First Person

Ask an Expert: Buying tech gadgets for kids/teens as holiday gifts.

Q. What should parents consider when thinking about buying new technological gadgets for their kids this holiday season?

A. Voltaire warned us that “with great power comes great responsibility,” and as gadgets advance further with each passing release, parents may feel trepidation as they think about handing over the season’s latest device to a child. What follow are some special considerations for mobile technology for school-aged children.

Get smart: Smart phones and parental controls

Ninety-eight percent of parents of cell phone-owning teens say a major reason their child has a phone is that they can be in touch no matter where the teen is. Along with calling, most smart gadgets today connect to the internet. Internet connectivity on a mobile device comes with all of the same perils of the internet on a desktop computer — girl on cell phonerisk of untimely exposure to mature or disturbing content, sexually explicit material, contact with strangers, and cyberbullying.

Thankfully, almost all of these gadgets come with helpful parental controls; generally, the more sophisticated the gadget, the more sophisticated the restrictions. Parental controls are built into Apple’s iOS, the mobile device operating system that comes on devices like iPods, iPhones and iPads.

Here’s a detailed explanation of how to turn on Parental Controls in iOS5, from Ask Dave Taylor. The Android OS also has a lot of third-party developed Parental Control applications, and a few useful options are outlined here, by Kids and Media.

If you are thinking of giving your child an iPhone or iPod Touch, check out 11 Things to Do Before Giving Kids an iPod Touch or iPhone, which includes setting up parental controls, setting up an iTunes allowance for app and music purchases, and setting an access passcode that you and your child can remember.

Protect your investment: Repair and replacement

  • Most adults can’t keep all accidents from happening to their gadgets, so consider a warranty or device replacement plan. After all, many of the latest smartphones and gadgets have glass screens. And though it’s reinforced, heavy-duty Gorilla glass that enhances the screen’s colors and the device’s touch capabilities, it’s still glass.
  • Additionally, contact your family insurance agent before visiting the store to see if they would cover repair or replacement costs.

Boon or bane: Mobile devices and schools

Schools have been struggling with what to do with mobile technology, as their firewall evasion capabilities race beyond schools’ capacity to update their infrastructure. Although some schools are making efforts to integrate technology with learning, many are still caught between banning and bonding with new technologies.

In May 2011, The National Association of Secondary School Principals released a position statement about mobile technology in the classroom, urging schools to work with technology instead of against it, and even outlined specific steps leaders should take towards this end. The Department of Education’s 2010 report, “Transforming American Education: Learning Powered by Technology,” urges schools to leverage technology to provide richer learning experiences, better assessment systems, and to improve student learning and teacher collaboration.

Regardless, many schools are still banning cell phones and other mobile devices for now, so know your school’s current rules about phones and other gadgets, before sending their new devices with them to school.

Mobile devices and your child

Technological ubiquity can also be a new source of anxiety for kids. Close to half of teens feel the strain, as “48 percent of cell-owning teens get irritated when a call or a text message interrupts what they are doing, compared with 38 percent of the cell-owning parents.” The younger the child is, the more likely they are to feel annoyed by their phone.

Developing a healthy sense of balance between the offline and online is a process, and kids, particularly younger kids and teens, could use some help figuring out when it’s time to put down (or turn off) the phone and connect with their surroundings and concentrate on an important task, like studying for a test.

  • Consider the cell phone bill as a starting point for a technological armistice. Further, as suggested in this article from Great Schools, consider having the child  pay for the phone bill herself.
  • If you can work with your child around metering their own usage, you may also be helping them manage their distraction or discomfort their ultra-connectedness may bring. It may help kids better manage their time when attempting to complete any task that requires prolonged concentration. After all, this responsibility shifts entirely to them once they head to into adulthood.

– By Samantha Harms

First Person

I’ve spent years studying the link between SHSAT scores and student success. The test doesn’t tell you as much as you might think.

PHOTO: Photo by Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images

Proponents of New York City’s specialized high school exam, the test the mayor wants to scrap in favor of a new admissions system, defend it as meritocratic. Opponents contend that when used without consideration of school grades or other factors, it’s an inappropriate metric.

One thing that’s been clear for decades about the exam, now used to admit students to eight top high schools, is that it matters a great deal.

Students admitted may not only receive a superior education, but also access to elite colleges and eventually to better employment. That system has also led to an under-representation of Hispanic students, black students, and girls.

As a doctoral student at The Graduate Center of the City University of New York in 2015, and in the years after I received my Ph.D., I have tried to understand how meritocratic the process really is.

First, that requires defining merit. Only New York City defines it as the score on a single test — other cities’ selective high schools use multiple measures, as do top colleges. There are certainly other potential criteria, such as artistic achievement or citizenship.

However, when merit is defined as achievement in school, the question of whether the test is meritocratic is an empirical question that can be answered with data.

