Chancellor Carranza’s Gifted & Talented Remarks at the CEC4 Townhall

Recently at the district 4 education townhall, Chancellor Carranza was asked a fairly complex question on Gifted and Talented programs.

Parents wanted to know what your vision for G&T education is? Can you commit that G&T education will always be a part of the DOE? What are your positions in terms of access to G&T education both at the kindergarten level, changing the entry points for that, and also possibly changing the SHSAT and the access to the specialized high schools?

How do we get and replicate the diversity that exists at this G&T school [ i.e., TAG citywide gifted and talented school] that does amazing work for an incredibly diverse population of learners? How do we replicate that in other schools and get more schools like TAG?

The Chancellor gave an amazing impromptu answer. Which I believe does a superb job of collecting the main arguments against New York’s Gifted and Talented and SHSAT practices.

I transcribed the following from an impromptu speech. There may be grammatical errors.

That’s a whole lot of topics right there. So let me try to be succinct.  When we talk about differentiating instruction for different learners most people ( and I’m guilty since I just said here in this public meeting ) think about students that have to have curriculum differentiated because they have learning disabilities.  But it’s the same concept for differentiating learning for gifted students.

You can’t put a gifted student in the traditional classroom with a traditional curriculum and expect them not to be bored or expect them not to be less than motivated. So you have to differentiate along the entire curriculum. [But] here’s the challenge that I have with gifted and talented programs as I see them right now in New York City. And I’ve visited a lot of gifted and talented programs.

When you have over 35% of your students being designated as gifted and talented, we need to bottle the water that we’re drinking and ship it all over the place because that is so far beyond the percentage of gifted and talented that, from a statistical perspective, should be found in the population. I’m just being honest with you.  So what it tells me is the mechanisms that we’re using to identify true “gifted and talentedness” is perhaps are not the most robust and truly [accurate way to] identify gifted and talented students.

Think about “How do we currently identify admitting programs for a student that is gifted and talented?”

Well, you have to sign up for a test, and then you take the test…

I just read in the Wall Street Journal that parents are paying $400 an hour to tutor their four-year-olds for this gifted and talented test. Then, you look at who is being identified for gifted and talented. Think about the 1.1 million students in the New York City Department of Education, 70% of whom are black and Latino students, yet don’t even come close to representing the gifted and talented pool of students in our system. I am no detective but somethings not right. The exclusive process of using a test, at four years old, to identify a student for gifted and talented measures their privilege. And I’m not talking about wealth. I’m talking about the privilege in the home of a student rather than the true giftedness or talentedness of a student.

We need to make sure that the processes that we’re using to identify students for gifted and talented are truly research-based, evidence-based, and not skewed against any one particular group of students. That being said, I think it’s important to have gifted and talented programs in a school system. I’m not against gifted and talented, but we’ve got some work to do around, not only how we identify students, but also where those programs are across our entire program.

Now elevate that conversation. Part of the way we’re doing that is that we’re spending time going to programs across the system and identifying programs that have great practices. So I can tell you people have already visited this program here [ i.e., TAG ] and have taken some really good notes about what are the best practices. We’re working with our superintendents and our principals and our executive superintendents. So we’re gathering from the field what is happening.

Just to take that one step further, ask the question about specialized high schools and specialized high school admissions.  It’s the same thing. A lot of people have made a lot a lot a lot a lot of an issue about the specialized high school admissions testing. They’ve said, “chancellor why in the world are you spending all this time around eight particular schools?”

I don’t call them elite schools. They’re not elite schools. They are specialized schools. I could take you to schools that have no screens. I could take you to schools that take whoever comes and registers in their school that are doing phenomenal things for kids and graduated great students.

What do great schools do? Let me tell you where I stand on the specialized school because everybody’s read about it. The notion that you can test a four-year-old and tutor him to be successful on a test. I saw a lot of people say yeah that’s not okay. But think about what we do to our students that desire to go to a specialized school? They may desire to go to a specialized school; God bless America, more power to them. I’m all for it. My oldest daughter who just graduated from college, but my oldest daughter when I lived in San Francisco went to a specialized school. She did — total transparency.

Now, why do I tell you this? Because in our system when we tell students in middle school, “we want you to go to school every single day.” Don’t miss school. Sound right? We want you to do well in your school. We want you to do well in English and Math and Social Studies and Science. We want you to get involved in a sport. We want you to play an instrument. We want you to dance. We want you to paint. We want you to volunteer. None of that matters if you want to go to a specialized school because all the matters is that you take one test on one Saturday for a few hours and get a certain cut score and guess what? You get the opportunity. “Opportunity,” make sure we’re clear on that, an opportunity to go to a specialized school. It doesn’t matter what your grades are. It doesn’t matter what your attendance is. It doesn’t matter what your community involvement is. And we know for a fact that there are families, God bless them, and some that can’t afford it and go without to pay lots of money for many years to tutor their children for the specialized admissions test.

By the way, that test is not aligned to state standards.  When we’re telling students to do well in school, and do well in their classes, what they’re doing is doing well in the state standards and the curriculum. A curriculum that gets them to master what the state of New York has said to do. But that doesn’t matter because if you want to go to specialized school, we want you to study and get tutoring for another test that’s not aligned to state standards! It doesn’t matter if you go to school to give it all your all. Because if you do well on this test, you get the opportunity.

I don’t know about you, but we’re selling our families a bill of goods and there is not one psychometrician.  Not one that has validated that specialized high school admissions test as valid or reliable for identifying the gifted and talented-ness of students to go to a specialized school. So we have a flawed test that has now been memorialized into state law.

Remember I told you I lived all over the United States. I’ve never seen a state legislature codify for local control a single process for admitting to a certain sect of schools. I said that to the lawmakers in Albany as well. I’ve never seen this! Talk about local control.

So what I’m saying is there are other ways. When my daughter went to a specialized school, she had to take an admissions test that was aligned to the state standards in California. Because we lived in California at the time. On top of that, she had to write an essay. On top of that, she had to get teacher recommendations. On top of that, all of her grades from middle school counted to composite that gave a different picture on what it was that she was. Her extracurricular activities all counted and it wasn’t just one way of getting into a specialized school. It was multiple ways of getting into a specialized school which gave more opportunity to more kids.

Now if you don’t believe me just on those things that the system is flawed? Consider this. There are 165 specialized schools in the United States of America. 165. Of the 165 specialized schools in the United States of America, there are only eight that use a single test as a sole criteria for admissions to a specialized school. And guess where all eight of those are? New York City. So either we’ve got it all figured out or perhaps oh and by the way that specialized admissions test the analysis has shown that it is also flawed against girls, women. There are less females that are able to show admittance to specialized schools based on that test.

So it’s not only flawed. Stuyvesant High School this past year of the hundreds of students admitted to the freshman class, but there were ten black students admitted to Stuyvesant. Yet the percentage of students but there were less than 30 black and brown kids that got into Stuyvesant this past year based on that test.  But 70% of the students in the New York City Department of Education are black and Latino.

You show me show me a test, show me a psychometrician that has validated that test, show me the data that shows we are giving the opportunity to all students in the New York City Department of Education and I’m listening. Nobody’s been able to do that. It has to change. And when we have that kind of a disparity in our admissions process to a public school. We have to have that conversation. And I’m going to be doing that.

CEC District 4 Townhall February 12th, 2019