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City's Gifted Screening Is 'Deficient' at Ensuring Diversity, Officials Say

By Amy Zimmer | June 22, 2017 9:26am
 Specialized high schools include Stuyvesant, Hunter, Brooklyn Tech and Bronx Science all require a high school on the SHSAT.
Specialized high schools include Stuyvesant, Hunter, Brooklyn Tech and Bronx Science all require a high school on the SHSAT.
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BROOKLYN — The Bronx and Brooklyn borough presidents want the city to increase the rate of minority students in gifted and talented elementary school programs as well as the elite specialized high schools because the programs are not representative of the overall population.

While roughly 70 percent of students citywide are black or Latino, only 27 percent of the students in G&T programs are, according to a report from the borough presidents released Wednesday. This year, black and Latino students made up a little more than 44 percent of the students who sat for the specialized high school admissions test, but received only about 10 percent of the offers.

The report calls on the Department of Education to change its “deficient” methods of identifying and enrolling gifted students.

The borough presidents, for example, want to see all students in public pre-K programs tested for G&T programs to ensure that students in underserved communities are not left out because of an “information gap” or racial bias when it comes to who is encouraged to take the test.

Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams and Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. — who held town halls on the topic — also want to see access to free or low-cost test prep for all students who need it for the exam, which is required to get into specialized high schools such as Stuyvesant and Brooklyn Tech.

Other recommendations include ensuring every student who is qualified for G&T gets a seat. This year, 35 percent of eligible kindergarteners did not get any offer.

The borough presidents want more middle school gifted programs, especially in low-income areas such as the South Bronx and north Brooklyn, believing greater access to gifted programs in K-8 will help build the pipeline to the specialized schools, which in turn is the gateway to elite colleges.

They also would like to see “serious consideration” to alternatives to the specialized high school test, like portfolio-based admissions or giving seats to the top 5 percent of each Bronx or Brooklyn middle school graduating class in a newly created borough-specific specialized high school.

“The DOE’s current policies have failed to adequately provide G&T educational opportunities to every neighborhood and corner of NYC in an equitable manner,” the report states. “Consequently, the DOE is failing to provide the necessary challenging instruction to G&T students across the city beginning at an early age. This directly contributes to the [specialized high schools’] inability to admit students that represent NYC as a whole because rigorous early education during elementary and middle school leads to success with advanced learning later on.”

Adams and Diaz have been pushing to increase information about testing for gifted programs, supporting a bill requiring the DOE to include materials for the G&T test and programs in Pre-K for All information packets.

"Access to G&T programs and specialized high schools can no longer be allowed to be dictated by one’s ZIP code; parents who live in Belmont and Brownsville should expect the same grade-A programming and enrichment as parents in Tribeca,” Adams said in a statement. “We don’t need small changes, we need bold changes.”

Elissa Stein, a parent of a Brooklyn Tech student and founder of a service called High School 411, helping parents navigate the high school admissions process, thought addressing G&T programs was a “significant start.” But she thought changing the entry exam for specialized high schools was “preposterous” in light of an NYU study that showed that using other measures for entry would not change the racial demographics of the elite schools.

“Improving education across the board, not just for some segment of kids, should be a goal,” Stein said. “It’s not the test or the admissions method’s fault. It’s faulty early education and lack of information to families about options early enough to make a difference.”

The DOE has been getting the word out more about G&T, mailing postcards for the first time this year with the Gifted & Talented Request for Testing information to all families of students enrolled in pre-K.

The number of rising kindergarteners increased in all of the community districts in The Bronx and in 10 or 12 of Brooklyn’s — but the number of eligible students did not increase in these districts.

The department also expanded G&T programs to every district for the first time in five years, creating programs in four districts that start in third grade based on teacher recommendations.

“We’ve invested in strengthening instruction in every school from 3-K [free pre-K for 3-year-olds] to college, and Gifted and Talented classes are now one option for families in every district across the city,” DOE spokesman Will Mantell said. “We’ll review the recommendations in the report, and look forward to working with the borough presidents to increase access to high-quality schools.”

Regarding specialized high schools, the city expanded its DREAM program – a free afterschool program that prepares students for the entry exam. DREAM participants made up 6 percent of black and Latino testers, but 26 percent of Black and Latino offers to the specialized high schools, city officials said.