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Answering Parent Questions About NYC Gifted & Talented Admissions 2021 (Part #1)

After his own Panel For Education Policy (PEP) voted down a one year extension for the contract that would test incoming Kindergarten through 3rd graders for Gifted and Talented programs, New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio put his reputation on the line when he promised parents that they’d still be able to apply for these programs — even without a test in place.

On February 17, 2021, he finally explained how.

Instead of all students taking a standardized test, receiving a percentile score, then applying to various Citywide and District programs based on that score, “families and educators will help identify students for accelerated learning,” as per the Department of Education (DOE). (Let’s all ignore the part that only a tiny minority of these programs are actually “accelerated.” The majority are “enriched.” And, sometimes, not even that.)

According to an email sent out by the DOE:

Starting March 8, all families will have the opportunity to formally express interest in enrolling their child in a kindergarten G&T program. Educators from an interested family’s pre-K school or program will then complete a questionnaire to determine if the child is eligible to enter a randomized lottery for a G&T seat.

The ostensible reason for PEP voting down the testing contract was that the current G&T programming is not sufficiently diverse. While the majority of students in the NYC public school system are Black and Hispanic, the majority of those in G&T programs are white and Asian. Even in schools that appear diverse on paper, there is the phenomenon of integrated buildings… with segregated classrooms

Mayor De Blasio agreed. This was immoral and unacceptable. He’d spent the past seven years of his term fighting to change the circumstances which made such inequity possible (as soon as his own children graduated). The fact that he’d failed miserably was absolutely everybody else’s fault but his.

The irony, as I told The New York Post minutes after the new G&T admissions policy was announced is that:

“They’ve chosen the system that has been proven to be the least effective for identifying gifted students who are of color, or low-income, or English learners…. Subjective evaluations have always benefited the wealthy and middle class.”

And why would that be?

It’s because giving every student the exact same standardized test, administered in the exact same standardized way, then scored based strictly on how many questions were answered correctly is a much more objective assessment for evaluating children of varying races and classes than asking different teachers who might have different standards to use their different judgements about whether a child was something as ridiculously nebulous as “gifted.” (Even alleged experts don’t agree on what it means or how it presents!)

One mother wrote me to observe, “I have twins in 3rd grade at a g&t school and our preschool director never thought they would qualify for g&t. They wouldn’t have had a chance under this system!”

They’re not the only ones.

A recent study explained: 

There is… a relatively straightforward, if often overlooked, way to diminish the impact of teachers’ racial biases in student evaluation: standardizing grading rubrics…. My experiment found that teachers gave the white student better marks across the board — with one exception. When teachers used a grading rubric with specific criteria, racial bias all but disappeared. When teachers evaluated student writing using a general grade-level scale, they were 4.7 percentage points more likely to consider the white child’s writing at or above grade level compared to the identical writing from a Black child. However, when teachers used a grading rubric with specific criteria, the grades were essentially the same.

On the other hand, as another parent observed to me, “If I was a preschool teacher I would recommend anyone who asks. It is not their job to become the G&T police and make parent enemies of the students they teach.”

As in previous years, siblings of students already in G&T programs will receive priority for admissions. In the past, a sibling of a student in a Citywide G&T school needed to score at least in the 97th percentile in order to be admitted, and a sibling of a student in a District G&T program had to score at least in the 90th. Multiple siblings fell short, especially of the Citywide benchmark.

This year, the process for them will be much easier. Just get that teacher recommendation, and you instantly move to the front of the line!

How exactly will that improve access and diversity, rather than double down on the current population? (As I tell parents at my Getting Into NYC Kindergarten workshops, “Sibling priority. You’ll loathe it with your first child, love it with your second one.”)

Finally, in previous years, students were allowed to test not only for Kindergarten entry into G&T, but 1st, 2nd, and 3rd grades, as well. The DOE’s updated webpage, as of press time, did not address any grades beyond Kindergarten.

When asked, Chalkbeat’s Christina Veiga tweeted out the following:

However, when a parent followed up with the DOE, he was told: Other than what you read in the press, no new information available at this time.  Submit an interest form and stay posted to the website for updates.

(Am I the only one curious why he was directed to the press, rather than the DOE itself? It’s almost like the people answering emails are getting their information from reporters rather than from their superiors – the way that principals heard about school reopening plans! The spokespeople don’t know what’s going on either!)

The above isn’t the only parent with questions, though.

Parents have many, many questions, including:

  • Do we know if teachers at private daycares/early learning centers that are not DOE affiliated will be able to evaluate, or only pre-K for all?
  • Will district programs still be open to only district applicants? Now that all children will be eligible for all programs, would the ranking strategy change as there will be a lot more kids vying for the same seats?
  • My child is not in preschool, but did qualify for Hunter round two. Is there a chance that qualification could be used as the “recommendation” for the G&T lottery? 
  • What about families who live in the city but who are sending their kids to pre-k outside the city due to Covid and plan to return to the city in the fall?
  • So what happens to kids who are now in Kindergarten and haven’t tested before?
  • If our kid was waitlisted at a Citywide, but we took them off waitlists once we got a District placement would they still be considered? Or is it only for those who were waitlisted through the end of enrollment in October? 
  • Will current k students have an opportunity for a g&t placement if they already received an offer last year for K?
  • What about the new families who have moved into NYC who may be interested in G&T?  Are they automatically disqualified from being considered for the seats that may be open in 1st, 2nd or 3rd grades?
  • My son is currently in a district G&T program. Last year he had a qualifying score for citywide, but did not make it into a program (we applied to NEST). Would he be put back onto the waitlist for NEST using his score from last year, or would we have to reapply for it this year with his score from last year? And would we need a teacher reco, or just his score?

I will try to get official and confirmed answers for all by Part #2 of this post… or maybe Part #3… So stay tuned!

What do you think?

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