(This is a guest post by Charleen Ang, working mother to three young children, 2 of whom are of elementary school age currently in the NYC public school system.)
When our 4.5 year old son failed to make the cut-off score in last year’s Kindergarten G&T test, my husband & I were not overly concerned as we know that children develop at different rates, and that this is common, especially for a younger sibling.
We looked forward to the second opportunity for him to test and apply this year, expecting that the logistical and emotional stress of our two children being in two separate schools would only be for a matter of time. Now however, with this year’s G&T eligibility criteria, our son, as a rising first grader, has no way whatsoever to apply for September 2021 entry into the citywide G&T school that his older sister attends.
I would like to state upfront that this post is not about debating whether the G&T program should continue to exist or not, whether it should exist in current form or how it should be revised to ensure NYC provides accelerated learning opportunities for all children from all socio-economic & ethnic backgrounds. Instead, it is squarely focused on questioning the DOE’s rationale for its G&T admissions policies for higher grade children this year – a year where the DOE did find a way to (i) continue the G&T program for 1 more year, (ii) evaluate kindergarten children and (iii) uphold the sibling priority policy for incoming kindergarteners.
For those who are unaware, this year’s G&T offers for rising First, Second or Third Graders are being made to children based on last year’s G&T waitlists. The DOE categorically stated that it would not be administering any G&T evaluation test for higher grade children and would not be accepting new applications for these seats this year. In my mind, this G&T admissions policy for rising First, Second or Third Graders runs counter to several of the DOE’s previously stipulated core philosophies:
- Children develop at different rates, especially at a young age, and there should be multiple points of entry into accelerated learning programs – using last year’s test is ironically worse than the DOE’s previous application process to enter First, Second & Third graders into G&T programs.
- There should be consistency of G&T evaluations across grades – When the PEP voted down the Pearson contract in January 2021, the DOE’s Early Childhood Team worked hard to develop a process for entering kindergarteners and could have done something similar for applicants in higher grades. We see no compelling reason why the DOE team could not have expanded their effort to determine eligibility for rising First, Second and Third graders by also offering a school nomination or interview path to admissions.
- Siblings should be kept together in the same school as much as possible, to minimize hardship for families struggling to manage logistics of having children attend different schools. This year’s G&T admissions policy in effect meant that, for the first time ever, there would be no sibling priority for rising first graders, since no siblings are on the waitlist (if they were eligible last year, they would have already been admitted). Using last year’s waitlist means that there is no eligibility requirement that a rising first grade sibling can meet this year, to be given sibling priority. Rising Second & Third graders are in a similar position, although a small handful of siblings might be on last year’s waitlist due to the few spots available in 2nd & 3rd grade G&T classes.
The hardship of having children in different schools is particularly apparent for low-income families who cannot afford to hire caregivers to help shuttle children to and from different schools. Many siblings also suffer emotional stress when they are separated, not understanding why they cannot attend the same school. It is also undeniably better for school communities to have families that are fully invested in a school because all their children attend it. The benefits to both schools and families are no doubt why the Chancellor’s regulations have always provided for sibling priority. In 2018, the DOE even expanded the sibling policy from K-5 to K-12 i.e., previously, only a K-4th grader could draw in a rising sibling, however that was expanded to allow a K-11th grader the ability to draw in a rising sibling, with the aim of allowing more siblings to attend the same school. Shutting out applicants in the higher grades particularly affects families with siblings already in accelerated programs, who have made decisions and organized their lives around the DOE’s long-standing sibling priority policy.
There are several more compelling reasons why this year’s G&T admissions policy for older children is deeply unfair and should be reconsidered.
- Using last year’s test results is not a true criterion for evaluating children in the current year – so many things could have changed in the past year, it is highly unfair to look backwards to a year ago to determine admissions this year. Even for adults in a professional setting, it is unheard of & almost unethical to offer someone a job based completely on their interview/application from a year ago!
- There are children who were not even able to test last year for various reasons (e.g., families who just moved to NYC within the past year, children who were ill during the January 2020 test window). With no ability to test this year, the DOE has completely shut this group of children out from the opportunity to apply to a G&T school this year.
I firmly believe that the NYC DOE has an obligation to abide by existing commitments to provide fair eligibility criteria (based on a current year assessment) to allow older children entry points into accelerated learning programs this year, including sibling priority through eligibility criteria that are actually capable of being met. It is utterly unfair and heartbreaking that most rising First, Second & Third grader children in NYC have in effect been sidelined & deprioritized as a result of this year’s G&T admissions process.