Friday, September 27, 2019

CEC 16 Letter to Council Member Robert Cornegy Regarding SDAG Recommendations

(Here is a Chalkbeat article on CEC 16’s request to the mayor regarding gifted and talented programs.
A pdf version of CEC 16’s resolution regarding the School Diversity Advisory Group Recommendations can be found here.)

Greetings Councilman Cornegy, 
Thank you for your continued advocacy for improving public schools for our children in Community School District 16.
As you know, District 16 parents of Bedford Stuyvesant (a historically Black and now gentrifying section of Brooklyn) have been advocating for a well-rounded quality education for years.  From the onset of our work together in 2015, you have not only supported us in the creation of the Gifted & Talented (G&T) program being implemented in the 3rd grade, you have also been instrumental in lending your voice to the need for D16 to have a G&T program that uses holistic measures for admission.  We know that these programs would not have been possible without your leadership and support.
Today we write to ask you to support the recommendations of the School Diversity Advisory Group (SDAG) to transform the G&T programs because we believe the recommendations of the SDAG support the relentless advocacy we, the District 16 parents, and you, as one of our leaders in our community, have always demonstrated on behalf of our children.
Subsequently, after our annual review of the D16 educational programming, in April 2019 the parents of the CEC16 advocated for the expansion of school-wide enrichment models (such as dual language learning, and advanced math classes) and the replacement of the current G&T program, which has not served our children well.  SDAG recommendations are essentially the same as what we proposed to the DOE in our annual review.
To that end, please allow us the opportunity to illustrate how SDAG recommendations are also in alignment with your efforts to improve our schools. 
Your New York Post op-ed dated August 27 starts with the following passage:
“Excellence in education means providing each student the opportunity to achieve. For our shared community’s young people, that means access to enrichment programs and access to the suite of opportunities that should be open to all students”  
This is exactly what SDAG recommends and is the essence of the schoolwide enrichment model, which aims to challenge all students and offers individualized instruction so that those who excel in a particular content area are provided with accelerated learning.
SDAG agrees that G&T is “a catalyst for helping children from black and brown communities get into specialized high schools.”  However, SDAG questions why the current system only offers this opportunity to 10% of the student population (or a much smaller proportion in our community), determined at age 4 (or age 7 for D16) when we know all children have gifts and talents in different areas, including creativity and arts, social-emotional, athletics, etc., and even within academics, some may be gifted in language arts, others math or science, but no one is gifted in all areas which is why we need to create models that address students’ individual needs. Instead, SDAG recommends we should offer the same level of challenging and rigorous curriculum to all of our D16 students through a community-driven planning process to design a schoolwide enrichment model.
 In your letter to the Mayor, you substantiated the success of G&T by mentioning “students spending an hour on a train twice a day” to attend a school with a G&T program.  We agree the program is “worth it” for many families but we do not want our children traveling two hours every day to receive a high quality education.  If we implement a schoolwide enrichment model, our children will be able to walk to their neighborhood school to receive the high quality education they rightly deserve.  
In the same letter you characterize the students who travel far for G&T as demonstrating “hustle, curiosity, and adaptability.”  As parents of children, most of whom are not in G&T, we can assure you that all children demonstrate hustle, curiosity and adaptability. We need a system that fosters their curiosity not by labeling them “gifted and talented” and segregating them from the rest of the children, but by recognizing individual students’ gifts and talents and nurturing them in a diverse learning environment.
Since we worked with you to establish G&T in D16, we have learned that there are expectations for the G&T that were not met and require us to rethink what is best for all the children of D16.  We believed we were creating an educational equity pipeline for our youngest learners. Instead, we learned that testing 4-year-old children was developmentally inappropriate. We also learned that the quality of G&T programs varied.  Therefore, despite the kindergarten programs in other areas, we opted for a third-grade program. As a result, only 235 students were eligible for the G&T program, of which only 25 students enrolled in the G&T program. We graduated our first G&T class last June, but with only 12 G&T students in a district that has 2,966 elementary school students (excluding PreK).
In addition, the G&T program created more division in our community than unity. This caused us to look at other districts and do further research. What we found was in fact, G&T experts have concluded that a single measure test is not the best way to identify gifts. They also support creating ways to foster advanced learning which will promote investment in the gifts of all our students. We want more for our children, not less.
We are therefore attaching our April 2019 letter to the Chancellor requesting the Department of Education support for a school-wide enrichment model.
We also wanted to pull out the SDAG recommendations verbatim so that you see how they are in alignment with what you and we both seek. 
SDAG Recommendations
  • Because we believe all students deserve to be challenged, we recommend that the DOE resource community school districts to pilot creative, equitable enrichment alternatives to G&T. 
    • Provide resources for community school districts to develop enrichment alternatives with community and stakeholder engagement.
    • Provide adequate resources for community school districts to implement enrichment alternatives. 
    • Ensure recruitment to enrichment alternatives is inclusive of multilingual learners, students with disabilities, students who qualify for free and reduced lunch pricing, and students living in temporary housing. 
    • Measure alternative enrichment program demographics against district demographics. 
    • Track and share publicly the impacts on integrative enrollment of enrichment alternatives. 
    • Discontinue the use of the Gifted & Talented admissions test. Institute a moratorium on new Gifted & Talented programs.
    • Allow existing Gifted & Talented programs to continue. Programs will be phased out as students age and will not receive new incoming classes.
    • Eliminate rigid academic tracking in elementary school that results in economic or racial segregation. 
We would like to request a meeting with you and your City Council colleagues so that we can discuss this matter in person and look forward to your favorable consideration to support the SDAG recommendations.
In spirit, collaboration and Community,
The Members of the Community Education Council District 16

