MANHATTAN — The high-stakes test that determines which 4-year-olds get into the city's gifted and talented program is about to get even harder — which means fewer kids may qualify for the sought-after public school seats in the future, experts say.
Next winter, the city will replace the Bracken School Readiness Assessment, which covers shapes, colors and numbers, with the Naglieri Nonverbal Ability Test, which covers more abstract logic and visual reasoning skills.
"It's a significantly more difficult test," said Bige Doruk, founder of Bright Kids NYC, a test preparation company. "It's harder to teach, but it's a better indication of raw intellectual ability."
The Bracken currently makes up 25 percent of the child's score on the gifted and talented test and has always been seen as a way of boosting a child's results on the more challenging Otis-Lennon School Ability Test, which includes analogies and patterns and makes up 75 percent of the child's score.
Next year, the Otis-Lennon will remain in place, but it will be paired with the Naglieri rather than the Bracken, which means children will lose the opportunity to win a few extra points by proving that they know basics such as colors and letters.
A Department of Education spokesman confirmed the planned change and said the goal is to make the test harder to study for, in order to assess the children's cognitive ability rather than facts they have learned. The DOE has not yet decided how much of the child's score will be based on the Naglieri and how much will be based on the OLSAT, the spokesman said.
A typical Naglieri question shows a series of five rectangles, each with a bold black arrow nearby. In some cases the arrow is to the side of the rectangle, while in other cases it is above or below the rectangle. In four of the five pictures, the arrow points toward the rectangle, while in the fifth it points away.
The kids have to say which picture is different from the others — and even adults may have to study the figures for a moment before they notice that one of the arrows points away from its rectangle, a difference that is not obvious at first glance.
"It gets pretty complex," said Michael McCurdy, co-founder of TestingMom.com, who provided the sample Naglieri question. "Kids are really going to struggle with this."
Doruk and McCurdy say they have already been flooded with questions from concerned parents of 3-year-olds who want to know how the new test will affect their children next year.
"It's a really big change," McCurdy said. "You're going to have to double your preparation time."
Both Doruk and McCurdy predict that G&T scores would drop next year, with fewer New York City kids receiving results in the 90th percentile or above and qualifying for a gifted program.
This year, more than one-third of the 14,249 preschoolers who took the gifted and talented test qualified for a seat, and in neighborhoods like the Upper West Side, more than half of those who took the test qualified.
To get kids ready for the harder test, Doruk plans to start holding boot camp sessions a few weeks earlier in September and to lengthen the preparation class from eight weeks to about 10.
"It's not something you can teach in a second," Doruk said. "Not every child is going to get this right away."
Still, Doruk praised the city's switch to the Naglieri, which she said is already used in Chicago, Houston and many other cities. Doruk said the Naglieri is a more accurate indicator of giftedness than the Bracken, and because it is primarily visual rather than verbal, it does not punish kids who are just learning English.
Bright Kids NYC, TestingMom.com, Aristotle Circle and others are already offering test prep classes or materials to help children get ready for the Naglieri, but Doruk said there is plenty parents can do more casually at home.
Tangrams, puzzles, blocks and any game that requires kids to identify a visual pattern will all be useful in preparing for the Naglieri, Doruk said. Activities that require kids to pick up on subtle visual differences will help as well, she said.
Even though children born in 2008 won't take the kindergarten gifted test until next January, McCurdy said it's never too soon to begin studying.
"Parents should start preparing now," he said.