NEW YORK CITY — Debbie Singh was ecstatic when she learned her 5-year-old daughter earned a perfect score on this year’s new, harder standardized gifted and talented exam.
The Richmond Hill stay-at-home mom thought her daughter's score — 78 out of 78 correct — would guarantee her child a seat at her top choice, the Upper West Side's Anderson School, one of the five citywide programs open to those scoring in the 97th percentile and above.
But now she’s not so sure.
Department of Education officials have quietly reversed course on how they plan to rank applicants to the city's elite public school gifted programs, bewildering parents who thought they knew their child's chances.
In previous years, all children who scored in the 99th percentile on the admissions test had an equal shot of getting into a gifted program. If more kids with 99s applied to a given school than there were available seats, the city held a lottery.
This school year, for the first time, the DOE widely announced plans to use more detailed composite scores — ranging from 200 to 900 — to rank children within each percentile. That meant that a child like Singh's daughter who got no questions wrong would have been ranked above a child who got one question wrong but was still in the 99th percentile.
However, when parents received their kids' score reports last week, the composite score was nowhere to be found — and DOE officials now say they will only consider percentile scores and will have to hold lotteries, just as they have in the past.
The news, which appeared only in an updated handbook on the DOE's website, came as a surprise to many parents, who didn’t think to check for changes to the handbook after learning their kids' G&T scores and beginning the process of submitting applications.
“I didn’t find out until I went on the tour [of Anderson] and a parent asked the school about it. The school reiterated, ‘Yes, that is the process,'” Singh, 34, said.
“If it had gone by composites score, she would have gotten her first pick, versus me praying that she gets picked in this lottery,” she said. “I don’t know what she’ll do if she doesn’t get in. My daughter is already reading and adding and subtracting. If I send her to a regular school I would be doing an injustice.”
Though Singh lives in Queens, she was gearing up to drive her daughter daily to Anderson, where kindergartners learn Spanish and chess.
“It’s nurturing and competitive and the best fit for her. So I’m willing to do that,” she said.
Families have to rank school choices and submit applications by April 19. The Department of Education is expected to inform families of G&T offers the week of May 20. Families will have until the week of June 3 to accept or decline offers.
Other parents felt unmoored by the situation, too, said Michael McCurdy, co-founder of TestingMom.com, a test preparation website that also helps guide parents through the selection process.
"It's very disturbing that the DOE isn't using the composite score for placement in the gifted and talented program since they clearly stated they would only use the composite score in the G&T handbook [fall 2012 edition] and at the parent information sessions held in all five boroughs,” he said, noting nearly 20 families called him with questions about scoring.
“Now parents are shocked and dismayed when they discover this change in the scoring during G&T school tours,” he said. “With the highest possible composite score a child would have ensured placement in their first or second choice school but now it's back to the way it was in previous years.
“It's not fair," he added, "and many parents feel blindsided and misled by the DOE."
DOE officials said they alerted families of the changes when they requested testing in December.
"We notified all families that we would be using the same process and policy as we did last year," a DOE spokesman said, attaching a letter that went out to parents.
But the letter focused on issues relating to sibling priority, never mentioning anything about composite scores.
Robin Aronow, founder of School Search NYC, also fielded many questions from anxious parents.
“There was tremendous confusion on the parents’ part,” she said.
On the bright side, she said, “I was glad to see there was new information on the website even if it came late.”