Ready or Not: Thinking About Middle School

Tips and website relevant for your application to Middle School.

MS 51: a popular choice for Slopers

On the F train home from school at the beginning of his 4th grade year, my oldest son said, “you know, 4th grade is the most important year of your life. You need good 4th grade grades and test scores to get into a good middle school. You can only get into a good high school if you went to a good middle school. Good colleges will accept you only if you went to a good high school. And in order to get a good job, you need to go to a good college. So, really, it all comes back to how well you do in 4th grade. It’ll determine the rest of your life.”

Oy! The pressure! Although he isn’t 100% accurate, he isn’t all wrong, either.

The NYC middle school placement process is modeled after the medical student residency placement process. 5th graders spend September through November touring middle schools in their home- and elementary school- districts. (You can apply to middle schools in both the district you live in and the one in which you go to elementary school, if they are different. All 5th graders can apply to citywide middle schools.) Mid-December, 5th graders submit a Board of Education supplied application—which includes basic demographic information, grades, test scores and your attendance record— ranking middle schools. Middle schools review the applications, call students in for interviews and rank the 5th graders. A complicated computer algorithm then “matches” 5th graders to middle schools.

How your child ranks a school is supposedly blind. Although schools may not know what you ranked them, they do know if you ranked them 1st or 2nd. A representative from one school told my son he is guaranteed a spot if he ranks the school as #1 and got a 4 on the ELA. Some schools announce during their open house they will interview you only if you ranked them in the top tier.You won’t be invited to audition at Mark Twain, for example, if you don’t rank that school 1 or 2. [STOP PRESS! Joyce Szuflita has new information about the Mark Twain admissions process  HERE] There must be limited visibility in the ranking process. My son wasn’t invited for an interview at MS 51 even though he has good grades and test scores. The only plausible reason he wasn’t granted an interview is because he ranked MS 51 below 2.

When your child eventually applies to college, she’ll set herself apart by writing an essay that, for example, highlights the life lessons learned from walking rescue dogs. Or your son will include a link to the cool new app he created. High SAT scores are critical, but an insightful, well written essay hints at the human behind the numbers. Unfortunately, middle schools take into account standardized test scores, grades, absenteeism, and perhaps teacher recommendations. Only some specialized schools require an essay, an audition, or an interview. All middle schools will look at test scores ranking test scores as much as 50%.

Bottom line is MS 51—or any other middle school—doesn’t care if your daughter is trying out for the 2016 Olympic gymnastics team. It’s hedging your daughter won’t be absent and will do well on 7th and 8th grade standardized tests.

My 5th grader’s “match day” was, luckily, a happy one. He was accepted to his first choice school. Next year I’m doing the entire process again with our 4th—soon to be 5th –grader and crossing my fingers for our luck will hold. Because, at the end of the day, a dollop of luck helps.

You have resources to help you through the middle school application process.

-- Parent coordinator—your school’s parent coordinator is a huge resource. She’ll likely have a list of your school’s middle school placements, a list of open houses, and a list of deadlines. She also has a list of guidance counselors, one of which is assigned to your son

-- -- Search the Department of Education website for district and citywide middle schools. View school grades and parental comments.

-- -- Get the “Quality Review” Score; skim the blog.

-- -- Sign up for alerts, read reviews, and note open house dates.

-- 2010/2011 District 15 schools. The 2011/2012 booklet will come out at the beginning of the school year.

-- -- Should you want to send your child to a special school due to his brilliance or unique learning style.