NYC OLSAT Scores predicted to be lower this year!

Just a quick note on OLSAT scores before we close the office for the 2 week Passover and Easter vacations. Please contact your tutor during this time for any schedule changes.

After a short random survey of parents that had inquired but not been selected into our program: We predict OLSAT/BSRA scores to be released next month will be lower than previous years.

WHY DO WE THINK THIS IS THE CASE?

We had over 2000 inquiries from April/May 2010 through January 2011. I met with about 10 % of them, a little over 200 parents for private consultations in September and October of 2010. We patiently fit in our maximum capacity of 100 children but we wondered what parents were choosing to do when we could not fit them in and so the survey was born.

We asked a few simple questions: 1.)If they chose other tutoring groups or did it themselves, 2) who they chose and why, 3) How was the overall experience ….

From the sample, 9 out of 10 parents responded. The group as a whole chose mostly to do the preparation themselves by purchasing prep booklets off the internet. This quite candidly is my reason for the prediction. The booklets I have seen are all inadequate for preparing children for the testing. The parents who chose other tutoring groups felt confident in their choice but 8 out of 10 responded that Manhattan Edge did not have the open time to fit their schedule as the leading reason for their choice. Of those that chose to go it alone, a little over 5 out of 10 responded that the overall experience of choosing to do it themselves was a frustrating and confrontational experience that they would not want to repeat.

Added to this, I have become privy to knowledge that at least 2 children were disqualified from the Stanford-Binet testing for Hunter College Elementary in 2010 because the children knew the test too well! In my experience dating back to 2000, I have never seen this happen. I examined one of the test prep booklets used and can verify that this booklet uses pictures identical to the ones on the Stanford-Binet. Not a wise choice in my opinion, neither for the overrated fees charged to parents to purchase it nor for the company to put their clients in harm’s way by exposing the children to these pictures. I am also opposed to parents purchasing the blocks designed exactly like the ERB blocks for their children to practice with. There are too many ways to practice these skills without copying the exact tests! What are these people thinking? This can result in immediate disqualification on the ERB.

We have never copied the tests and never will. We purposely design our program to focus on the skills for the test and avoid the confusion of using the exact tests.

With so many test prep booklets available now and parents feeling confident in them, it will only help to lower the bar for those that are truly gifted learners or those that had adequate skills practice.

One last comment, I went to a seminar at Kidville hosted by Karin Quinn and that “Mike” guy who blogs about his little G&T program experience … all I can say is that the parents in attendance had a thirst for knowledge about G&T programs but they found nothing to drink from these two. One of them even quoted verbatim an example I was using 3 years ago about a question on one of the tests … could it be that one of their friends or editors were attending my presentations??

Hang in there parents, the path you are on is worth the journey, we learned a few months ago that my eight grader at NEST+m received admission to Stuyvesant High School next year… it does work!

Have a great passover and Easter vacation.

Harley Evans

Founder of Manhattan Edge Educational Programs

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City Seeking New Test for Gifted Admissions

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/22/nyregion/22gifted.html?ref=nyregion

The New York Times just published an article about changing the G&T test for public school admissions. It’s about time! Too many “experts” have come out of the woodwork to scam parents with their kindergarten “test prep” booklets. What do we have, about 5 different test prep booklets now? These booklets have copied each other’s mediocrity. When will parents understand the skill set is what they need to prep for, not the test. Do you study for a Spanish exam by taking practice tests or do you study the conjugation and vocabulary that will be on the test? The reporter called a woman who has been in business for less than a year to comment on the changes. I ask, what would she know? She has never dealt with the changing landscape of New York City education. The changes will blow away the business model of companies pretending be a tutoring companies only to sell booklets. We have been helping families for over 8 years now. We work on the child’s skill set, so no matter which test the child takes they have the opportunity to excel. Let’s hope the business woman who was interviewed for the story (which I added the bold text below) was misquoted and the New York Times will issue a correction.

City Seeking New Test for Gifted Admissions

By SHARON OTTERMAN
Published: June 21, 2010
The city will search for a new admissions test for its gifted and talented public school programs, a Department of Education official said on Monday, in part to address concerns that some families were “gaming” the test through extensive preparation.

