MANHATTAN — Four-year-olds hoping to earn a coveted seat in a city gifted and talented program had a tougher time this year, as scores on the qualifying test fell sharply amid changes to the exam, according to data the Department of Education released Friday.
Just 13 percent of the 14,605 preschoolers who took the test earned a top score of 97 or above, earning them the chance to apply for an elite citywide G&T school, according to the DOE.
That's down from last year, when nearly 21 percent of test takers had such high scores, after a series of grading errors made by testing company Pearson.
The dip in the number of qualifying students this year as well as a drop in the scores of those who passed was likely due to the change in the way the DOE weighted the verbal and nonverbal parts of the exam, education experts said.
Both sections of this year's test carried equal weight — 50 percent of a child's score was based on the verbal section and 50 percent on the nonverbal section — unlike last year, when the nonverbal accounted for 65 percent of a child's overall score and the verbal counted for 35 percent.
“We continue to look at alternative ways to identify gifted students through verbal and nonverbal assessments and promote geographical diversity in these programs," DOE spokeswoman Devora Kaye said in a statement.
The number of 4-year-olds earning scores of 90 and above — which qualifies children for gifted programs in their district — also fell this year, from 40 percent to 30 percent, according to DOE data.
Experts said the change in grading likely hurt many students, especially those who don't speak English at home as their primary language.
"We're seeing much lower scores this year compared to previous years," said Michael McCurdy, co-founder of test preparation website Testing Mom. "By making the [verbal] at 50 percent, you put the families who speak multiple languages at home at a major disadvantage and this could account for the lower scores overall."
Bige Doruk, founder of test prep company Bright Kids NYC, agreed that English language learners were at a disadvantage under the new grading system.
She also said that many 4-year-olds tended to get tired once they got around to the verbal exam — which they did after sitting through 48 questions covering critical thinking and problem-solving abilities.
"Their brains are already fried after they take the [nonverbal section]," she said. "By this time they've had a full test and then have to take another with 30 questions that require razor-sharp focus and thinking."
Adding to the difficulty, the testers do not repeat the questions during the verbal section, so if children forget a detail, they may be unable to answer.
When Doruk analyzed last year's scores of her clients, the verbal scores were almost always lower, she said. That was the case for her own daughter, who scored 88 on the verbal and 99 on the nonverbal last year.
"We knew that the weighting change would impact the scoring," she added, "so we spent a lot of time with our children working on stamina and verbal activities."
Children who earned a 97 or above on the G&T test can apply to citywide gifted programs, while those who earned a 90 or above can apply to district gifted programs. The application deadline is April 21, and families will be notified of acceptances the week of May 26, according to the DOE.