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May 10 is the deadline for families of nearly 8,000 students who qualified or elementary school gifted and talented programs. Some 4,000 incoming kindergartners qualified this year,  many more than last year.

Five years ago the Department of Education adopted a new set of assessments, standardizing testing across the city. Previously, each district offered its own testing requirements and entry points: some districts offered programs, others did not. Some required IQ tests, others devised their own tests. In standardizing the assessments and the testing timeline, the DOE said one aim was to equalize the process, and ensure that a diversity of students were represented in programs across the city.

But, it turns out that when districts administered their own tests, black and Latino students fared better in admissions. According to city statistics cited in The New York Times, before admissions were standardized in 2007, 15% of the students admitted to G&T programs were Latino and 32% were black. Last week, the DOE released statistics showing that in the 2010-2011 school year, only 11% of  kindergarten G&T students were black; 12% were Hispanic. In the 2009-2010 school year, only 14% were black and 12% were Latino.  In several high-poverty districts around the city, there were no programs for kindergartners at all this year because not enough children qualified

Last June, amid criticism that parents were gaming the system and prepping 4-year-olds for the tests, the city announced it would seek a new test. Gentian Falstrom, head of elementary school admissions, confirmed that the city has issued a Request for Proposals from test providers and a new contract will be in effect for the 2012-2013 school year.

We'd like to know what you think of the G&T testing? Is it fair? Should the assessments remain the same? If not, what changes do you suggest? Take our poll and let us know.

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Families of the nearly 8,000 students who qualified for kindergarten, 1st, 2nd, and 3rd grade gifted and talented programs for next fall are busy weighing their options and ranking their choices before applications are due on May 10. The Department of Education posted a list of open houses.  There's still time to visit schools between now and Tuesday. (Note that some of the schools listed will not be accepting incoming kindergarten classes.)

Once you have visited the schools, how should you rank your choices?  The DOE says there is no gaming the system -- you should rank your top choice first, and so on down the list. "Students with higher scores are placed first, regardless of how they prioritize their options," according to Gential Falstrom, head of elementary school enrollment.

The 2010-2011 G&T Handbook stipulates that the only students who are guaranteed a G&T seat in a district program are incoming kindergartners and 1st-graders "who rank every district option listed on their application." But, in a few areas around the city, especially when a district has only one option, parents must also rank a program listed on their application that is not in their district to be guaranteed a seat.  According to an email from Falstrom, that is due to one or more of the following reasons:

  • "geographic proximity and ease of transportation between the two districts;
  • situations where the applicant pool in one district might not support the program with enough students;
  • districts that do not currently offer a G&T program; and/or
  • situations where offering the out-of-district program would add available seats to address district qualifiers."

Falstrom writes: "A student is only guaranteed a seat if he/she ranks all the options on the application, including options in another district."  Bottom line for parents:  make sure to rank all of the programs listed on your application. You can always turn down the seat later if you decide you'd prefer your neighborhood school.

The DOE is looking into a new test for next year's crop of G&T candidates, Falstrom confirms. The department has issued a Request for Proposals from test providers and "a new contract would be in effect starting in the 2012-2013 school year"  -- welcome news for many families who believe that the current assessments are flawed.

For families who wonder why some popular schools won't be offering a G&T kindergarten program next year, here's the DOE's explanation of how location decisions are made: "schools must have the space to accommodate students from outside of their catchment zone;  there is demand within the district requiring an additional program; and the Principal and staff have the interest and capability to offer this type of program."

The Department of Education has not yet released a list of eligible students by district, or a list of the schools at which they plan to offer programs next fall. (A final list of programs will depend on how many students rank a school on their application -- if there is not enough interest, a program may not open.) No word yet, either,  on the breakdown of students who scored between the 97th and 99th percentiles, making them eligible for citywide programs.  Last year so many students scored at the 99th percentile that lower-scoring students were mostly shut out of the citywide seats.

Got a question about your score or would you like to review the test booklet? You must file a request by May 10. The details are on the DOE's website.

We'll post new information as we get it.

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Thursday, 05 May 2011 06:36

Fitness Focus: G+T- K PE = not for me

The degrees of my good luck are incalculable, in Sinagpore Math or Everyday Math or anything else. I have good health, a wonderful family, and a child who qualified, based on her pre-K test, for a range of "gifted and talented" programs. This lucky circumstance plays out in kooky paths, though, as any parent with similar good fortune can understand. There isn't room for all at the most overcrowded schools, and the Department of Education essentially runs a lottery for the available slots.

