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Gifted and Talented Scoring Error Affects Nearly 5,000 Kids

By Amy Zimmer | April 19, 2013 6:34pm | Updated on April 19, 2013 8:19pm
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Billy Figueroa

NEW YORK CITY — Gifted and talented exams for some 4,735 students contained calculating errors by the company the Department of Education contracted to score the high-stakes test, school officials admitted Friday — the same day families' applications to G&T programs were due.

Of the roughly 13 percent of test takers affected, nearly 2,700 of those who previously didn’t qualify were now eligible for district gifted programs, and more than 2,000 who were told they qualified for district programs were now also eligible for the more selective five elite citywide programs, DOE officials said.

“Two parents initially brought their concerns to our attention,” Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott said in a statement. “My team immediately asked Pearson to investigate.”

Officials from Pearson sent an apology to parents letting them know that despite the mistakes there would be no change for students who were deemed eligible for the city’s gifted and talented programs.

The DOE planned to notify all affected families of the errors via email and phone and would provide updated scores by April 29, Walcott said. Families were granted an extension until May 10 to submit their G&T school applications to the DOE.

Rena Ismail was one parent who contacted the DOE when she saw that her 5-year-old son scored in the 89th percentile despite her calculations that he should have been scored in the 91.5th percentile — and therefore should have been eligible.

When she called the DOE to complain, however, she was told that people with doctorates were calculating these scores and knew what they were doing, Ismail, a 36-year-old Astoria resident who owns a restaurant in Williamsburg, said.

“[A woman at the DOE] said, I can’t really explain it to you. It’s very involved,'” Ismail recounted. “I was sad and disappointed. I mulled it over for two days and then I called again and sent emails to her and everyone at the department I could find.”

When no one responded, she filed a formal complaint through 311, Ismail said.  

Although she felt vindicated, she was still fuming over the DOE’s response to her complaint.

“I’m not only upset this happened but they treated me and my son like a hot potato. No one wanted to give me an answer. They still haven’t informed me they were going to fix anything,” she said.

“They kept telling me I was wrong but I knew I was right,” Ismail continued.  It was surprising to me because this is the department that handles gifted children and they think that parents can’t count.”

Pearson spent the past week looking into the situation, confirming the errors and how many students were affected, officials said.

Three separate errors occurred: Pearson made a mistake in the way kids' ages were used to calculate scores, used incorrect score conversion tables and made an error in the mathematical formula for combining the verbal and non-verbal portions of the test, Pearson officials said.

“The fact that these errors occurred is simply unacceptable to Pearson as we fully understand the importance of accurate scoring,” Scott Smith, Pearson’s president of learning assessment, said in a statement.

”It is clear that we had a breakdown in our processes and we are conducting a complete, extensive investigation of every step in our processes to fully understand how these errors occurred.”

Walcott called the mistake “unacceptable,” adding “I want to emphasize that we are working hard to minimize the inconvenience caused by the errors, and are dealing with the company to ensure that this mistake is not repeated in the future.”

It was the latest of a string of errors and missteps related to this year’s exam. Some 400 tests were missing from the original file the DOE received from Pearson, school officials admitted this week. Also, parents were upset about the lack of communication about a change to the scoring, some said.

“The gifted and talented process in New York City is stressful enough for parents without the DOE adding more unnecessary drama,” said Michael McCurdy, co-founder of TestingMom.com, a test preparation website that also helps guide parents through the G&T selection process. “Luckily, children who were told they qualified will remain qualified."

United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew released a statement Friday criticizing the Department of Education for the mistakes.

"Thousands of children and parents get the wrong results on a very important test," Mulgrew said. "Only after parents urge an investigation does the DOE act; it then blames the testing company and tries to bury the announcement on a Friday afternoon."

Based on the updated test results, more children qualified for citywide gifted and talented seats this year than last year, from 4,102 last year up to 5,369 this year, the DOE said. And the number of kids who got a top score in the 99th percentile also rose, from 2,144 last year to 2,564, the DOE said.