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Today's "Talk out of School" on the toxic levels of testing and lead in NYC schools

On today’s Talk Out of School on WBAI radio, we spoke with NYC Council Member and Chair of the Education Committee Mark Treyger, about yesterday's oversight hearing on “Breaking the test culture” in our NYC schools, the highlights of which I described on the blog. 

We discussed the success of the the 38 schools that belong to the NY Performance Standards Consortium, that use projects and performance-based assessments instead of  Regents exams that most NYC high school students are required to pass to graduate. The Council Member referred to these schools to as the “best kept secret in our education system”. Meanwhile, the overemphasis on standardized testing in our public schools encourages rote learning and memoritzation rather than develop deep knowledge and critical thinking. We also talked about DOE’s proposal to implement yet another set of standardized tests in our schools and create yet another data system called Edustat.  I followed up by asked him what the powers of the Council were to prevent the implementation of these likely damaging and/or wasteful programs might be given mayoral control.

Christopher Werth
In the second half of the show we were joined by Christoper Werth, senior editor at WNYC’s narrative unit, who explained thow his visit to his young daughter’s elementary classroom led to a groundbreaking investigation of lead contamination, followed by a new round of testing by DOE.  

We also discussed how the risks posed by lead in school water compare to lead in peeling paint and dust, and described how the model bill proposed by NRDC would mandate filtration systems on all drinking water outlets in schools and lower the action level requiring remediation. The possible correlation between the phasing out of lead paint and the national  drop in crime rates was another topic we touched on in our discussion. 

Click here to download or livestream the full episode. More information on these issues are linked to below.


Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Revelations at today's hearings on high-stakes testing and testimony by Emily Carrazana

Teacher Sara Steinweiss and actor Anthony Ramos at today's hearings

Update:  the Daily News ran a good story about these hearings, including the surprise announcement by DOE in the midst of a hearing about excessive testing in our schools that they plan to introduce a new set of standardized tests administered four times a year in our schools. Here is the WSJ  article , focusing on Anthony Ramos and his experience in NYC public schools.

Today's NYC Council hearings on "Breaking the testing culture" were fascinating.  CM Treyger did a great job in asking piercing questions to DOE, especially about the NY State high school Regents exams and why they don't encourage the creation of more Performance- based assessments like those used by the New York Performance Standards Consortium.
There was also compelling testimony from Anthony Ramos, now a Broadway actor who had a lead role in Hamilton and is now starring in the film "In the Heights".  He spoke about how he failed multiple Regents exams at New Utrecht high school, and struggled in school.  His high school had class sizes of 35 which severely hampered his learning: "There are like 35 kids in a class with 35 different issues in their head and one person to deal with that , who probably doesn't even want to teach that because it's just in the curriculum."   

His testimony and that of the Sara Steinweiss, the NYC theater teacher who recognized his talent, put him in a play, found a college scholarship for him and changed his life, is posted here, along with an animated short about his story. Video of the second part of the hearings with testimony from Linda Chen of DOE as well as students, teachers, and parents is here.  

Several Consortium students and teachers also talked about how engaging and challenging the education provided by their schools has been in comparison to the rote learning that the Regents exams require.  When Linda Chen, Chief Academic Officer of DOE was asked why the DOE doesn't celebrate the Consortium school practices, she said it's a complex process to implement performance-based assessments. CM Treyger responded "So is dismantling inequity in our schools, but it's worth doing."
CM Treyger asked about the cost of testing. DOE officials spends $3 million on the administration of Regents/3-8 state exams and prep materials, $1.9 million to Pearson and for "administrative support" for the SHSAT test, and $4.4 million for the gifted exams -- totaling nearly $10 million in all.