Nobody would doubt that Charlie and Lola are gifted and talented! (Courtesy of Disney)

Parents can feel a little powerless. Nobody knows exactly where our child may end up being placed, so we visit a range of schools in our district (or beyond).How can we make up our minds about which schools to rank top - or bottom - on the list?

I came up with my own arbitrary rule. If the school offers no physical education classes for kindergartners, I wish it success but my wife and I will rank it low. I have three reasons for this rule. All aid me in strategy.

First, phys ed provides an alternate outlet for the skills that qualified kids for G&T programs.  Physical education imparts the value of collaboration, patience, isolation and second-order thinking - and it teaches that results can vary from game to game and day to day. Kids who are gifted and talented at basketball may need to slow down to learn English grammar- and vice versa. Both journeys inculcate crucial self-confidence. Put another way: if my kid can learn Mandarin, she can learn isometrics. And if you think she doesn't need to learn both, you have a different theory than I do about what makes a community of learners.

Second, phys ed can cut across socioeconomic lines. The son of a pair of Columbia astrophysicists and the girl who'll be the first in her family to go to college need each other to get the ball down the court. Phys ed is full of moments that prove how cooperation leads to success for all.

Third, phys ed provides a welcome relief from academic pressure. One principal on a G&T tour this week described her students as "suffering from perfectionism." Stipulate for a second that perfectionism is an illness. Can't a little physical release provide at least a topical cure?  It worked for Bill Bradley and Dave Bing. Story time is engrossing: art is expressive; music transcends, but phys ed delivers a vital message to these young achievers:  You can always play again and do better. And the score matters a lot less than what you learned about how to play.

It's a message some anxious parents might welcome in the next couple of weeks. Email me here if you're up for a post-application pickup game!

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Thursday, 28 April 2011 08:42

4,000 qualify for kindergarten G&T programs

Four thousand incoming kindergartners qualified for the city's gifted and talented programs this year, the Department of Education reported today, with many more students tested this year than last.

Some 14,040 four-year-olds were tested in 2011 as compared to 12,443 last year. After a steady increase over the past several years, the percentage of eligible students remained static this year with 28 percent of the test-takers qualifying.  Eighteen percent of test-takers qualified in 2007-08 (the year that the DOE standardized testing across the city), 22 percent qualified  in 2008-09, and 28 percent were eligible in 201o and this year.

Of the 4,000 eligible kindergartners, 45 percent (1,803 students) tested high enough to be eligible for one of the more selective citywide programs. That is lower than last year when a whopping 50 percent of the qualifiers were eligible for just 300 citywide seats. (No sign yet that the DOE will increase the number of citywide seats, although they have said they are looking for new assessment tools for next year's crop of test-takers.)

All incoming kindergartners and 1st graders who score at or above the 90th percentile on the assessments are guaranteed a seat in a district program, providing they list all available options on their applications, according to the G&T Handbook. Those scoring between the 97th percentile and 99th percentile are eligible for five citywide programs, but in reality most of those seats go to the students who score at the 99 percentile: there were 1,000 of them last year.

Kindergarten is the main entry point for G&T programs but the same assessments -- the OLSAT and BRSA -- are also offered to interested incoming 1st, 2nd, and 3rd-graders.  This year more than 25,000 children in those grades were tested, a similar number as last year, with 3,906 qualifying for either district or citywide programs. That's compared to 4,043 who qualified in 2010 for a scattering of seats -- the DOE has not said how many.

Still to come: a breakdown of how many children qualified in each district, where new programs are opening and where existing programs will not be accepting new classes of kindergartners. The DOE said these numbers will be coming in the next two weeks.

If fewer than 10 students qualify in any district, there will be no new gifted kindergarten class. Children in those districts who qualify may attend a gifted program in a neighboring district. The DOE's 2010-2011 list of programs shows there were no G&T kindergarten classes in districts 7, 9, 12 in the Bronx, districts 23 and 32 in Brooklyn, or District 27 in Queens. The programs may change from year to year depending on the number of eligible students, the interest in programs, and the capacity of the schools to house them. As a result, several very popular neighborhood schools no longer host G&T programs, while traditionally under-enrolled schools now offer them.

Parents have between now and May 10, when applications are due, to consider their options. Note that many -- but not all -- of the schools offering G&T programs invite parents to come in for a tour or an open house. Your best bet is to check the school's website (linked on our school profile pages) or call the parent coordinator to find out.

