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.
Once you get in the door as a kindergartener, you stay in the school or program through fifth grade (in the case of district programs) or eighth or 12th (in the case of citywide schools).
If this strikes you as kind of nuts, well, that’s because it is: A test taken on one day as a 4-year-old, a test for which your parents can prepare you, can put you on one track, separate and apart from your peers, for your whole K-12 education.