The most shocking thing was to hear Linda Chen, Chief Academic Officer of DOE confirm that they intend to implement a uniform system of standardized formative assessments four times a year in place of current school-selected assessments, in order to "streamline" them, because "we can't compare results with so many different tests."
This will undoubtedly lead to more meaningless and wasteful testing and test-prep. They can't completely eliminate the locally-chosen school-based assessments because by the UFT contract, those are selected by individual schools for the purpose of teacher evaluation.
I recall when DOE purchased Acuity exams for $22 million from McGraw Hill, and imposed them as "formative assessments" across all schools and nearly all grades.  After a certain amount of time these exams were dropped because they weren't aligned to what was happening in the classroom and found to be neither predictive nor diagnostic.  They flopped and were eventually dropped.

More on this in the WSJ, which reports on what Chancellor Carranza said on Monday:

 "...he plans to 'dipstick' schools several times a year in every grade to see whether students are on track. He refers to these as “checkups” to measure progress rather than waiting for the “autopsies” of state tests in the spring. While he said many schools are skilled in conducting such periodic assessments that give teachers real-time information, his team is looking for ways to make the practice more uniform."

CM Treyger asked Chen about the Edustat system that the DOE plans to build, the new data system modeled on Compstat.  Chen didn't have any estimate of how much the system would cost or what data it would include, but it is likely that these interim test scores will be fed into this system -- rather than more predictive and important data like class size. 
He also asked Chen whether the DOE has done any analysis to look at the relationship between test scores and class size, and of course she said not.  In short, it doesn't seem like DOE is interested in breaking the testing culture at all.
Below is the testimony of Emily Carrazana of Class Size Matters, about her experience with the specialized high school exam, the SHSAT, and why that exam as well as the exams for gifted programs should be eliminated. 

Testimony on High Stakes Testing before the City Council Education Committee

 September 24, 2019

Thank you, Chair Treyger for holding these important hearings and for the opportunity to testify before you today. My name is Emily Carrazana, I work at Class Size Matters and I attended public elementary and middle schools in the Bronx. Beginning in the 6th grade, I would trek up to Bronx Science two or three days a week, and for most of my summers to participate in the Dream/Specialized High School Institute (SHSI), a program designed to help prepare low income and high achieving students for the SHSAT.
After many hours of sacrificed time out of my childhood , I did not get into any of the specialized high schools, despite my good grades and high scores on the state exams. . My parents, first generation immigrants, did not know the first thing about the bureaucratic process that is the complex high school admissions process in this city. So, when I was rejected from the specialized high schools, they did the only thing they thought they could do.
They moved our entire family out of the state to neighboring New Jersey. I ended up graduating from my town’s public high school, successfully completing AP and International Baccalaureate courses and went on to earn my bachelor’s degrees from Rutgers in three years. My results on the SHSAT were no indication of where my abilities stood back in the 8th grade, just as they are not a valid marker for success for any student today.
While many people argue that eliminating this exam and/or gifted programs will cause the families of high-achieving students to move out of the city, the example of my family shows how the opposite happens currently because of the use of an unfair high-stakes exam – which has been shown not only to discriminate against students of color but also high-achieving girls.
The SHSAT is an invalid and biased exam. While nearly all of the discussion and debate has so far revolved around the way in which it leads to racial disparities, this exam has also been shown conclusively to be highly gender-biased. Though NYC girls receive higher test scores on the state exams and better grades, they are accepted into the specialized high schools at much lower rates. Here are last year’s results by gender, revealing a gender gap of eight percentage points. [1]

Gender #stud tested % students tested #got offer % of total offers
F 14,116 51% 2,206 46%
M 13,405 49% 2,592 54%
Total 27,521 100% 4,798 100%