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Marc Sternberg, the new deputy chancellor for portfolio planning, said the change could occur for the 2012-13 year. The city has one more year in its current testing contract.

Mr. Sternberg announced the move at a City Council hearing on education, after extensive questioning from council members about why the city’s gifted programs were not as racially and economically diverse as the city schools as a whole. David Greenfield, a council member from Brooklyn, asked whether the Department of Education was concerned about how families in richer communities were “expending thousands” of dollars on tutoring and classes before the gifted test, giving their children a better opportunity to get into the programs.

“We are concerned about it,” Mr. Sternberg said. He added that the city would examine “whether we could look for a different kind of test that, to be frank, would be harder to game in the way that so many families do, so as a result be more likely to result in a level playing field.”

The current testing program for the city’s gifted kindergarten and first-grade classes was adopted in 2008 as a way to standardize admissions across the city, to address longstanding complaints that favoritism played a role when districts were allowed to set their own rules, as well as to increase racial and economic diversity in the programs.

But a result has been that while more students now take admissions tests for gifted programs, fewer students now enroll, and they are less racially diverse, council members said.

Under the previous policies, 15 percent of the students admitted to gifted programs were Hispanic and 31 percent were black. In the 2009-10 school year, 12 percent were Hispanic and 15 percent were black. Over all, 39 percent of kindergartners are Hispanic and 27 percent are black.

Six districts in central Brooklyn and the South Bronx will have no gifted kindergartens in the fall because so few students qualified.

Over the next several months, Mr. Sternberg said, the city will explore whether a newer test reflecting up-to-date research could result in a more diverse gifted program.

“We think that the testing technologies have evolved significantly since our last” request for proposals, he said.

“And we are going to push,” he added.

A wide range of issues would be in play, Mr. Sternberg said, including the testing protocols and outreach, as well as the test itself. “And we are every bit as committed as we have been, if not more so, in trying to find a way that there is proper representation among students.”

Currently the city uses a mixture of the Otis-Lennon School Ability Test, or Olsat, a reasoning exam, and the Bracken School Readiness Assessment. Because the Bracken is a knowledge test, it is easy to prepare for, and increasing numbers of nursery schools and private companies offer tutoring. Preparing for the Olsat is more controversial, but some companies have claimed high rates of success in helping students master the exam.

Students who score at the 90th percentile are offered a seat in a gifted class. The number of children scoring over 97th percentile, making them candidates for one of five highly selective “citywide” gifted programs, rose by one-third this year, with the greatest growth in middle-class districts.

The city has repeatedly defended its admissions policies, and even after Mr. Sternberg’s remarks, it continued to do so on Monday. David Cantor, the press secretary, said that while the city would naturally look for the best test available next year, that did not indicate a problem with the current test. After the hearing, Mr. Sternberg spoke with members of the Education Department’s communications staff and then told reporters that his comments did not indicate a change in policy and refused to take further questions.

Whether a different test would end the problem of professional preparation was unclear.

“If they change the tests to another test, it’s not going to make a big difference,” said Bige Doruk, the founder of Bright Kids NYC, a tutoring company. “I think this notion that you can change it and stop people from preparing is quite not correct. There’s too much at stake.”

Mr. Sternberg also said that the city would look at the timing of the test. Currently, families do not find out until June if their child matched to a gifted program, leading to high anxiety among some parents, particularly those whose children are on waiting lists for their overcrowded neighborhood schools or who must decide whether to put down deposits on private schools.

Elizabeth Sciabarra, who heads the city’s student enrollment office, said the main constraint the city had faced in notifying parents earlier was that the current test was valid only for children 4 years old or older, so the city had to wait until January of the year before kindergarten to administer it. But, she said, that too might be looked at in searching for a better test, adding that children could be tested even earlier.

“The only way we can change the timing,” she said, “is to do as Marc suggests, is to look at perhaps another vehicle for testing that could get us to a place where we might be able to test earlier.”

Jennifer Medina contributed reporting.

The Path to Genius – Does Stanford-Binet Lead the Way?

