dr. King was booed and shouted down as he made similar arguments at public forums he held around New York in the fall. They grew so testy at one point that he called the remaining forums off before scheduling new ones.

The Obama administration encouraged states to adopt the Common Core as part of the Race to the Top grant competition, but it is not a federal mandate. Arne Duncan, the federal education secretary, declined to comment on what was happening in New York. But in November, Mr. Duncan attributed some of the unrest nationally to “white suburban moms” who discovered that “all of a sudden, their child isn’t as brilliant as they thought they were and their school isn’t quite as good as they thought.” (He quickly apologized.)

The Common Core grew out of a concern that the 2001 No Child Left Behind law had lowered the bar on what students should learn, since the law required improvement in test scores but left it up to states to write their own tests. It sets out a sequence of skills, or “competencies,” for students to master. Whether it is through tackling math problems or analyzing text, the Common Core encourages students to show evidence for their solutions and articulate how they think, with the overall goal of promoting more critical thinking at earlier ages. Districts and schools choose curriculums that meet those standards.

Recently, at Public School 253 in Brooklyn, Myra Wenger applied her new curriculum in a lesson on ancient Athens, asking her second graders why the city adopted Athena, not Poseidon, in naming itself. A pupil, Daniel Gornak, 8, answered, “Because Athena gave more uses than Poseidon did, and more healthy things for Athenians,” and Ms. Wenger lauded his methods in consulting his marble notebook for the facts.

“They love it,” Ms. Wenger said of her lesson plans. “They’re very engaged, more than last year.”

In another room, a group of first graders sat on a mat, eagerly raising their hands to explain similarities between farming in ancient Mesopotamia and ancient Egypt.

“They needed water,” one student, Rabiha Islam, 6, said.

“And, and, and,” she continued, searching for another answer, “they didn’t have, so they made canals.”

The school chose one of the country’s most popular Common Core curriculums, called Core Knowledge. It is based on the ideas of E. D. Hirsch Jr., whose 1987 book, “Cultural Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know,” argued that mastery of a common set of facts was critical to learning.

Beyond the testing difficulties, one of the criticisms of the Common Core, in New York and elsewhere, is that it can be too demanding for young grades. Diane Ravitch, an educational historian, has said that very little of what is taught to first graders about ancient civilizations will stick with them; Mr. Hirsch and other defenders of the Common Core say children in early grades need lessons in history, civics, science and literature to build vocabularies and thrive.

In interviews with a range of teachers in New York City, most said their students were doing higher-quality work than they had ever seen, and were talking aloud more often. But it has not come without sweat. Homework is more complex and takes longer, several said, and in some cases is frustrating parents.

Teachers also said that pupils who were already struggling, particularly those who speak limited English, were facing greater challenges. Nonnative speakers are having a harder time in math because the new curriculums require greater use of word problems.

At a recent study group for teachers at P.S. 36 in the Bronx, Kathleen Rusiecki, who teaches first-grade special education, described one task in her curriculum: Draw a picture of the word nobody.

“It doesn’t even make sense,” she said.

Ms. Burris, who leads South Side High School in Rockville Centre, and was named the state’s 2013 high school principal of the year, said the Common Core required children to grapple with topics in mathematics that are in many cases taught a year earlier than before and “in a more difficult way.”

“I fear that they are creating a generation of young students who are learning to hate mathematics,” she said.

All the pushback in New York is “not optimal” for the shift to higher standards, said Chester E. Finn Jr., a former assistant education secretary and now senior fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford. But he said he thought the Common Core would survive.

“It is a drag and it will slow things down a little bit,” he said, “but it is not a mortal wound.”

For Babes These Days, Toyland Has a Digital Bent, By HILARY STOUT and ELIZABETH A. HARRIS

Have you bought electronic gifts for your 3-year-old this holiday season? I wonder if it is something I would have done for my kids if such items were available when they were toddlers. I can certainly see the attraction. If you do succumb to the temptations, I think it’s a great idea to “neutralize” the gift with an easy bake oven or tickle-me-Elmo! This article appeared in today’s NY Times. CLICK HERE to read the piece at the Times website.

The children come day after day, lining up in the cold and snow on Main Street in Midland, Mich., to wait their turn to enter Santa’s house and whisper their Christmas longings to the jolly man in the red suit.




And when they say such things, Tom Valent, now in his 38th year as Santa Claus, unleashes his best “Ho-ho-ho” and replies: “Well, I’m good at toys. Electronics — that’s a bit of a challenge.”