The disparity at the most selective schools such as Stuyvesant is even greater. Last year, 56% of those admitted to Stuyvesant were boys and only 44% were girls.[2]
The fact that the SHSAT is biased against girls has been conclusively proven by Jon Taylor, a research analyst at Hunter College, who has published his research findings in a peer-reviewed journal.[3] He discovered that girls who are admitted to the specialized high schools with the same test scores as boys do better on their course work and receive higher grades, including in the most advanced courses.[4] His research also shows that a student’s 7th grade point average is the most valid predictive factor for success at New York City high schools in general, including the Specialized High Schools.[5] This merely underscores the need to eliminate the SHSAT as the sole determinant for admissions to a NYC school.
We oppose the use of high-stakes testing in general and the SHSAT in particular. No other school district in the country bases admissions to any one of their schools on the basis of one test alone.[6] Moreover, this practice has long been opposed by the American Psychological Association, the National Council on Measurement in Education, and the American Education Research Association, whose standards contain the following statement: “Any decision about a student's continued education… should not be based on the results of a single test, but should include other relevant and valid information.” [7]
As the National Academy of Sciences has explained, “current psychometric standards… recommend that a decision that will have a major impact on a test taker should not be made solely or automatically on the basis of a single test score, and that other relevant information about the student’s knowledge and skills should also be taken into account.”[8]
If we really want more diverse, integrated schools throughout our system, we must rely on multiple measures, including grades and more holistic factors. In addition, we should discourage tracking as much as possible – another form of segregation that occurs within schools that merely widens the achievement gap between racial and ethnic groups. [9] Separating out kids by “ability” has been shown to disadvantage those who are concentrated in the lowest–performing classrooms.[10] This is why we also oppose segregated gifted programs, especially those based on a high-stakes exam given to children as young as four.
Yet only about four percent of all elementary school children are in gifted classes.[11] As NYC schools begin to enroll students of diverse backgrounds, both racially and economically, this will further highlight the reality that children from disadvantaged backgrounds need more support from their teachers to reach the same goals, and that equality isn’t the same as real equity.[12] Integration alone without small classes cannot erase those differences.
Moreover, teachers often understandably complain that it is very difficult to individualize instruction with students of different achievement levels, and indeed it is especially challenging given the large class sizes we have in NYC. But if class sizes were lowered, this would make teachers’ jobs much easier.
In Finland, when the government decided to stop tracking in the middle grades, the national teachers union successfully demanded systematic reductions in class size, to ensure that they could meet the needs of students of different academic levels. Both the elimination of tracking and the concurrent lowering of class sizes contributed to the rapid improvement of Finnish schools in the 1970's, along with the elimination of most standardized tests.[13]
The Department of Education must also reduce class size to allow teachers to deepen their interactions with students and meaningfully individualize instruction. All students benefit from smaller classes in terms of heightened engagement, fewer disciplinary problems and increased learning, but, as studies show, students of color benefit the most. This is why class size reduction is one of very few reforms proven to work to narrow the opportunity and achievement gap. [14]
As Shino Tanikawa, co-chair of the Education Council Consortium (ECC) and a member of the School Diversity Advisory Group, and Leonie Haimson of Class Size Matters concluded in an op-ed published in the Daily News last May, the integration of classrooms must be accompanied by class size reduction if we want to provide true equity to all children. [15] This op-ed is included as an appendix to my testimony.
As NYC schools begin to enroll students of diverse backgrounds, both racially and economically, this will further highlight the reality that children from disadvantaged backgrounds need more support from their teachers to reach the same goals, and that equality isn’t the same as real equity. Integration alone without small classes cannot erase those differences.
In our schools, class sizes have increased substantially since 2007 and are 15% to 30% percent larger on average than class sizes in the rest of the state. More than 336,165 students were crammed into classes of 30 or more this fall. In the early grades, the number of first-through-third-graders in classes of 30 or more has ballooned by nearly 3000 percent since 2007. Our schools can never provide students with an equitable chance to learn with classes this large.
As we eliminate the use of high-stakes testing and move to create classrooms and schools that are diverse in race, ethnicity, gender, language, ability and more, we need to simultaneously push for small classes because this will make truly differentiated instruction possible.
Thank you for the opportunity to testify to you today.


[3] Jonathan Taylor, Fairness To Gifted Girls: Admissions To New York City’s Elite Public High Schools, Journal Of Women And Minorities In Science And Engineering 25(1): 75–91 (2019) at:,294b56436594090b,2e036b8a364ae7df.html See also:

[4] Jonathan Taylor, Fairness To Gifted Girls: Admissions To New York City’s Elite Public High Schools, Journal of Women and Minorities in Science and Engineering, 25(1): 75–91 (2019).

[6] See also Chester E. Finn, Jr. & Jessica A. Hockett, Exam Schools Inside America's Most Selective Public High Schools, 2012.

[8] National Research Council. 1999. High Stakes: Testing for Tracking, Promotion, and Graduation. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press, p169 at:

[13] Samuel Abrams, Education and the Commercial Mindset, 2016 , p. 281 and footnote 3 on p. 382. Also