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30 Percent of Eligible Kindergartners Shut Out of City's Gifted Programs

By Amy Zimmer | May 31, 2016 4:57pm | Updated on June 1, 2016 10:41am
 The number of offers to G&T programs dropped, as the city changed its enrollment process.
The number of offers to G&T programs dropped, as the city changed its enrollment process.
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MANHATTAN — Many families hoping to score seats to the city’s coveted gifted and talented programs were shut out despite their kids scoring high enough to qualify.

Roughly 30 percent of eligible kindergartners who applied for G&T seats came out empty-handed, Department of Education officials announced Tuesday.

The number of offers for kindergarteners — roughly 2,500 — dropped this year to about 70 percent from last year’s 80 percent.

The decrease in offers, however, was due to an adjustment in the gifted enrollment process and did not reflect a decline in the number of seats available, DOE officials noted.

The Office of Student Enrollment “over-offered” G&T seats in the past, accounting for students who would not accept offers since the DOE’s central office would then manage waitlists. In 2015, for instance, even though 2,901 students received offers, final enrollment was only 2,048.

Now schools are managing their own waitlists — much like schools do for kindergarten and pre-K — and families who apply, but don't receive an offer, are placed on an individual program's waitlist. So, for instance, a family who gets their second choice would be on the waitlist for their first choice. A family who go no offer, would be on the waitlist at all schools they applied to.

Schools will then be able to make offers off of their waitlists when other students don’t accept seats, so there’s no longer a need to “over offer,” officials said.

However, parents of eligible students said DOE staff answering the phones at the wait list assistance number are giving out conflicting information about the enrollment process.

One Inwood mom, whose daughter scored in the 99th percentile but was shut out of the citywide programs said she recently called the phone number on her offer letter and was told that the DOE's central office was still managing waitlists rather than individual schools.

This mom was also told there was no way to find out where her daughter was on the waitlist and that these lists would not move until school started in September, she recounted.

"It is next to impossible for parents to get real information from the DOE," the mom said.

DOE officials did not immediately respond to questions about the conflicting information.

► READ MORE: 7 Things to Know About Sending Your Kid to a Gifted and Talented School

The most competitive area was Manhattan’s District 2, spanning from TriBeCa and Battery Park City to Greenwich Village and Chelsea to Murray Hill and the Upper East Side — which typically has the greatest number of test takers and greatest number of eligible G&T students.

There, more than 650 kindergartners applied for G&T seats, but fewer than 350 received offers.

Parents may be caught off guard about the enrollment changes, said Michael McCurdy, of the test prep site TestingMom.com, which also offers free workshops to families about the G&T process.

"There's no mention of how the DOE used the scores in the process of reducing the number of offer letters sent to parents," McCurdy said. "What are the percentile ranks of the kids who got offers last year but didn't take the offers? They didn't elaborate on that but rather make blanket statements without getting into their criteria."

For instance, students who score in the 90th percentile or above are eligible for the programs that take students from within their districts, while those scoring above a 97th percentile qualify for the five elite programs that accept kids from across the city, like the Anderson School and NEST+M.

But because of the scarcity of seats in the citywide programs, most parents know that only kids who score in the 99th percentile get offers.

Besides the roughly 100 existing G&T programs, there will also be new gifted programs in four districts that previously had no G&T programs.

Under a new pilot program, 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.

Instead of having to take the G&T exam, second graders vying for these seats will be given offers 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, according to DOE officials.

As of last week, DOE officials said, more than 500 families with second graders performing at or above grade level in these districts were notified that their children were being considered for the G&T program next year.

These students will be automatically considered unless their families choose to withdraw from consideration. Their teachers will then complete a checklist and questionnaire evaluating the student for consideration by June 10.

“Gifted and Talented programs are one option among the hundreds of unique, high-quality elementary schools for students and families across the city, and now we’ll have these programs in every district,” Schools Chancellor Fariña said in a statement. “We’ll continue to work with communities across the city to expand access to these programs, and strengthen instruction across all elementary schools.”