And, we'll continue to post updates as we get them.

See the DOE's breakdown of the numbers after the jump.

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Wednesday, 27 April 2011 07:58

Gifted and Talented letters mailed

Score reports and applications for students who qualified for kindergarten and 1st grade gifted and talented programs were sent yesterday, April 26, by email and regular mail. There is no word yet on how many students tested and how many qualified this year.

Families of eligible students must submit an application for a district or citywide programs by May 10. Students won’t find out where they are offered a seat until early June — late in the game for many families who are weighing other options.

Incoming kindergartners and 1st graders who score at or above the 90th percentile are guaranteed a seat in a district program, providing they list every available G&T program on their application. Children who score at or above the 97th percentile are eligible for the five citywide programs but not guaranteed a seat. In the past, only children scoring at the highest percentile —  99– were accepted at most of the citywide programs.  Last year 1,000 students scored at the 99th percentile and for only 300 seats. When there are more qualified applicants than seats, there is a random selection process for placement.

Last year some, 3,542 incoming kindergartners were eligible for district or citywide programs as compared to 3,231 the previous year.

Already there is some buzz on neighborhood listservs with parents noting that some schools that offered programs this year will not offer seats for incoming kindergartners this year. PS 10 in Park Slope found out just this morning that there would be no G&T kindergarten class next year,  Parent Coordinator Madeline Seide said.

"The city made the decision -- not we -- that we would not have an incoming kindergarten class next fall," she said, citing the increasing popularity of the school which has grown from 410 students about five years ago to nearly 800 now.

Although the school did not have a waitlist for zoned kindergarten students at the end of March, Seide said there were 350 total kindergarten applicants -- including those from outside the neighborhood -- for only 150 kindergarten seats. PS 10 will be expected to take the overflow of students from other District 15 schools that do have a kindergarten waitlist, she said.

There are a few seats at PS 10 in the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd grade G&T classes which will continue at the school, and, like other schools with G&T programs, the school will offer tours for prospective students before the May 10 application deadline.  Check schools' websites and the DOE's calendar and handbook for details.

We’ve asked the DOE for the statistics on how many students applied for G&T and how many qualified, as well as the district breakdown. We’ll post the information as soon as we get it.

For those of you awaiting a letter, let us know when you get it. And, if you hear about any open houses. post those as well. Please comment below.

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Parents whose children will turn five this year should submit their applications for kindergarten by Friday. You may apply at your zoned neighborhood school as well as any other schools that may interest you. The good news: Overcrowding in Manhattan has eased a bit as new schools have opened. The bad news: there are still children on the waiting list at some very popular schools.

Children who have been tested for a gifted program won’t find out whether they are eligible until May. So parents need to apply to their neighborhood school regardless of whether they have had their child tested.

Parents of special needs children should fill out an application at their neighborhood school and any other school to which they are applying. They may also wish to attend special Department of Education orientation sessions on how to best get special services. Advocates for Children has a brochure for special needs children who are turning five.

Charter schools have separate applications, due April 1.  For some charter schools, you need to apply in person. For others, you may fill out on a new online application at the New York City Charter School Center.

We recently visited some Manhattan schools that are open to children outside their immediate neighborhood, including Central Park East I, Central Park East II, The Twenty-first Century Academy (open to District 6 children) and Midtown West (open to District 2 children). We also visited a new Upper East Side school, PS 267, that may have room for children outside its attendance zone this year. A new Upper West Side school, PS 452, is off to a promising start.

We’ve posted new reviews of some well-known Manhattan schools: Manhattan New School, PS 183, PS 11, PS 199, PS 452, PS/IS 217, PS 198 and PS 158.

In Brooklyn, we visited PS 20, PS 189, and PAVE Academy Charter school. In Queens, we visited PS 201. (PS/IS 217 on Roosevelt Island also accepts children from Queens in the gifted program.) In the Bronx, we visited Girls Prep Charter School and PS 279. We’ll continue to update our school profiles this spring.

Parents who have been touring schools this winter, please share your insights in comments below or on school profile pages. We welcome your views.

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On the eve of my four-year-old daughter’s date with the gifted & talented examiner, we sat down together with the Department of Education's sample test, a stack of papers I’d printed out the week before. The goal was not to drill Leia, but to familiarize her with the testing format, so she would be comfortable on the day of the exam.

“What’s that?” she asked, inching closer, “do I get homework today?”