Sure, children still want and receive trains and dolls and Legos and other playthings of the type that Santa might make in his North Pole workshop.

But their passion for playing with toys seems to be diminishing at earlier and earlier ages. After all, this is a generation that learned to amuse itself practically from babyhood with the smartphone and tablet swiped from their parents’ hands.

For Hanukkah this year, Maddon Segall asked for iTunes gift cards and the new iPad mini. He is 3.

“I hate to tell you but we got it for him,” said his mother, Elyse Bender-Segall, of Livingston, N.J. She added: “He doesn’t like the toys. I buy him every toy. He’s just not interested in them they way he is with the tech.”

A recent survey of 1,000 parents with children between 2 and 10 found that more than half planned to buy a tech item for their children this holiday season. About two-thirds of those planned to give a tablet or smartphone, according to the survey, which was taken for PBS Kids, the brand of the public broadcasting network aimed at young children.

“Smarter Giving With Apps!” shouted the December cover of Manhattan Family, a monthly publication geared to families with young children. The article, written by a kindergarten teacher, noted that “traditional gifts, like clothes and toys” can be costly “and not always what children are wishing for.” Apps, on the other hand, she wrote, are cost-effective, educational and fun – the perfect gift.

It is a confounding situation for toymakers, which, according to the Toy Industry Association and statistics compiled by NPD Group, have barely managed to eke out any gains in the past few years. Contributing to the doldrums is the fact that there is no super-hot, must-have toy this holiday season — no 2013 equivalent of the Cabbage Patch doll or the Tickle Me Elmo or even the Zhu Zhu Pet.

Instead, some in the industry are trying to get a piece of the tech action. While electronic games have long been a staple of toy stores, this year, for the first time, Toys ‘R’ Us introduced hands-on tablet displays in many of its stores, including iPads and Samsung tablets. The company has also designed and developed its own tablet for young children, the Tabeo e2, which, a spokeswoman said, “comes right out the box with 30 premium apps.”

On a recent snowy morning, the first thing holiday shoppers saw after entering the Toys ‘R’ Us flagship store in Times Square (after being welcomed by a man in a giraffe costume) was a sign advertising the iPad.

“Increasingly tablets are a key growth category for the company,” said Adrienne O’Hara, the company’s director of consumer public relations.

But as the holiday shopping season is wrapping up, some parents have resisted.

The Easy Bake Oven, which celebrated its 50th birthday this year, has been a strong seller at Walmart in recent weeks. Hot Wheels are having a good season, industry experts say, as are the Barbie Dream House and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Even Mr. Potato Head is still around.

“In many ways, retro is being fueled by the virtualization of toys,” said M. Eric Johnson, dean of the Owen Graduate School of Management at Vanderbilt University, who has studied the toy industry.

“I think there’s a mindset in a lot of young moms that a physical toy is a good thing, it’s almost a backlash to the popularity of the app,” he said. “So they head down the toy aisle, and they find something they remember.”

Indeed, nostalgia can be a powerful tool for retailers. Part of that is brand recognition, because just like finding a familiar box of Cheerios in the grocery store, Barbie and G.I. Joe need no introduction. But there is also something more emotional at play.

“When you look at things like Cabbage Patch, to Hot Wheels, to Elmo, parents see these things they had and they loved,” said Jim Silver, editor in chief of “If it was one of their favorites, they want to share that experience with their child.”

A parent’s experience as an adult is also relevant. Plenty of people love a good game of Angry Birds, but less pleasant associations also attach to tablets and phones, like late night emails from the boss.

“I think for parents, these kind of adult toys symbolize work and other things that don’t necessarily symbolize childhood,” Mr. Johnson said of apps and tablets. “But Mr. Potato Head is childhood and carefree.”

Some newer toys popular this year are decidedly low tech, like Rainbow Looms. “You use looming sticks to create bracelets,” said Gerrick Johnson, a toy industry analyst at BMO Capital Markets. “It is the most basic, the most low-tech item in the world, and it’s the hottest toy out there.”

But even retro toys must be constantly updated.

There have been 12 Easy Bake Oven models, according to Hasbro, available in colors including silver, yellow, purple and teal. Baby Alive has new features every year — in the spring, a version was introduced that cuddles, and also kicks. And this year’s Elmo, Big Hugs Elmo, will hug, dance, and offer game suggestions by saying things like, “Let’s pretend we are horses!” In many ways, he is a very different toy from the Tickle Me Elmo who set off a craze in the mid-1990s, but he is still Elmo.

