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4 New Gifted and Talented Programs Won't Use Tests to Assess Students

By Amy Zimmer | April 14, 2016 4:41pm
 The Parents' Alliance for Citywide Education hopes to get a citywide gifted and talented school open in The Bronx.
The Parents' Alliance for Citywide Education hopes to get a citywide gifted and talented school open in The Bronx.
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Willow Lawson

BRONX — The city will open gifted and talented classes next September in four school districts that had none this year — but the city will use different criteria to screen them instead of tests.

Under a new pilot program announced by the Department of Education on Thursday, the DOE will create new third grade G&T classes in the  South Bronx's District 7, Crotona Park's District 12, Bedford-Stuyvesant's District 16 and Ocean Hill/Brownsville's District 23.

Previously, school officials had said that there were not enough qualified G&T test takers to merit gifted programs in these districts.

But the city reversed course in recent months amid calls from families in the communities.

With these new programs, every student will have access to a G&T class in their neighborhood, something that has not happened in at least five years, DOE officials said.

“There are gifted and talented students in every borough and neighborhood in this city, and I am pleased that we are ensuring every student has access to these programs,” Chancellor Carmen Fariña said in a statement.

All families with students currently in the second grade who live in these four districts will be able to apply to these new programs, officials said, adding that the G&T test qualification will be waived for this round of applications.

“These four districts have not had G&T programs for many years,” DOE spokesman Harry Hartfield said. “The goal is to create a pilot program in these areas that responds to families wishes and are based around multiple measures — which best reflect student achievement.”

Students will be admitted based on a variety of measures that are believed to be indicators for success in gifted programs, including demonstrated academic performance, attendance and such behaviors as being highly curious, motivated and a fast learner, DOE officials said.

The DOE plans to identify second graders in these districts performing above second grade level, and then reach out to them with invitations to apply for a seat at one of the G&T programs, officials said.

Once a family expresses interest, their teachers would then complete a checklist and questionnaire evaluating the student for consideration.

Some education experts questioned the city's limited rollout of the divergent admissions policy, and asked whether it would be applicable to more than just these four districts.

“The use of multiple measures in these districts raises the question as to why those measures are not only appropriate for those gifted and talented programs but for the [specialized] competitive high schools as well," asked David Bloomfield, education professor at Brooklyn College and the CUNY Graduate Center.

"And why not introduce multiple measures in other districts?” he added.

He said the city's modified admissions policy also fails to address wider-ranging segregation problems plaguing public schools.

“I think this goes to this issue of separate but equal: They’re increasing programming to disproportionately poor and minority districts rather than encouraging integration of students citywide,” Bloomfield said. “Here’s another example where the administration is not touching that.”

He said, for example, if the city wanted to address integration and access to G&T education, it could have made one of the G&T programs in the pilot open to students from around the city.

Currently, there are no citywide G&T programs in the Bronx or Staten Island.

The DOE on Thursday also released the numbers of G&T test takers eligible to apply for seats in the roughly 100 gifted programs across the city based on the results of this winter's admissions test.

Of roughly 14,500 4-year-olds looking to score a G&T seat for kindergarten, some 1,800 — or 12 percent — scored 97 or above.

That was the score needed to qualify them for a seat in one of the five elite citywide programs that take kids from across the boroughs, like NEST+M on the Lower East Side and the Brooklyn School of Inquiry in Bensonhurst.

In addition, 2,370 of them, or 19 percent, scored high enough to be eligible to apply for seats in the districtwide G&T programs, according to DOE data.

The pressure on parents continues to mount to help students score higher and higher to land a seat at the tiny number of seats in the vaunted citywide programs.

The number of incoming kindergartners eligible to apply for the citywide programs rose 2 percentage points, while the percent eligible for the districtwide programs remained the same.

Families eligible to apply for G&T programs can apply online or by visiting a Family Welcome Center. Applications are due May 4, and final offers will be sent the last week of May.

Families in District 7, 12, 23 and 16 will be able to apply to the new third grade programs in May with applications completed by their children’s teacher.