GothamSchools In brief

From the notebooks of the journalists who bring you GothamSchools, the independent news organization covering the New York City schools

The New York State Education Department received federal approval to eliminate an unpopular layer of extra math tests for thousands of middle school students, officials announced today.

Federal laws require students in third through eighth grades to take math and English testing, the results of which are used to evaluate school and teacher performance. Up to 60,000 seventh and eighth grade students taking advanced coursework have also had to take high school-level math exams. 

The “double-testing” has received heightened scrutiny from parents and teachers who say class time is increasingly focused on preparing for end-of-year tests. State officials, who have been under pressure to revise many of its new education policies around teacher and learning standards, applied for a waiver from the federal testing laws in November. 

“The Regents, the Chancellor and I are committed to reducing the amount of time students spend on tests and eliminating any tests that don’t inform instruction or improve student learning,” Commissioner John King said in a statement. 

A copy of the press release about the announcement is below. 



State Education Commissioner John B. King, Jr. announced today that the United States Department of Education (USDE) has approved New York State’s request for a waiver from the provisions of federal law that currently require students who take Regents exams in mathematics when they are in seventh or eighth grade to also take the state mathematics assessment. The waiver will effectively end the “double-testing” of these students, beginning with the spring 2014 assessments.

“USDE’s approval of New York’s waiver request means the end of double-testing for nearly 60,000 New York students,” said King. “The Regents, the Chancellor and I are committed to reducing the amount of time students spend on tests and eliminating any tests that don’t inform instruction or improve student learning. Testing is an important part of the instructional cycle and good, sound assessments are necessary to monitor student academic progress. But we have repeatedly said that the amount of testing should be the minimum necessary to inform effective decision-making. Our successful waiver request is an example of New York’s commitment to smarter, leaner testing.”

At their October 2013 meeting, the Board of Regents directed the State Education Department (SED) to submit a request to USDE to waive provisions of the federal law that require states to measure the achievement of standards in mathematics using the same assessments for all students. The approved waiver will relieve teachers and schools from having to prepare students in seventh and eighth grade who are receiving instruction in Algebra I for multiple end of year assessments. Currently, seventh and eighth grade students who are receiving instruction in Algebra I and who take the Regents Examination in Algebra I (Common Core) are also required to take the NYS Common Core Mathematics Test for the grade in which they are enrolled. School districts will now be allowed to administer only the Regents Examination in Algebra I (Common Core) to these students, eliminating the need for double-testing in grades 7 and 8. This provision also applies to students in grades 7 and 8 who receive instruction in Geometry and who take the Regents Examination in Geometry.

 Other than two high school history Regents exams, all required state tests – including all grades 3-8 assessments; secondary-level exams in English, math and science; alternate assessments for students with disabilities; and annual assessments for English language learners (ELLs) – are required by federal law. The State has not created any additional tests as part of Common Core implementation, and the Department is currently developing “Teaching is the Core” Grants to encourage the reduction or elimination of locally selected pre-tests and locally bargained and selected achievement measures. With respect to the existing State tests, SED reduced the number of questions and testing time on the federally required assessments for grades 3-8, and our State budget request will include funding to eliminate multiple-choice stand-alone field tests. SED is also asking the U.S. Department of Education for flexibility to use for accountability purposes Native Language Arts tests for Spanish speaking ELLs who are newly or recently arrived to the United States and permission to allow testing at instructional level rather than chronological age for students with significant cognitive disabilities not eligible for the New York State Alternate Assessment (NYSAA).

Here’s what Mayor Bill de Blasio said about schools today in his inaugural address, which continued his campaign theme of “A Tale of Two Cities”:

We will ask the very wealthy to pay a little more in taxes so that we can offer full-day universal pre-K and after-school programs for every middle school student. And when we say “a little more,” we can rightly emphasize the “little.” 

Those earning between $500,000 and one million dollars a year, for instance, would see their taxes increase by an average of $973 a year. That’s less than three bucks a day – about the cost of a small soy latte at your local Starbucks. 

Think about it. A 5-year tax on the wealthiest among us – with every dollar dedicated to pre-K and after-school. Asking those at the top to help our kids get on the right path and stay there. That’s our mission. And on that, we will not wait. We will do it now.

Of course, I know that our progressive vision isn’t universally shared. Some on the far right continue to preach the virtue of trickle-down economics. They believe that the way to move forward is to give more to the most fortunate, and that somehow the benefits will work their way down to everyone else.  They sell their approach as the path of “rugged individualism.”

But Fiorello La Guardia — the man I consider to be the greatest Mayor this city has ever known — put it best.  He said: “I, too, admire the ‘rugged individual,’ but no ‘rugged individual’ can survive in the midst of collective starvation.”

So please remember: we do not ask more of the wealthy to punish success. We do it to create more success stories. And we do it to honor a basic truth: that a strong economy is dependent on a thriving school system. We do it to give every kid a chance to get their education off on the right foot, from the earliest age, which study after study has shown leads to greater economic success, healthier lives, and a better chance of breaking the cycle of poverty. 

We do it to give peace of mind to working parents, who suffer the anxiety of not knowing whether their child is safe and supervised during those critical hours after the school day ends, but before the workday is done. And we do it because we know that we must invest in our city, in the future inventors and CEOs and teachers and scientists, so that our generation – like every generation before us – can leave this city even stronger than we found it.

Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio continued his pre-inauguration appointment spree today with five more picks, including the man who will negotiate the next round of municipal labor contracts.