“Elmo is all about his personality,” Mr. Silver said. “You don’t want to lose that. You can’t lose the brand’s core.”

While such evergreen toys generally do better in a season that does not have a new blockbuster, their popularity this year may also be related to economics. Mr. Johnson of BMO said more classic toys appealed to parents during tough economic times.

The downside is that so much of what is available is already familiar.

“There’s not a lot of innovation out there, not a lot of newness,” Mr. Johnson said. “Not a lot to pull kids away from digital entertainment.”

But even the nostalgic toy is going digital: the Easy Bake Oven has an app.

How Common Core Questions Differ From Old Achievement Test Questions

A friend sent me this article from This piece does a great job explaining the difference between old and new state achievement test math questions (old achievement test vs. common core aligned test). It also talks about how teaching will have to change going forward to prepare students for these tougher yearly assessments. Even if your children are young and won’t be taking these new achievement tests for many years, it is important to look ahead and know the level of expectations that are coming for your child. It won’t be easy. You can’t depend on your child’s teachers to do it all. You will need to pay close attention to be sure your child is mastering the common core standards for each school year. No one will do a better job of this than you. If you would like to read this article at GothamSchools, CLICK HERE.

Identifying Rigor in the Common Core Math Standards
by Brian Cohen

When I first saw the Common Core math standards, I wasn’t sure precisely what made them more rigorous than the old ones. It wasn’t until New York State released sample Common Core-aligned questions, and I started working with teachers to adjust their classes accordingly, that I began to understand what sets the new standards apart and how we can prepare students to meet them.

When New York State adopted the Common Core in 2010, I was working as a math coach in the Fayetteville-Manlius School District in the Syracuse area. (I recently left to become a science, technology, engineering, and math coordinator for Skaneateles Central School District). I worked with many teachers to figure out what the new standards asked of students and how classroom instruction should shift as a result. This article comes out of conversations I had with math teachers and especially with Caryl Loranidini, an eighth-grade teacher in Long Island, as we worked together to figure out what the new standards asked of students and how classroom instruction should shift as a result.

Shifting our instruction to reflect the Common Core was tough those first two years, since we didn’t have many examples of what Common Core-aligned questions actually looked like. Our first break came in June 2012, when New York State released sample questions for grades 3-8. Our initial reaction to these questions was, “Wow. You’ve got to be kidding! These are really hard.” We noticed problems we were used to seeing in one grade moved down one or more grade levels, which meant students would have to master material sooner.

But as we dug deeper, we were able to name and describe some of the things that made the substance of the new questions, not just their placement, different from the old ones. This understanding helped us develop practice questions that would familiarize students with the problem-solving skills they needed for the new tests.

Notably, the new questions often include:

multiple standards within one question,
multiple steps within one question,
requests to solve for a missing part rather than the total,
more challenging numbers (ex. fractions instead of whole numbers), and
strong distractors in the multiple-choice questions.
The questions below illustrate some of the differeces we identified between the old and new standards. In each pair, one question is aligned to the old standards and one is aligned the Common Core.

In this first pair, while the questions test the same content, the Common Core-aligned question requires students to complete multiple steps in order to solve for a missing part.

Grade 3: Old New York State standards question (from 2008 test)
question 1

Grade 3: Common Core-aligned question (from 2013 test)
question 2

Instead of simply adding two numbers, as students can do to answer the first question, to answer the second question they need to add up the miles driven on Friday and Saturday and subtract that number from the total amount driven. The old 3-8 tests asked questions that could always be solved by doing one simple calculation. If two steps were needed, the questions would be split into two parts and it would tell you to solve step one, then step two. This did not prepare students for the demands of higher level math classes in high school or college; nor did it prepare them for the real world. If your boss had to give you step-by-step prompts to solve every problem, you would have a short career.

In the following pair of questions, both from sixth-grade tests, the Common Core-aligned question increases the rigor by using fractional edge lengths where the old question used whole numbers:

Grade 6: Old New York State standards question (from 2005 sample test)
question 3

Grade 6: Common Core-aligned question (from 2012 sample questions)
question 4

The new Common Core question also removed the formula from the question itself, instead locating it on a “reference sheet” provided at the beginning of the book. The effect of this edit is that students now have to “use appropriate tools strategically,” a practice required in the new standards.

The questions above illustrate how the standards are being tested in less predictable ways, which was scary for me as a math coach, and for the teachers I work with. We realized that teachers could no longer prepare students for the state tests by simply exposing them to all of the kinds of questions that had been used in the past. We would have to teach students skills and procedures so that they can do them, they understand them, and they can apply them to solve unfamiliar problems.

