Thinking through gifted and talented education in New York City public schools: One parent’s reflection on the system

How does the process work? Four-year-olds take a nationally normed standardized test (actually, two tests, the NNAT and the OLSAT, which are supposed to measure reasoning ability and general intellectual aptitude). No bubble sheets: It’s administered in person by an adult. Those above 90th percentile qualify for district programs. Those above 97th percentile qualify for citywide programs.

Those are the technical qualification thresholds. In practice, you need a 99 to qualify for a citywide school and usually something like a 95 to qualify for a districtwide program, though it depends on the district.

SHSAT Assembly Testimony: Race, Gifted & Talented, and Tracking in NYC: Dr. Roda, et. al

Below are some excerpts from Dr. Roda’s paper on SHSAT, gifted and talented, and tracking in NYC.

In particular, our research-based recommendations, described below, call on the Chancellor and Mayor to phase out G&T programs and replace them with equitable and integrated desegregated schools and classroom settings with culturally responsive and sustaining curriculum. We also strongly recommend that the city eliminate test-based enrollment screens at the elementary, middle, and high schools across the city and replace them with a more holistic approach that includes diversity targets.

NYC Bar: Eliminate Competitive Admissions to NYC Public Elementary & Middle Schools

Equal access to educational opportunity and racially and economically integrated public schools are central goals of the SDAG and the larger civil-rights community. These goals cannot be achieved unless the New York City Department of Education eliminates competitive admissions to its elementary- and middle-school programs and schools.

In the elementary-school context, New York City provides separate Gifted & Talented (“G&T”) schools and in-school programs for young children who score above a certain level on what is known as the “G&T test.”

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?

SHSAT History: New York Specialized High School Admission Policies Have Changed Over the Years

new reform movement was launched in 1996 when a report issued by the community-activist organization ACORN branded the high-stake one-shot admissions test a form of educational apartheid. They were supported by Schools Chancellor Rudy Crew, but once again the campaign failed because of deeply entrenched political opposition.

In 1995 the city opened a Specialized High Schools Institute (SHSI), city-run preparatory program that was supposed to even out performance on the SHSAT and make admissions to the specialized high schools fairer, however with the plethora of private tutoring agencies it failed to improve ethnic balance at the schools.

To integrate specialized high schools, are gifted programs part of the problem or the solution?

“We’re working to raise the bar for all kids,” Carranza said in a statement to Chalkbeat. “We also have to think about access and barriers to entry, and that includes whether we’re creating unnecessary barriers by tracking students at the age of 4 or 5 years old based on a single test.”

Why Gifted and Talented Schools are the Wrong Approach: To diversify schools, reimagine G&T: A bill to expand segregated programs moves in exactly the wrong direction

But we’ve already tried this, and it didn’t work. Back in 2009, Mayor Bloomberg tried to expand gifted programs and switched from multiple measures to a single test score for gifted admission. The result was actually more segregation, and reduced access for black and Latino students: The percentage of black and Latino students entering such programs in kindergarten was cut in half, from 46% of program entrants to just 22%, while the percentage of white and Asian students climbed from 53% to over 70%.

Exam High Schools and Academic Achievement: Evidence from New York City

Publicly funded exam schools educate many of the world’s most talented students. These schools typically contain higher achieving peers, more rigorous instruction, and additional resources compared to regular public schools. This paper uses a sharp discontinuity in the admissions process at three prominent exam schools in New York City to provide the first causal estimate of the impact of attending an exam school in the United States on longer term academic outcomes. Attending an exam school increases the rigor of high school courses taken and the probability that a student graduates with an advanced high school degree.

In a wide-ranging interview, Carranza takes issue with admissions to New York City’s gifted programs

Chancellor Richard Carranza in a wide-ranging interview with Chalkbeat.

“There is no body of knowledge that I know of that has pointed to the fact that you can give a test to a 4-year-old or a 5-year-old and determine if they’re gifted,” he said. “Those tests — and it’s pretty clear — are more a measure of the privilege of a child’s home than true giftedness.”

2 Ideals at Issue

Many teachers and principals are convinced that there should be ability grouping for the good of the most able and the least able students. But often these same educators are uneasy over the racial isolation that often results. This has put some programs for bright students on shaky ground.

Classes for gifted children are being abolished, for example, at P.S. 152, down the block from Brooklyn College, because even though the school’s enrollment is becoming increasingly black and Puerto Rican, the gifted classes are disproportionately white.