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City Maintains Sibling Priority in Competitive Gifted Program Admissions

By Jill Colvin | December 19, 2012 7:22pm

NEW YORK CITY — The Department of Education has reversed course on a controversial change to its gifted and talented program that would have made it harder for siblings to attend the same schools.

Under the current system, younger siblings of students admitted to competitive gifted and talented programs get a leg up in admissions so that kids from the same families can attend the same schools — as long as they hit certain cutoff points.

The DOE had planned to eliminate that sibling priority next year to give all kids an equal shot at winning a seat in the popular gifted programs.

But following an uproar from parents who were counting on sibling priority to boost their children's chances of attending the same school, DOE officials announced Wednesday that they have scrapped the proposed change. The move came one day before the Panel for Educational Policy had been expected to approve it.

“Based on feedback that we received from schools and families, we are not implementing the proposed changes this year,” the DOE wrote in a letter sent to parents Wednesday night.

The change would have impacted the first class of students taking a new, non-verbal gifted admissions test, which many parents have complained is too difficult.

"The Department received a lot of public feedback on the sibling policy and will take more time to analyze the issue, especially after the implementation of the Naglieri Nonverbal Ability Test this year,” a DOE spokeswoman said in a statement.

“We believe it is in the best interests of families to see what changes this new assessment may bring before we make any changes to our placement methodology.”

Upper West Side resident Rachel Fremmer, whose daughter attends the G&T program at P.S. 163, said she was thrilled to learn about the reversal, after weeks of letter-writing.

She hopes the policy will give her younger daughter, who will be entering kindergarten next fall, a better chance of being admitted to the same school as her sister.

“There’s still no guarantee that my younger one will get in, but it makes the odds so much better that I can keep them together," she said after learning of the change.

Fremmer said that having to ferry her girls to two separate schools would be a logistical challenge, and she railed against the way the DOE had tried to implement the change quietly with no parent input.

“I was just so unbelievably offended," she said. “I couldn’t believe it.”

To get a seat in a district gifted program, children must score in the 90th percentile or above on the admissions test, while those who want to attend one of the five elite citywide gifted schools must score in the 97th percentile or above.

Any younger siblings who meet those cutoffs will automatically win a seat in their older sibling's gifted program, even though non-siblings who score even higher may be turned away. Non-siblings will only be placed in a school after all qualifying siblings have been given seats.

This year, close to 5,500 kindergarteners through third graders won spots in gifted and talented programs across the five boroughs, out of nearly 40,000 students who took the admissions test.