Department of Education
Teaching and Learning Division
Literacy - Frequently Asked Questions
Q. What are children learning as readers and writers in the NYC schools?
A. All students in New York City K-12 public schools are expected to meet NYS English Language Arts Standards. Students are provided with instruction in the four areas of reading, writing, listening and speaking. In grades K-8 the scientifically-researched Comprehensive Approach to Balanced Literacy is utilized. This means students receive explicit instruction as well as time to practice their skills using the core classroom libraries to read and write about topics of interest and at their reading level. As students move through the grades, they are expected to build knowledge and skills through reading and writing in a variety of genres and to read books of greater complexity.
For more information about the NYC standards and curriculum, as well as parent and educator resources, see:
Q. What does Balanced Literacy mean?
A. The comprehensive approach to balanced literacy rests on three pillars: Reading, Writing, and Word Work. Balanced Literacy includes the five essential components of a strong reading program. These components or parts are: phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency and expressiveness, vocabulary and comprehension. Research and years of successful classroom experience tell us that there are effective teaching practices that help all students become capable readers, writers and speakers. This means that your child will be receiving instruction that incorporates read aloud, shared reading, guided reading, and independent reading. In writing instruction, the children will learn a process writing approach that starts in the early grades with shared writing and interactive writing, and continues throughout the years with independent writing in a variety of genres. For more information on balanced literacy, please see:
Q. What are the five essential parts of a strong reading program?
A. Reading instruction, an integral part of Balanced Literacy, consists of five key components or parts: phonics, phonemic awareness, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension. When students study phonics they are making connections between letters and sounds in order to read or spell words. Phonemic awareness involves teaching students to blend or segment the sounds in words using letters. When students learn to be fluent readers, they work on their speed, accuracy, and proper expression when reading aloud. Vocabulary instruction involves learning the meaning of many words to promote growth and reading potential. Finally, children are taught comprehension skills and strategies that allow them to understand what they are reading.
Q. How can parents help their children get excited about reading and writing?
A. Parents often ask about how they can help their children find books that kids just can’t put down.
Parents wonder how they can locate real world publishers willing to accept writing from young authors. The International Reading Association provides annual lists of “student picks” for great reading. The National Council of Teachers of English, in conjunction with the Children’s Book Council, offer many sources that help students with tips for publication as well as with places that accept writing for publication and offer contests.
See the sites below for details.
Q. Are there DOE resources on family literacy?
A. The New York City Department of Education provides a Family Literacy Guide called “Opening the Door to Learning: Literacy is a Family Affair.” This 48-page guide includes detailed information about how children develop reading skills, what you can expect your child to learn in school, and how you can help them become literate individuals.
Q. What are the NYS ELA Standards? Where can they be found?
A. There are four New York State English Language Arts (ELA) Standards. Students will read, write, listen, and speak for: (1) information and understanding; (2) literary response and expression, (3) critical analysis and evaluation; and (4) social interaction. The State Education Department provides information about the learning standards, the K-12 core curriculum and assessment information at the following sites:
Q. Why are the Learning Standards important? How do they affect children?
A. The NYS Department of Education puts out a brochure that explains what parents need to know about NYS Learning Standards. Basically, there are two types of learning standards: content standards and performance standards. Content standards detail what children are expected to learn in each grade and performance standards tell us how well students have learned the content (achievement). For more information, see the site below:
Q. Where can parents find information about the State ELA exams?
A. A parent guide explains the testing program for grades 3-8. The guide provides information about the New York State Standards. The guide also describes the tests and explains how the tests measure student achievement. Finally, the guide offers answers to many of the frequently asked questions about the test. This parent guide can be found at:
Q. What are the new NYC Periodic Assessments?
A. In 2007-2008, children in grades 3-8 will take a minimum of five periodic assessments in English Language Arts. Students in grades 9-12 will take a minimum of four (only three in 2007-2008) ELA assessments.
How will these assessments be used?
These assessments will not be used for grading decisions. The sole purpose of these assessments is to help teachers plan for each child’s instruction based on what students already know and where they may need extra support.
How will these assessments help children?
Because the results of the assessments will be made available to the classroom teachers, the results will allow teachers to work on the specific strategies and skills that will help students make the most progress.
How long does each assessment take?
Each assessment is designed to be completed within one 45 minute period.
For more information about these assessments, click on the link below:
Q. Where can parents get ELA information about specific student populations?
A. The New York State Education Department offers a wide range of resources for parents. These include sites that address issues of testing and curriculum for differentiated instruction, such as gifted and talented education, and bilingual education, among others. For details see:
For information about how the NCLB (No Child Left Behind) legislation affects your child, see “Just the Facts for NY Parents”
Q. What kind of ELA services do the NYC schools provide if students need extra support?
A. Under the No Child Left behind Act (NCLB), all schools must make “Adequate Yearly Progress” (AYP). Those who do not reach achievement targets are provided with supplemental educational services (SES), which offer extra help in reading and English language arts. Although SES services are focused on a small segment of the population, for additional information on student eligibility and where to get help, please see: