NEW YORK CITY — Of all the decisions parents have to make in New York City, none inspires more stress than where to send their child to school.
To help, DNAinfo.com New York has created the NYC Public Schools Guide, which gives parents everything they need to know about getting their child into a neighborhood elementary school.
For example, a new ranking of the more than 700 public elementary schools in New York City sorts the programs based on fourth-graders' scores on the state's 2012 English Language Arts test, one of the most important factors in middle school admissions.
The schools at the top of the list — The Anderson School and the Special Music School, both on the Upper West Side — saw all of their fourth-graders receive a passing score of a 3 or 4 on the English test last year, according to the annual ranking by Tom Goodkind, a lower Manhattan accountant and community leader.
"What this does is rank the schools against each other," said Goodkind, who started creating his list more than a decade ago.
Goodkind sorts and streamlines publicly available city and state data to form a comparison of elementary schools in different neighborhoods. The result is a much more targeted and specific ranking than the school progress reports issued by the Department of Education, which involve more complex calculations based on factors including student progress and school environment.
Fourth-graders' scores on the English Language Arts test are a key part of their applications to middle school. The city's most competitive middle school programs, including New Explorations Into Science, Technology and Math on the Lower East Side, require all incoming students to achieve a 3 or 4 on the fourth-grade English test to even be considered for admission.
NEST+m, a citywide gifted school, takes in only those kindergartners who earn top scores on a special gifted admissions exam. So perhaps it is no surprise that 97 percent of the school's fourth-graders passed the state's English Language Arts test in 2012.
"We start off with very, very bright students," Principal Olga Livanis said. "When they're at the very top, all we can do is make sure they can progress academically."
Livanis said the school does not focus on preparation for standardized tests but does ensure all students are familiar with the format of the test, including how to fill out a bubble sheet.
Beyond that, though, the school emphasizes rigorous lessons with lots of opportunities for reading and writing, along with enrichment programs, including music, art, technology and Mandarin, Livanis said.
Other schools where 90 percent or more of fourth-graders passed the ELA test include P.S. 290 on the Upper East Side, P.S. 150 in TriBeCa, P.S. 8 on Staten Island and P.S. 31 in Greenpoint, according to state data.
In Queens, one of the top-ranking schools was P.S. 98 The Douglaston School, near the Long Island border, which saw 94 percent of its fourth-graders pass the ELA test in 2012.
Like Livanis, P.S. 98 Principal Sheila Huggins said she advises teachers not to devote too much classroom time to test prep.
"I don't believe in a lot of preparation," Huggins said. "I believe in teaching. Children need ongoing experiences, how to read in depth, how to break through text complexity. You don't get that from test prep."
Huggins said the school focuses on teaching kids the kind of skills they will retain from year to year, like developing a personal connection to what they are reading and crafting an argument to defend an opinion. Those skills then come in handy when students take the ELA tests in fourth grade, Huggins said.
"The results in fourth grade are a compilation of efforts throughout the years," Huggins said. "It starts in kindergarten."