p.s. 8

how we got here

shifting lines

New York

Rello-Anselmi defends special ed reforms from District 6 critics

Deputy Chancellor Corinne Rello-Anselmi talks to families from District 6 at a Citywide Council on Special Education's monthly meeting. Two weeks into the school year, fears about the rollout of special education reforms are turning into reality at some schools, according to parents and teachers from Upper Manhattan who met with the Department of Education’s top special education official Thursday evening. But the official, Corinne Rello-Anselmi, said she has “been holding feet to the fire” to make sure that students are getting what they need despite the changes, which are bringing more students with disabilities to neighborhood schools that have served few students with special needs in the past. The sweeping reforms have been underway for two years now, but most schools are only seeing the changes take effect this year. They were designed help schools integrate more students with learning disabilities into general education classrooms, and in the process bring the city up to speed with research that shows that special education students are more successful when they learn alongside students without disabilities. Parents, educators, and advocates have warned that the department might be moving too fast and giving schools too little help to make the seismic changes. And at a meeting on Thursday of the Citywide Council on Special Education, a parent group that the city is required to support, some parents and educators said their experiences so far suggested that the warnings were well founded. Yadira Cruz, a public school teacher and the mother of a sixth grader who has Asperger syndrome, said she sent her daughter to middle school at P.S. 187 in Washington Heights this year expecting the school to meet her daughter’s needs. Her daughter’s Individualized Education Plan calls for her to be in a small class composed exclusively of students with special needs. But Cruz said her daughter was placed instead into a larger class that contains both students with disabilities and students without special needs. And a week into the school year, P.S. 187 started asking her to find another school, Cruz told Rello-Anselmi, even though she said the options for transferring at this stage in the year are limited.
New York

City's accountability czar fields criticism at forum about testing

About 200 people attended a forum in Brooklyn Monday night about high-stakes testing. The architect of many of the metrics the city uses to assess teachers and measure student growth spent Monday evening defending his work against a steady stream of criticism from parents and educators. Chief Academic Officer Shael Polakow-Suransky sat on a three-person panel titled "High-Stakes Testing 101" hosted at The Brooklyn School for Collaborative Studies and The Brooklyn New School. The panel included two principals, Long Island's Sean Feeney and Elijah Hawkes formerly of the James Baldwin School in Manhattan, who have publicly criticized the city's and state's use of testing data to measure student growth and evaluate teacher effectiveness. Hawkes was one of about 170 city principals to sign on to a petition Feeney authored against the state's use of student test scores in teacher evaluations. That system, in which student growth on standardized test scores count for at least 20 percent of teacher ratings, was officially signed into law last week in Albany. Polakow-Suransky said the parents and principals were right to have qualms about the new system. He said the tests currently in use are imperfect and acknowledged, as the principals' protest points out, the evaluation system allows for scenarios in which a teacher can have the full confidence of her principal yet still be rated ineffective if her students show zero growth. "I agree with you that principals should not ever be in this situation where ultimately their judgment gets trumped by a mechanistic formula," Polakow-Suransky said after Feeney raised the issue. "I think that's an important thing that we need to look at as we work to implement this." But for the most part, the department's second in command defended the city's accountability system against concerns that test scores are being used inappropriately and that longer tests are negatively affecting schools' curriculum and culture.
New York

At PS 8, families cry foul on year's first progress report grade

With their schools' 2007-2008 progress report grades due out next week, principals are likely to spend their weekend planning either a victory celebration or damage control. PS 8 in Brooklyn Heights At PS 8 in Brooklyn Heights, families are trying to figure out what to think about their school's failing grade, especially because it earned a C last year and accolades this summer from Chancellor Klein, who held a conference at the school to announce that the school would expand to meet community demand, the Times reports today. Since the arrival of the current principal, Seth Phillips, in 2003, families in the zone have increasingly decided to stay put and enroll at PS 8 once their children reach school age. But according to the DOE's progress report formula, upper-grade students' test scores did not improve as much last year as they might have (and did at other schools), even though a majority of them scored at grade level or higher on state math and reading tests. Asked about the chancellor's July comments, DOE spokesman David Cantor told the Times, “Now that he has additional information about the school, his view has changed. The most important things about a school are student progress and performance, and in those areas this school isn’t measuring up.” Cantor also said parents and teachers noted "significant concerns" when responding to last year's Learning Environment Survey — but those concerns aren't apparent in the composite survey results, which put PS 8 in the top half of schools citywide in three of the four main categories and well above average on the fourth, "engagement."