“Sure, this is your homework.” I said, and explained that tomorrow, someone at school would quiz her with questions like these–"kind of like puzzles." Calling this exercise homework was all I needed to pique her interest, since she begs me for evening assignments–something her sister, a first-grader, receives plenty of.

She caught on to the format quickly. As we waded our way through sets of murky diagrams, she attacked each one eagerly, sometimes before even hearing the instructions. We reached the end, and she slumped in disappointment.

“I want some more! Can you print out another one? Please?”

Something became crystal clear to me, and it wasn’t that I believed she would ace the test. I saw how purely my four-year-old loves learning, and I felt a strong urge to preserve this–whether by keeping her at a well-balanced school like the one she attends now, or moving her to a more challenging track, or simply seeking out more fun educational experiences outside of school. I really don't know what she will need down the road, since a four-year-old has plenty of time to evolve–but just as we did for her sister, we will watch her and decide what school environment is the right fit.

The registration numbers for this year's exams are not yet available, according to the DOE. Last year, despite the fact that fewer children took the exam than in 2009 (12,454–down by 2,400), more rising kindergartners actually qualified for spots (3542, 300 more than the previous year). Competition is stiff, particularly for coveted citywide schools such as The Brooklyn School of Inquiry -- and with more children scoring in the 99th percentile than ever, odds are slim that my daughter would even have a shot. I haven't the slightest clue how she fared on the test, only that she seemed to enjoy it.

“I had my homework today,” Leia said, after I picked her up from school on testing day. "You did?" I asked. "How’d it go?”

She shrugged. “It was just like the one we did at home. With the little rainbow and pen pictures near the choices...I know there are some I didn't get right.”

"That's OK," I said, and it was. We went for hot cocoa.

Has your child taken the G & T exam yet this year? Any feedback on how it went? Results won't be in until May.

Published in News and views
Monday, 03 January 2011 05:31

Elementary Dad: Gifted & tormented

I vividly recall sitting in a waiting room, thinking my daughter’s future was being determined 15 feet away. There, behind closed doors, a child psychologist was administering the Stanford-Binet IQ test designed to detect early signs of genius. If my daughter aced the exam, she might gain entry into New York’s top elementary school for gifted students, a feat that would likely put her on a fast track to academic and professional success. An average score would mean – well, in New York such things make parents shudder.

My daughter was 3 years old.

Her SB results indicated she was above average but not brilliant. Hunter College Elementary School was not an option.   Later came the Otis-Lennon School Ability Test (OLSAT) and the Bracken School Readiness Assessment (BRSA) for entrance into a gifted and talented program. I anxiously waited for results that might show I had spawned a prodigy, but hopes fell as the numbers arrived.  She did not qualify for the citywide Anderson or NEST. A nice gifted and talented program on the Upper West Side offered her a seat, but it had a few drawbacks, and getting there would be a daily inconvenience.

Today, nearly two years after that first IQ test, I’m making a resolution for 2011: No G&T testing. My daughter, now 5, is happily enrolled in a general-education kindergarten at a fine NYC public school three blocks from home. She’s doing well and is fitting in among her Manhattan classmates, all of whom seem like good, bright kids. Her teacher seems to be pushing my child’s development at the right pace. I can’t imagine a rigorous G&T program would be a better fit.

I didn’t always feel this way. When the good-but-not-stellar test scores arrived, I took it personally. I reasoned (as do most fathers) that my daughter was capable of greatness. Any failures must therefore be mine, not hers. Perhaps we spent too much time playing in the sandbox, and not enough with alphabet flashcards. Surely I had squandered precious hours, missed once-in-a-lifetime opportunities. As a result, doors were closing that might have led to wonderful opportunities.

I’ve since learned this mind-set misses the whole point of a G&T program. Kids who are truly gifted – those who flourish amid an enriched and accelerated curriculum – possess a natural curiosity and persistence, and parental prep rarely fosters such qualities. Gifted programs certainly have flaws (G&T classes have been eliminated in parts of NYC where they would be of great benefit to exceptionally bright kids), and the idea that a quiz can accurately predict which 4-year-old will grow into an Einstein is problematic at its core (marshmallow test, anyone?). But when the system works, G&T programs challenge and nurture naturally bright kids in ways typical classrooms can’t.  (Testing begins January 10 for this year's 4-year-olds who have already signed up.) G&T is not the Ivy League of public education, but rather a rescue rope that hoists bright kids out of insufficiently stimulating schools.

My daughter's NYC elementary school meets her needs, and then some. Her future has not yet been decided. Doors remain open. And to her mother and me, my little girl remains the greatest gift any parent could receive.

