Monday, March 31

Middle School Muddle: As the wait begins, the mystery mounts

When the public middle school search began this fall, I was not going to be one of those anxiety ridden parents, whispering rumors and comparing notes and test scores of kids who get in.

After all, we are talking about 10-year-olds here. There is plenty of time to get hysterical about high school admissions and getting into college in the years to come.

My kids attend schools in Manhattan’s District Two, I reasoned, where there are plenty of good choices that parents in other parts of the city only wished they had. My older son survived the process two years ago, got accepted into his first choice and is (mostly) thriving in his middle school, as are most of his friends and former elementary school classmates.

I still want to believe everything will work out fine. But now that tours are done and applications in, I see anxiety etched on the faces of 5th-grade parents. Kids are whispering about their tests and interviews and saying things like, "I’m sure I didn’t make it."

Some of us will have to explain to our kids why, if they didn’t get their first choice but their friends did, it they should not be unhappy or feel rejected.

We won’t be able to say exactly why, though, because we’re all a bit confused. The middle school process started later this year than it did in the past, and while many of us have posed questions to principals, staff at our elementary schools and parent coordinators on tours, we haven’t always received clear answers.

We’ve all been told many different things, some with a warning that all is subject to continuing changes in the middle school process from the Department of Education.

Parental chatter on tours and at tests makes for more confusion. For example, several parents told me they listed their child’s first choice school as SECOND on the middle school application, believing they’d have a better chance in the second round.

Some other unanswered questions:

  • How seriously do middle schools really take the fourth grade tests? Can your child simply not get into certain schools if they didn’t score a four on both the ELA and the math? Is there really an absolute cut-off? It seems to vary from school to school. Should you not even apply to certain middle schools even if you really liked them because of lower test scores?
  • Do schools really have time to look at report cards? If the report cards have just checks and no grades, how will these schools know anything about my child?
  • Will middle school officials really have the time to evaluate hordes of first choice candidates, in addition to getting through an already packed day and taking care of the kids already in their charge?
  • If they give a test, how much does it count?
  • Will my child be interviewed and tested more than once? At first we were told they would be only be tested and/or interviewed at their first choice. Then we were told they’d go to both. Then we were told they’d only get a call from school two or three if the child did not get into school one.
  • Will my 10-year-old be assigned a numerical rating, and get accepted or rejected on that basis?
  • Should we prepare a portfolio? Letters of recommendation?
  • If we don’t get our first choice, do we have much of a chance on appeal?
Understandably, selecting an entering class is tough on popular schools that are overwhelmed with first choice applicants.

Parents for the most part truly appreciate the unique offerings and the opportunity to choose the best school for our children. We know it’s time consuming for everyone involved.

A bit more clarity would make this easier for all.

Read all of Liz Willen's Middle School Muddle

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

As a mom of a District 3 child applying to middle school, feeling fairly calm about the process after the high school slog with our older child this fall/winter, I've greatly enjoyed your blog. But all these rumors and speculations, none of which I had heard and all of which are too late to act on now, just ramped up my anxiety meter for no good reason. Yes, the process feels unclear and frustrating this year but stressing isn't going to do us any good!