This is a very good article from the NY Times written by David Brooks. It reaches to the depths of what we believe at Manhattan Edge – true genius is achieved through hard work and the love of learning…

Op-Ed Columnist/ NY Times

Genius: The Modern View

By DAVID BROOKS Published: April 30, 2009

“Some people live in romantic ages. They tend to believe that genius is the product of a divine spark. They believe that there have been, throughout the ages, certain paragons of greatness — Dante, Mozart, Einstein — whose talents far exceeded normal comprehension, who had an other-worldly access to transcendent truth, and who are best approached with reverential awe.

We, of course, live in a scientific age, and modern research pierces hocus-pocus. In the view that is now dominant, even Mozart’s early abilities were not the product of some innate spiritual gift. His early compositions were nothing special. They were pastiches of other people’s work. Mozart was a good musician at an early age, but he would not stand out among today’s top child-performers.

What Mozart had, we now believe, was the same thing Tiger Woods had — the ability to focus for long periods of time and a father intent on improving his skills. Mozart played a lot of piano at a very young age, so he got his 10,000 hours of practice in early and then he built from there.

The latest research suggests a more prosaic, democratic, even puritanical view of the world. The key factor separating geniuses from the merely accomplished is not a divine spark. It’s not I.Q., a generally bad predictor of success, even in realms like chess. Instead, it’s deliberate practice. Top performers spend more hours (many more hours) rigorously practicing their craft. The recent research has been conducted by people like K. Anders Ericsson, the late Benjamin Bloom and others. It’s been summarized in two enjoyable new books: “The Talent Code” by Daniel Coyle; and “Talent Is Overrated” by Geoff Colvin.

If you wanted to picture how a typical genius might develop, you’d take a girl who possessed a slightly above average verbal ability. It wouldn’t have to be a big talent, just enough so that she might gain some sense of distinction. Then you would want her to meet, say, a novelist, who coincidentally shared some similar biographical traits. Maybe the writer was from the same town, had the same ethnic background, or, shared the same birthday — anything to create a sense of affinity.

This contact would give the girl a vision of her future self. It would, Coyle emphasizes, give her a glimpse of an enchanted circle she might someday join. It would also help if one of her parents died when she was 12, infusing her with a profound sense of insecurity and fueling a desperate need for success.

Armed with this ambition, she would read novels and literary biographies without end. This would give her a core knowledge of her field. She’d be able to chunk Victorian novelists into one group, Magical Realists in another group and Renaissance poets into another. This ability to place information into patterns, or chunks, vastly improves memory skills. She’d be able to see new writing in deeper ways and quickly perceive its inner workings. Then she would practice writing. Her practice would be slow, painstaking and error-focused. According to Colvin, Ben Franklin would take essays from The Spectator magazine and translate them into verse. Then he’d translate his verse back into prose and examine, sentence by sentence, where his essay was inferior to The Spectator’s original.

Coyle describes a tennis academy in Russia where they enact rallies without a ball. The aim is to focus meticulously on technique. (Try to slow down your golf swing so it takes 90 seconds to finish. See how many errors you detect.) By practicing in this way, performers delay the automatizing process. The mind wants to turn deliberate, newly learned skills into unconscious, automatically performed skills. But the mind is sloppy and will settle for good enough. By practicing slowly, by breaking skills down into tiny parts and repeating, the strenuous student forces the brain to internalize a better pattern of performance.

Then our young writer would find a mentor who would provide a constant stream of feedback, viewing her performance from the outside, correcting the smallest errors, pushing her to take on tougher challenges. By now she is redoing problems — how do I get characters into a room — dozens and dozens of times. She is ingraining habits of thought she can call upon in order to understand or solve future problems. The primary trait she possesses is not some mysterious genius. It’s the ability to develop a deliberate, strenuous and boring practice routine.

Coyle and Colvin describe dozens of experiments fleshing out this process. This research takes some of the magic out of great achievement. But it underlines a fact that is often neglected. Public discussion is smitten by genetics and what we’re “hard-wired” to do. And it’s true that genes place a leash on our capacities. But the brain is also phenomenally plastic. We construct ourselves through behavior. As Coyle observes, it’s not who you are, it’s what you do.”

Well written and well said… in developing cognitive thinking skills we attempt to tackle the skills assessed on the OLSAT, ERB and Stanford-Binet, breaking them into segments. By breaking these skills into “tiny parts and repeating” we are forcing the brain into a pattern of improved performance.

Harley Evans