Published in News and views
Wednesday, 13 October 2010 06:51

Admissions update: What's happening this week?

Got a child applying to kindergarten, middle school, or high school for next fall? Here's what's happening this week, and month.

Kindergarten & elementary grade Gifted & Talented programs

Handbooks with information and applications for testing for the city's elementary school G&T programs are available online and in borough enrollment offices. You have until November 17 to submit your application either online or by mail, but testing won't take place until January.

The handbooks will answer most of your questions -- including which schools in your district have G&T programs this year. They even include a practice OLSAT test for each grade. But if you want to learn more about the G&T process, consider attending an information session sponsored by the Department of Education. There will be one in every borough beginning on October 18.  Prepare yourself for full auditoriums at the high schools hosting the sessions.

If the calendar is similar to the last few years, application and registration for regular kindergarten programs won't begin until February of 2011.

Middle school choice programs & fairs

Most districts are hosting middle school choice fairs this week or next with representatives from each school in attendance. Find the date for your district here.

Even in districts where most students attend their zoned school, there are always options for school choice so it may be worth attending the fair to find out about them.

Applications are not due until December 10, but now is the time to be visiting schools. If you haven't yet begun the school tour circuit, the fairs are a good place to pick up fliers about upcoming tours and open houses.  Some open house dates are posted on the DOE's website; for others, check the school's website.

High school borough fairs & applications

Did you miss the citywide high school fair? Or were there a few schools you didn't get to talk to in the crush of people? This weekend you can attend borough high school fairs, which are much less crowded and a better opportunity to talk one-on-one with school representatives or sign in for priority in admissions at some programs.  They run from 11 to 3 p.m. both Saturday and Sunday. If you haven't yet gone on school tours and open houses, now is the time to do so. Make sure to pick up notices at the fair.

If your son or daughter is taking the specialized high school exam later this month, he or she should be receiving a "ticket" from the middle school guidance counselor on Oct. 15. If they don't bring it home, make sure to contact the school about it. Most 8th graders will be taking the exam the weekend of October 23 and 24th. And, if you want to visit one of the specialized high schools, they are holding open houses and tours now. Check the schedule.

High school applications are due on Dec. 3.

Whew! Nobody said school choice would be easy!

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Tuesday, 05 October 2010 08:12

Admissions update: Middle schools & G&T

Eighth graders applying to high schools aren't the only ones who should be mindful of the admissions calendar.  Important dates are looming for students applying to middle schools and G&T programs for the 2011-12 school year.  Here's the rundown for what you'll need to know for the upcoming weeks.

Middle schools

Most districts offer some degree of middle school choice, even in areas where the majority of students attend their zoned school.  Some districts, however, offer a full-choice model offering students few or no zoned school options.  In those districts, students must apply to in-district middle schools by ranking their choices on a middle school application.

According to the Department of Education's admissions calendar, middle school directories will be distributed to elementary school students during the week of October 4. They will also be available online. Friday, October 8 is the deadline for students to request to take the Otis-Lennon School Ability Test (OLSAT) for admission to selective schools in districts 17, 18, 20, 22, 24, and 30 as well as to request testing for admission to District 21's Mark Twain School, which is open citywide.

Beginning October 12, the Department of Education will hold middle school fairs in each district that offers school choice.  All fairs will be held from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.  Check the DOE's website for the date and location of the middle school fair in your district.

While fairs are a great way for parents and students to meet with school representatives and to ask questions, they are no substitute for attending a school tour or open house.  Check schools'  websites, or call schools to find out about their tour and open house schedule. Use our advanced search to access school profiles for contact information.  Wondering what questions to ask when you visit? See our tips on what to ask on a school tour. Also check out the DOE's list of Fall 2010 middle school tour and open house dates.

For a full rundown of important middle school admissions dates, check out the DOE's calendar here.

Gifted & Talented Admissions

The Gifted and Talented Information Handbook for students entering kindergarten through grade 2 in September 2011 will be available on the DOE's website beginning October 12.

To schedule a testing date, parents will need to submit a Request for Testing Form (RFT) anytime from October 12 through November 17.

Insideschools reported back in June that 2010-11 may be the last school year that students applying to G&T programs will be evaluated based on their combined performance on the  Otis-Lennon School Ability Test (OLSAT) and the Bracken School Readiness Assessment (BSRA).  The DOE is planning to employ a new G&T admissions test once their current contracts with testing companies end in 2011.

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