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How NYC Can Implement – And Improve – Gifted & Talented Programs for 2022 and Beyond: A Parent’s Take

(This is a guest post by T. Hunter Dare, the parent of a 6th grader at MS104 where he serves on the School Leadership Team. He is also Co-Chair of PLACE NYC’s G&T Advocacy Team.  Hunter is passionate about developing a public school system that identifies, nurtures, and challenges all advanced learners, particularly those from disadvantaged, ELL and special needs backgrounds who too often go unserved by accelerated education programs.)

Chancellor Banks is to be commended for his now firm commitment to keep and expand G&T. Most recently, in a meeting with the CEC Presidents, Deputy Chancellor Lloyd said “G&T is here to stay,” and will be expanded. More importantly, she was referring to a selective admissions program not “Brilliant” style G&T for all. Now the questions turn to what the Chancellor’s G&T program will look like and how students will be selected.

Over the coming months, there will undoubtedly be much discussion at the DOE about the long-run plan for G&T. But for the 2022-23 school year, the DOE does not have the luxury of months. The NYC public school system is seeing an unprecedented decline in enrollment. In recent remarks, Chancellor Banks recognized that there are families leaving the system due to the lack of accelerated learning choices. With parochial, private, neighborhood public and charter school admissions decisions coming soon, parents need clarity on G&T now.

It would be easy for the DOE to just repeat last year’s parent nomination/teacher recommendation process. Unfortunately, that process amounted to little more than a lottery. Over 90% of the kids whose parents “nominated” them ended up receiving a teacher recommendation and qualifying for G&T. That 90+% compares to less than 20% of the kids qualifying in past years via the G&T test. It is critical to improve on that process to identify students who will likely benefit from G&T and will be ready for  more challenging work so they thrive and the programs can maintain their curricular standards.

Though time is short, near-term solutions are available:

∙ Universal teacher evaluation of all students in DOE PreK and Kindergarten or DOE-sponsored community programs: having teachers evaluate every child rather than only those children signed up by their parents will mean far fewer advanced learners go unidentified and will ensure that far more children are identified in underserved neighborhoods where there are few if any G&T programs and parents have little or no knowledge of the programs and their benefits. While not ideal, parent nomination and teacher evaluation of older kids should still be incorporated into this year’s admissions process as those kids were effectively shut out of last year’s process. 

∙ Ensure that all teacher recommendations are based on objective evidence of advanced ability or potential: There should not be a repeat of last year’s blanket recommendations.  All teacher recommendations should cite evidence of readiness for substantively advanced work via standardized classroom assessment scores like I-ready, substantially advanced reading levels, and/or actual examples of student’s advanced work such as solving math problems well above grade level or story problems that may only involve grade level calculation but require complex logic to understand and solve. When objective evidence is not available teachers could make relative comparisons to peers. 

∙ Ensure that all teachers recommend students (or certify that they evaluated every child in their class and found none who qualified): There are gifted children of every race and ethnicity in every neighborhood in the city. Statistically speaking about 85% of all pre-k classrooms should have at least one gifted child and many have far more. Gifted Black and brown kids go unidentified at far higher rates than other gifted kids. Research has shown that a universal evaluation system works to dramatically increase identification of these students, so it is critical that all teachers fully engage in this process.

∙ Open up 50% more G&T seats, starting with kindergarten and 1st grade with priority to those districts that are currently underserved: 50% more seats would still only serve about half the city’s gifted students. However, with 6 months until the start of the school year, it is an ambitious but achievable goal. For G&T to be sustainable, it needs to serve all gifted learners across the city. These new seats would be a good start that could be expanded upon the following year.

∙ Guarantee yellow bus service for students attending district G&T programs: No child should be denied the opportunity of an education that meets their academic needs because parents cannot shuttle the child to and from a school outside their neighborhood.

Longer term solutions are still needed like (1) standardized universal screening assessments, (2) using local norms (in addition to national norms) to adjust for socio-economic and other circumstances in screening for giftedness, and (3) guaranteeing G&T services to each and every student who qualifies. That said, these short-term 2022-23 recommendations will go a long way toward improving on last year’s de facto lottery.  As Co-Chair of PLACE NYC’s G&T advocacy team, we look forward to engaging with the DOE on the 2022-23 G&T program and beyond. Further, we look forward to the Chancellor quickly reopening the G&T admissions process and starting to rebuild trust with families who hope to remain in the NYC public schools. 

What do you think?

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