To do that, I used SHSAT scores for nearly 28,000 students and school grades for all public school students in the city. (To be clear, the city changed the SHSAT itself somewhat last year; my analysis used scores on the earlier version.)

My analysis makes clear that the SHSAT does measure an ability that contributes to some extent to success in high school. Specifically, a SHSAT score predicts 20 percent of the variability in freshman grade-point average among all public school students who took the exam. Students with extremely high SHSAT scores (greater than 650) generally also had high grades when they reached a specialized school.

However, for the vast majority of students who were admitted with lower SHSAT scores, from 486 to 600, freshman grade point averages ranged widely — from around 50 to 100. That indicates that the SHSAT was a very imprecise predictor of future success for students who scored near the cutoffs.

Course grades earned in the seventh grade, in contrast, predicted 44 percent of the variability in freshman year grades, making it a far better admissions criterion than SHSAT score, at least for students near the score cutoffs.

It’s not surprising that a standardized test does not predict as well as past school performance. The SHSAT represents a two and a half hour sample of a limited range of skills and knowledge. In contrast, middle-school grades reflect a full year of student performance across the full range of academic subjects.

Furthermore, an exam which relies almost exclusively on one method of assessment, multiple choice questions, may fail to measure abilities that are revealed by the variety of assessment methods that go into course grades. Additionally, middle school grades may capture something important that the SHSAT fails to capture: long-term motivation.

Based on his current plan, Mayor de Blasio seems to be pointed in the right direction. His focus on middle school grades and the Discovery Program, which admits students with scores below the cutoff, is well supported by the data.

In the cohort I looked at, five of the eight schools admitted some students with scores below the cutoff. The sample sizes were too small at four of them to make meaningful comparisons with regularly admitted students. But at Brooklyn Technical High School, the performance of the 35 Discovery Program students was equal to that of other students. Freshman year grade point averages for the two groups were essentially identical: 86.6 versus 86.7.

My research leads me to believe that it might be reasonable to admit a certain percentage of the students with extremely high SHSAT scores — over 600, where the exam is a good predictor —and admit the remainder using a combined index of seventh grade GPA and SHSAT scores.

When I used that formula to simulate admissions, diversity increased, somewhat. An additional 40 black students, 209 Hispanic students, and 205 white students would have been admitted, as well as an additional 716 girls. It’s worth pointing out that in my simulation, Asian students would still constitute the largest segment of students (49 percent) and would be admitted in numbers far exceeding their proportion of applicants.

Because middle school grades are better than test scores at predicting high school achievement, their use in the admissions process should not in any way dilute the quality of the admitted class, and could not be seen as discriminating against Asian students.

The success of the Discovery students should allay some of the concerns about the ability of students with SHSAT scores below the cutoffs. There is no guarantee that similar results would be achieved in an expanded Discovery Program. But this finding certainly warrants larger-scale trials.

With consideration of additional criteria, it may be possible to select a group of students who will be more representative of the community the school system serves — and the pool of students who apply — without sacrificing the quality for which New York City’s specialized high schools are so justifiably famous.

Jon Taylor is a research analyst at Hunter College analyzing student success and retention. 

First Person

With roots in Cuba and Spain, Newark student came to America to ‘shine bright’

PHOTO: Patrick Wall
Layla Gonzalez

This is my story of how we came to America and why.

I am from Mallorca, Spain. I am also from Cuba, because of my dad. My dad is from Cuba and my grandmother, grandfather, uncle, aunt, and so on. That is what makes our family special — we are different.

We came to America when my sister and I were little girls. My sister was three and I was one.

The first reason why we came here to America was for a better life. My parents wanted to raise us in a better place. We also came for better jobs and better pay so we can keep this family together.

We also came here to have more opportunities — they do call this country the “Land Of Opportunities.” We came to make our dreams come true.

In addition, my family and I came to America for adventure. We came to discover new things, to be ourselves, and to be free.

Moreover, we also came here to learn new things like English. When we came here we didn’t know any English at all. It was really hard to learn a language that we didn’t know, but we learned.

Thank God that my sister and I learned quickly so we can go to school. I had a lot of fun learning and throughout the years we do learn something new each day. My sister and I got smarter and smarter and we made our family proud.

When my sister Amira and I first walked into Hawkins Street School I had the feeling that we were going to be well taught.

We have always been taught by the best even when we don’t realize. Like in the times when we think we are in trouble because our parents are mad. Well we are not in trouble, they are just trying to teach us something so that we don’t make the same mistake.

And that is why we are here to learn something new each day.

Sometimes I feel like I belong here and that I will be alright. Because this is the land where you can feel free to trust your first instinct and to be who you want to be and smile bright and look up and say, “Thank you.”

As you can see, this is why we came to America and why we can shine bright.

Layla Gonzalez is a fourth-grader at Hawkins Street School. This essay is adapted from “The Hispanic American Dreams of Hawkins Street School,” a self-published book by the school’s students and staff that was compiled by teacher Ana Couto.