Two-Thirds of NYC Children Eligible for Gifted & Talented Programs are Denied Access

New York City has more Gifted & Talented children than it can accommodate. And it is doing everything to fix the problem — except the most obvious thing.

Each year almost fifteen thousand children take the test that would qualify them for public G&T programs. (This year applications close on November 14.). And each year thousands make the test-score cut-off. Yet only about half of those eligible are actually offered a seat.

There are two kinds of G&T schools in NYC: Accelerated schools, which teach the standard New York state course standards one year in advance and Enriched programs, which teach the standard New York state course standards at grade level. And… uhm… enrich them.  There  is no such thing as a G&T curriculum and so every public school teacher is creating his/her own.

There are dozens of Enriched programs, but only five Accelerated schools. To be eligible for the latter, a child must score above the 97th percentile on the G&T test. In 2016, 1,084 students did. Except that there are only about 300 seats combined in all five schools. This means that two-thirds of children eligible for entry into Accelerated program weren’t placed in one.

How do schools decide who gets in and who doesn’t?

They hold a lottery.

Yes, a lottery, playing Russian Roulette with a child’s education. This is literally an example of how two children of equal ability (assuming you believe that an IQ test administered to a four-year-old is predictive of anything) are unequally educated, based on a roll of the dice.

The Department of Education annually expresses their shock and dismay that the bulk of the children in NYC G&T programs are white, with a smattering of Asians, while the majority of the school system is Black and Hispanic.

For 2017, one of the Accelerated schools, Brooklyn School of Inquiry (BSI), has announced that, as part of a self-selected diversity initiative, they will set aside forty percent of their seats for children who qualify for Free or Reduced Lunch status.

As with all government initiatives, the details are sketchy. Though BSI said those forty percent of seats will only be open to those who test above the required 97th percentile, it’s unclear whether Free Lunch applicants will be treated like siblings, who are accepted with a score of 97 ahead of a non-sibling who scores a 99, or whether all eligible 99th percentile scorers will be placed before the 98s and 97s, with 40% of those seats going to Free Lunch candidates.

But there is a much easier solution. Instead of letting bureaucrats decide which child is worthy of an Accelerated or Enriched education, why not – I know it’s radical, but bear with me – provide a G&T seat for every child who qualifies?

Wacky, I know!

In 2016, 4,539 NYC kindergarteners qualified for G&T programs. Yet only 2,507 got offers. Some of the “leftover” children opted for private, religious or charter schools. But the majority stayed in the system, which means they still took up seats in public schools. It’s not like they disappeared. So why not turn those seats into G&T seats? It wouldn’t cost the public schools anything extra.

If the DOE really wants more underserved children in G&T programs, why not create more programs for them to fill? (An attempt to do so recently for older grades came with a new set of programs; see here.) Frankly, if NYC treated those in the bottom 10th percentile the way they treat those in the top, they would be in violation of Federal Law regarding educating those with Special Needs.

The solution is obvious, simple to implement, and inexpensive. So what’s the hold-up?

What do you think?

One thought on “Two-Thirds of NYC Children Eligible for Gifted & Talented Programs are Denied Access

  1. Alina, On the surface, it seems easy to add enough gifted seats to offer a place to everyone who qualifies. But there are some real costs involved. First, you need teachers certified in gifted ed. It would be much work to attract and/or train those teachers and might not be possible in the short run. Second, very few zoned elementary schools have enough qualifiers to fill a class for each grade so that means more kids bused to a location that has a G&T program. But the number that qualify within a reasonable distance of the designated G&T location varies each year. So for some years, you might have a one or two more or fewer G&T classes than other years. There are few, if any NYC elementary schools with consistently empty classrooms to accommodate this variability and you can’t just cut a gen ed class out of a zoned school without busing some zoned kids elsewhere. You also can’t have a G&T program where some grades have 3 classes and others have 1 class. Teachers want to teach the same grade, curriculum and type of student year after year. You can’t really tell them, this year you teach G&T 3rd grade. Next year we will have less third grade G&T kids, so you will teach gen ed 2nd grade and then the following year say we had an unusually high number Kinder qualifiers, so we are now moving you G&T Kinder.

    Actually, despite its many flaws, NYC DOE has a pretty good model for assigning G&T seats (Not for testing). Giftedness is typically defined as having an IQ higher than the 97.5th percentile. As no test is a perfect measure of actual IQ, you can add some margin of error, so kids that test in the 97th percentile and above could be considered very likely to be gifted. But with about 80,000 kids per grade in NYC, that is only 2400 gifted kids per grade. If you think it is a bad idea to put 6 year olds on a bus for more than an hour per day, then you send kids to gifted programs in their district. So now you are down to an average of 75 kids per district per grade. But some districts will have 3 or 4 times that many. Others will not have enough to fill a single class. And the numbers are so small, that there will be much variability from year to year.

    So what NYC does is to have some city wide programs that only take kids most in need of gifted ed, those in the top 1% that are exceptionally or profoundly gifted. But there is still too much variability from year to year in the number of kids who score 99 to run programs of consistent size that accommodate all those kids. So it has district programs that are more geographically accessible and have places for all the other 99s who don’t get seats at a city wide. Those programs almost always have seats for all the other measurably gifted kids, the 97s and the 98s (maybe not at their first choice of school which may fill up with 99s, but there is generally a spot for most all of those kids if their parents are willing to consider a variety of locations. But many years there are not enough kids that are measurably gifted and are willing to attend particular schools to maintain those gifted programs at a consistent size. So in those years, the programs accept the nearly gifted and give priority to those who tested most closely to the gifted level, i.e. the 96s and on down to the 90s where a line is drawn to ensure that the glasses can move at a speed that meets the needs of the measurably gifted that the program was created for.

    Is the system perfrect? No.First admissions metrics need to minimize the value of test prep. Tests like the NNAT (which is less prepable than the OLSAT) need more weight. In fact the OLSAT needs to be removed altogether. Not only is it highly prepable, but also, while OLSAT scores and IQ are highly correlated for OLSAT scores of 90th percentile and below, the scores above the 90th percentile are actually negatively correlated with IQ.(the highest IQ kids are often out of the box thinkers who see possibilities, particularly in verbal questions, for multiple OLSAT answers to be correct). Next Multiple admissions metrics need to be used. And 2nd or 3rd grade should be the primary entry point with a very limited number of seats available to K and 1st graders that are so exceptionally gifted that, like special ed kids, they simply cannot learn well in a regular classroom.

    Assuming the value of test prep can be reduced, grouping the 99th percentile kids together in Citywide programs makes much sense. Experts say kids in the top 99.7th percentile of IQ are as different in learning ability from those in the 97.5th percentile as those in the 97.5 percentile are from those in the 67th percentile. But there should be enough citywide seats for every single 99th percentile kid to get a seat in one of those programs and in years when there are less 99s than are needed to fill all the seats, 98s then 97s should be used to fill classes. It would probably also be beneficial to eliminate preferencing these schools, but instead, anyone who scores 99 and wants citywide should be assigned by computer to the locations that balance the kids across the schools and minimize commutes. Next every district or other geographic area should have enough G&T classes to guarantee a seat for every kid that scored 98 or 97. The 96s through 90s should be used to fill classes when the number of 98s and 97s don’t. There should also be some classes or seats added over the two years following the main entry point to allow all 98s and 97s who did not test or did not get the requisite score in the primary year. Finally the DOE should communicate clearly that 97 (or some other number where every kid is guaranteed a seat) qualifies a child for a gifted program and that children with scores just below that (but at least 90) may be offered, but are not guaranteed seats.

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