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Gifted and Talented Admissions Season Begins, With Big Changes

By Julie Shapiro | October 12, 2012 6:34pm

NEW YORK — Gifted and talented application season has begun — and a new, harder admissions test could make it tougher than ever for kids to win a seat.

This year, 4-year-olds who hope to get into one of the elite public kindergarten programs will have to ace a spatial reasoning exam called the Naglieri Nonverbal Ability Test, which experts say is harder to prepare for than the tests used in previous years.

"This test is very difficult," said Michael McCurdy, co-founder of TestingMom.com, which helps parents navigate test prep and school admissions. "The anxiety level [among parents] has been very high."

The Naglieri, which will comprise two-thirds of the student's overall score, is made up of series of pictures showing geometric patterns, and the student's task is to pick the picture that correctly completes each pattern.

"It's a very abstract test," said Bige Doruk, founder of Bright Kids NYC, a test preparation company. "The new test does create more anxiety. It's just more unknowns."

The rest of the child's score will be determined by the Otis-Lennon School Ability Test, which examines students' logic skills by asking them to do basic math and figure out which images in a series don't belong.

In the past, part of the gifted and talented test focused on basic concepts that are easy to teach, like colors, numbers and shapes, but that portion has been eliminated in favor of more complicated questions, experts said.

The Department of Education is also making other big changes to gifted and talented admissions this year, including eliminating the guarantee that a high-scoring student will win a spot in a gifted program and reducing the priority given to siblings of students in existing programs.

In the past, children who scored in the 90th percentile or above were guaranteed a seat in one of the gifted and talented programs in their district — but now there are so many high-scoring applicants that the DOE can no longer make that promise, the city said in a guide for parents released this week.

Also, in previous years, younger siblings of current students got top priority for seats in citywide gifted programs if they scored in the 97th percentile or above and top priority for seats in district gifted programs if they scored in the 90th percentile above. That meant that siblings often got into the most competitive programs even as non-siblings with higher scores were turned away.

But this year, siblings will only have priority over non-siblings as a tiebreaker, if they receive an identical score on the entrance exam. That means there is extra pressure on younger siblings to do well this year if they want to join their big brother or sister at a competitive school, Doruk said.

Families who want their child to attend a gifted and talented program must submit a Request for Testing form by Nov. 9. The tests will take place in January and early February, and families will learn their child's score in the spring.

Both Doruk and McCurdy urged parents to prepare their children for the new Naglieri test by doing practice tests and also playing with puzzles and blocks.

"Start preparing now," McCurdy said. "You still have time on your side....This is not a test you can cram for."

The Department of Education will hold information sessions in each of the five boroughs later in October, with the details listed online. TestingMom.com will hold its own information sessions on the evening of Oct. 23 in Midtown West and the evening of Oct. 25 in Battery Park City, with advance registration required.