Good and Bad News About Applying to Middle School

By Wendy Chapman

This fall, PS 150 fifth-graders are touring various middle schools and thinking about which school to rank first on their list of five. District 2’s many high performing schools are scattered all over the city from the Upper East Side to Battery Park. Most middle schools will be looking at fourth-grade report cards, attendance records, and test scores, including in some cases an additional school-specific test. Families will have their own screening criteria: ease of commute, start time, school size, academic focus, school activities/sports, etc. One size does not fit all in New York City and that is probably a good thing.

As a parent of two kids in two different middle schools, I feel lucky that each is in the “right” school. A big part of being successful in middle school is having your child feel a part of his/her school community. By middle school, all the groundwork you have done as a parent and school starts bearing fruit as your child goes out into the world making his/her own friends, traveling to school without you, and organizing his/her time to complete homework, projects, etc. Parents want kids to make positive choices and be successful and happy. The good news is that the majority of PS 150 fifth-graders have gotten their top middle school picks and report being pleased with their schools. We have every reason to believe this will continue.

But something has changed in the last year which brings us to the bad news — overcrowding. When my oldest applied to middle school three years ago, PS 234 had four fifth-grade classrooms. This year, PS 234 has seven fifth-grade classrooms. This means that many more PS 234 children will not get their first choice as the number of middle school seats has not expanded with demand. I shouldn’t pick on PS 234. Other downtown schools are in the same boat.

After attending October’s District 2 Community Education Council (CEC) meeting, Buxton Midyette and I learned that over 200 more fifth-graders applied in District 2 last year vs. the year before. CEC members discussed the very real change that most middle schools now only consider candidates that rank them first. In years past only Salk and East Side Middle required a first place ranking in order to be considered. This year, most schools in District 2 require a student rank the school #1 be screened. Needless to say, parents are up in arms having to decide what school will most likely prove a match. Stories of kids with 4s on standardized tests and strong report cards ending up at their fifth-choice school were repeated at the CEC meeting. Adding to the disappointment, the DOE basically eliminated the appeals process last year as the schools were full after the first round.

CEC members (all volunteer parents) wondered what, if anything, could improve the middle school application process. The DOE has offered to take the match process out of the hands of the middle school principals and create a central placement process. While this might sound like a fair solution, most CEC members stressed that this would increase the importance of the fourth-grade standardized test which the CEC already sees as flawed. Few parents want test scores or another formulaic metric the DOE comes up with to determine the school placement for their kids. So, the flawed system stays as is.

What does that mean for PS 150? Back to good news in my opinion. Our small size is a big advantage. We continue to send only one class out into the middle school match game. PS 150 should continue to get many fist place matches given our strong academics, test scores, and overall reputation.

What should families do outside lobbying to DOE to open more middle schools? Parents should make the time to help their child visit schools. Following the crowd or chasing the “hot” school is not in the best interest of an individual student. A game theorist would have a field day here, but finding the best school to rank first won’t be easy. This is the year to really look at all District 2 options and find the school where your child will fit and hope for the best. My guess is that most PS 150 students will find middle school success once again.

Just think, in three short years you’ll be starting the high school process, but let’s save that worry for another day.

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