This meant making many changes to our teaching, including coming up with new problems that students hadn’t seen, and that reflected the kind of thinking the Common Core demands. Rather than starting from scratch, we tried to find ways to rewrite existing questions in a way that increased the rigor and gave students practice with the sorts of problems they would see on Common Core-aligned tests. One question we revised was a fourth grade question addressing the standard “multiply or divide to solve word problems involving multiplicative comparison.”

We used to ask the question this way:

‘Kim ran 16 miles last week. Sue ran 3 times as many miles as Kim. How many miles did Sue run?’

To increase the rigor, we modified this one-step question so that it read:

‘Kim ran ¾ of a mile yesterday. Sue ran 3 times as many miles as Kim. How much farther did Sue run than Kim?’

Our new version is a two-step question that blends in a second standard, “Apply and extend previous understandings of multiplication to multiply a fraction by a whole number.”

We couldn’t have come up with these problems without carefully studying the sample test questions released in June 2012 and about a dozen questions released for each grade level of the tests administered in May 2013. Once we figured out what it meant for standards to be more rigorous, and what a more rigorous question looked like, we found ways to tweak existing questions to increase their rigor. We hope that as we get better at writing and asking these sorts of questions, our students will get better at making sense of them and persevering in solving them.

Fewer Teachers, Bigger Classes – a NY Times Report

It is so disturbing to read this piece about fewer teachers and larger classes due to budgetary constraints. We’ve just introduced Common Core standards into schools in (about) 45 states. I don’t know how teachers can be expected to integrate these new, harder standards into their curriculums while managing bigger classes full of students with so many different needs. It is an untenable situation. More than ever, parents are going to need to step in and support their children’s educational development. You cannot outsource your child’s education in these economic times. To read this piece at the NY Times’ website, CLICK HERE.

Subtract Teachers, Add Pupils: Math of Today’s Jammed Schools

COATESVILLE, Pa. — The recession may have ended, but many of the nation’s school districts that laid off teachers and other employees to cut payrolls in leaner times have not yet replenished their ranks. Now, despite the recovery, many schools face unwieldy class sizes and a lack of specialists to help those students who struggle academically, are learning English as a second language or need extra emotional support.

Donna Guy’s fourth-grade class at Caln Elementary School here is too big — 30 pupils — for the room, so some of them sit halfway into a coat closet. Across town at Rainbow Elementary School, the 36 third graders in Kristen Pleasanton’s gym class rotate on and off the bench during 25 minutes of seven-a-side soccer games, because she cannot supervise all of them playing at once.

And during social studies class at Scott Middle School, Keith Lilienfeld tries to keep control of a class of 25 students, 10 who need special education services, four who know little or no English and others who need more challenging work than he has time to give.

“I’m up there putting out fires like you wouldn’t believe,” said Mr. Lilienfeld, who used to have the help of two or three classroom aides. “There’s only one of me, and there’s a need for about five of me in there.”

Across the country, public schools employ about 250,000 fewer people than before the recession, according to figures from the Labor Department. Enrollment in public schools, meanwhile, has increased by more than 800,000 students. To maintain prerecession staffing ratios, public school employment should have actually grown by about 132,000 jobs in the past four years, in addition to replacing those that were lost, said Heidi Shierholz, an economist at the Economic Policy Institute in Washington.

Coatesville, a diminished steel town with 7,200 students, used to employ more than 600 teachers, psychologists, reading and math specialists, and other certified personnel. Since 2008, the district has cut close to one-fifth of that staff, according to Angelo Romaniello, the district’s assistant superintendent.

“We didn’t cut to the bone,” said Audra Ritter, a middle school special education teacher and president of the Coatesville Area Teachers Association. “We cut into the bone.”

School districts in other hard-hit states, including California, Maryland, Michigan, North Carolina and Texas, are coping with similarly squeezed resources. Along with budget cuts at the federal, state and local levels, rising public school enrollment over the past five years has exacerbated the pinch.

The staffing gap has pushed elementary class sizes to 30 students and more in parts of California, where special state funds had been designated since the mid-1990s to keep classes in kindergarten through third grade capped at 20 students. In Dallas this year, the public school district has applied for more than 200 waivers from the state’s maximum class size of 22 students for kindergarten through fourth grade.