Robert Linn, whom de Blasio’s transition team describes as “a life-long negotiator of labor contracts and arbitrator of labor disputes,” will head the Office of Labor Relations. Among his chief tasks will be negotiating labor contracts for municipal unions that have gone without them for a while, in some cases for years, and are angling for retroactive pay raises that de Blasio has said he does not intend to offer without cost savings to even out the city’s balance sheet.

UFT President Michael Mulgrew responded to the appointment today by emphasizing the tough road ahead.

"We have a lot of work to do on the city’s labor contacts, and we look forward to professional negotiations based on integrity and respect," Mulgrew said.

Visiting colleges is getting a little bit easier for New York high school students from low-income families.

The New York State Higher Education Services Corporation is earmarking $500,000 for organizations that take low-income students on college tours, according to an announcement from Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office today.

“The costs involved in a college campus visit can be a barrier to attending college for low-income students,” the corporation’s acting president, Elsa Magee, said in a statement. “We’re excited to work with partners who will help spur enthusiasm and motivation for college in traditionally underserved students by allowing them to experience college first-hand without having to worry about the associated costs.”

Research suggests that early exposure — in the form of awareness and, yes, visits — can be key to making college a goal for students who might otherwise not pursue higher education, and many city schools have their own programs for getting low-income students onto college campuses already.

For the fifth straight year, the Fund for the City of New York and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation gave city teachers awards for excellence in teaching science and mathematics.

The honorees were nominated by students, parents, colleagues, and administrators and then selected by a committee made up of representatives from local science museums and universities, based on their students’ achievement, their involvement in extracurricular activities, and their efforts to promote math and science inside and outside the classroom. Schools with winning teachers each received $2,500 to support their math and science programs, and the teachers took home $5,000.

Here are this year’s recipients, along with a highlight about each that we pulled from longer biographies compiled by the Sloan Awards. (Here are last year’s winners, and 2011’s.)


Teacher: Eloise Thompson
Subject: College Algebra/Pre-Calculus, AP Statistics
School: DeWitt Clinton High School, Bedford Park, Bronx

Why her school thinks she’s great: Thompson, the youngest of 14 children, attended Bronx schools herself and now has developed a reputation at a struggling school for connecting personally with her students.

Read More

Helen Rogosin, a kindergarten teacher at Manhattan’s P.S. 110, is among this year’s Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching winners, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

Rogosin and 101 other teachers will each receive $10,000 from the National Science Foundation and get a chance to visit the White House. She was honored for excellence in teaching science, while another teacher from Dobb’s Ferry won for math instruction.

Two years ago, Rogosin won a grant to develop a paleontology curriculum she wrote called “We dig reading about dinosaurs.”

This year, the White House honored kindergarten through sixth grade teachers; next year, secondary grades teachers will be eligible for the honor. Nominations are open now.

The official campaign for universal pre-kindergarten that Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio launched on Thursday got its first lobbying video today, seen above. 

The video highlights support from national figures including U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and former treasury secretary Larry Summers for de Blasio’s pre-kindergarten push.

De Blasio campaigned on a proposal to raise taxes on New Yorkers earning over $500,000 a year to fund expansions of pre-kindergarten and after-school services, but such a change is seen as unlikely to win easy support in Albany.

Chancellor Dennis Walcott has a packed school-visit schedule for his last day of classes as chancellor. But he won’t be leaving his home borough on Friday.

According to a schedule distributed by the Department of Education, Walcott will start the day by walking his grandsons to school at P.S. 36 in Queens and will end it with a visit to his own alma mater, I.S. 192. In between, he’ll stop by Bard High School Early College Queens (with Mayor Bloomberg) and Queens Metropolitan High School, two schools that opened under Bloomberg, as well as Francis Lewis High School, from which he graduated in 1969. 

Walcott also visited Francis Lewis in his first week as chancellor in 2011. In general, his school-visit pace was far faster than that of his two immediate predecessors, Cathie Black and Joel Klein. He told GothamSchools this week that visiting schools was a highlight of his administration.

Bill de Blasio is ratcheting up his lobbying campaign to get the support he needs in Albany to fund his ambitious pre-kindergarten expansion plan. 

The mayor-elect unveiled a slick marketing campaign for his universal pre-K plan on Thursday and lined up another group of big-name supporters, including economist Jeffrey Sachs and New Visions for Public Schools chairman Roger Altman, as well as a long list of supportive nonprofit organizations. 

De Blasio said he’ll be using those supporters to reach out to members of the state legislature, who would need to approve a new tax on wealthy city residents under de Blasio’s plan. 

De Blasio provided few additional specifics of how his plan would work logistically, including how many teachers it would require and what they would be paid, saying his working group was coming up with those details. He did say that battles in recent years over co-locations in schools show that space is available in school buildings, and that he would prioritize giving that space to pre-K and after-school programs. 


The Department of Education has just announced a renewal hearing for Northside Charter High School in Williamsburg early in the new year.

The school wasn’t always supposed to live this long. In early 2012, the state announced that it would close Believe Northside Charter School and another school because of management and financial improprieties by their network. But the state dropped that plan after the school separated from the network, whose founder and CEO, Eddie Calderon-Melendez, was later indicted for tax fraud and grand larceny. The school officially dropped “Believe” from its name in April.

Now, the school is seeking permission to continue to operate through 2019. The city invites “anyone interested in learning” about the school’s bid for a charter renewal to a hearing Jan. 8.