Class sizes in some high schools in Charlotte-Mecklenburg County in North Carolina have swelled to as many as 40 students, and some guidance counselors are advising up to 500 students. In Cobb County, Ga., where the district has laid off about 1,300 staff members — or about 16 percent of the teaching force — in the past five years, average class sizes in fourth and fifth grades are now about 33 students, five above the state maximum of 28.

Districts are making these difficult trade-offs at a time when schools are raising academic standards and business leaders are pushing schools to prepare a work force with better skills.

“We can’t have the doublespeak where everybody talks about how important education is to our being globally competitive,” said Daniel A. Domenech, the executive director of the American Association of School Administrators, “and then education is not a priority when it comes to funding.”

In Pennsylvania, although the state’s education budget is now above prerecession levels, a large proportion of money is being diverted to replenish underfunded pensions, leaving less for actual classrooms, said Michael Wood, research director at the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center.

The cutbacks have been particularly pronounced in less affluent school districts, which have trouble raising local property taxes or asking parents’ associations to fill in gaps.

Wealthier communities can lean more on parents and local taxpayers. Just 35 miles from Coatesville, in the Lower Merion School District, which shares a border with the ravaged Philadelphia school district, enrollment has swelled by about 15 percent to 7,900 students in the past five years. Property taxes have increased every year since 2008, and even elementary students now study foreign languages. The district has avoided cutting any staff members, leaving class sizes in the low to mid-20s.

Here in Coatesville, by contrast, where more than half of the district’s students are eligible for free and reduced-price lunches, the school board has twice raised the maximum class size for third through fifth grades in the past five years, with some classes topping out at 33 students.

Staff cuts among reading, special education and English language specialists have hit especially hard.

On a recent afternoon at Scott Middle School, Mr. Lilienfeld placed a red rubber ball atop a stool at the front of the classroom. The setup served as a makeshift buzzer in a quiz game intended to help students review for a coming test.

One English-language learner put his head on his desk and refused to participate. Another girl, who receives special education services, spent the entire period doodling on a notepad. When several boys taunted a girl and she responded with an explosive “Shut up!” Mr. Lilienfeld ordered her out of the room.

“There is no way I could adapt the curriculum to meet the needs of all the kids in my class,” he said. During the next period, 26 students filed into Mr. Lilienfeld’s classroom for a study hall period, which is used to fill out their schedules because the school has cut so many electives.

The cutbacks in staff levels during the recession and its aftermath followed two decades in which the teaching force across the country expanded at a much faster rate than student enrollment.

According to Richard M. Ingersoll, a professor of education and sociology at the University of Pennsylvania, the public school population increased by 24 percent from 1987 to 2012, while the number of working teachers grew by 46 percent.

Teachers say the delicate balance of a class ecosystem, with its range of personalities, academic abilities and social skills, can be upset by just a few more students in the room. Still, research on the importance of class size in helping students learn is mixed. Although a study in Tennessee in the 1980s showed that children benefited from smaller class sizes of 13 to 17 students in the early grades, other studies have shown few effects.

Students, nonetheless, take notice. In Mrs. Guy’s fourth-grade class in Coatesville, Julian Rodriguez, 9, said the number of students resulted in “too much noise for the other kids.”

Then, mustering the philosophical resilience of a child, Julian, who eagerly waved his hand in the air when Mrs. Guy asked questions, smiled. “But it’s good because you make a lot of friends,” he said.

Changes for NYC Gifted and Talented Admissions – The 2013-14 Handbook is Out!

The NYC DOE released their 2013 – 2014 G&T Handbooks today! You can visit the page and find your handbook by CLICKING HERE. The handbooks are listed below the big pink boxes.

The biggest change in G&T Admissions for next year is that the two tests that students take – the OLSAT and the NNAT2 – will be given equal weight this year. Last year, the OLSAT counted for 35% and the NNAT2 was worth 65%. This year, it will be 50%-50%.

If you would like to learn more about the NYC G&T process and How to Prepare Your Child for Testing, you are welcome to attend the free community events sponsored by Friday, October 25 and Saturday, October 26. Here are the links to register for these events:

For Friday, Oct. 25 from 6:30 to 8:30pm – CLICK HERE

For Saturday, Oct. 26 from 1pm to 3pm – CLICK HERE

For Saturday, October 26 from 3:30 – 5:30 –

I will be there speaking, so I hope to see you there!

How Boys Perform in School versus Girls

I wanted to share this wonderful infographic that was sent to me by Cara Delany today! Thanks, Cara.

No Boy Left Behind
Source: No Boy Left Behind

NYC G&T Admissions Process Has Begun!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

April 18, 2014 – Application Deadline

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

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

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

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