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Tuesday, 27 July 2010 07:59

G&T update: 1000 scored a 99

It took a few months but the Department of Education finally crunched the numbers.  In 2009 a grand total of 1000 children scored in the 99th percentile on the citywide assessments for kindergarten gifted and talented programs.

The "99s" account for 56% of the 1788 students who qualified for citywide G&T programs by scoring at or above the 97th percentile on the tests. Not surprisingly, the largest number of students scoring in the 99th percentile came from high-performing districts 2 (193 students), 3 (144), and 22 (91). These districts also had the highest number of test-takers.

Of course, scoring in the highest percentile doesn't guarantee a seat in one of the five citywide programs , which offer a combined total of roughly 300 slots for incoming kindergartners.  And, as parents have noted in comments to previous posts, many seats in citywide programs are taken up by siblings, even though they didn't score in the 99th percentile.

All this has caused parents to wonder if there really is a difference between a "97" and a "99"?  And was the spike in the number of students scoring in the highest percentile due in large part to more test prep for 4-year-olds?

In his On Education column in Monday's New York Times, Michael Winerip questioned the equity of the G&T test.  He interviewed low-income parents of smart 4-year-olds who weren't aware that prep materials existed for pre-schoolers. And, he talked to the owner of a test prep company who charges more than $1000 for a two month "boot camp" for 4-year-olds.

He also points out that the number of blacks and Hispanics in G&T kindergarten classes "dropped to 27 percent this year under the test-only system, from 46 percent under the old system" which varied from district to district.

The question of equity also arose at a City Council hearing in June when Deputy Chancellor Marc Sternberg announced that the city is looking for a new way to assess students for G&T programs. Critics argue that the current system does not include observation of children in a classroom or interviews.

As families scramble to enroll their children in the best schools possible, especially given kindergarten waitlists at popular neighborhood schools, the debate over G&T programs is not going away anytime soon.

Click here to see the Department of Education's district-by-district breakdown of students scoring at the 99th percentile for G&T kindergarten.

And please share your thoughts about the G&T testing process in comments below.  Can the process be made more equitable?

Published in News and views
Tuesday, 22 June 2010 11:07

What to do about G&T?

At yesterday's City Council Education Committee hearing on school admissions' policies, the city's gifted and talented programs were on the hot seat.

City Council members, led by committee chair Robert Jackson, repeatedly questioned Department of Education officials about the lack of G&T programs in minority communities and the under-representation of black and Latino students. This has occurred despite changes to the admissions policies made several years ago that standardized the testing process throughout the city to ensure fairness and access to all students. Council members also questioned the timeline by which students are tested in January and notified of acceptance into G&T classes late in the school year.

One major pitfall of the current G&T test is that it can't be administered until all eligible students turn 4, which means holding off until January. Liz Sciabarra, the director of the enrollment office, conceded that the admissions timetable, which has "kindergarten offers going out absent of G&T" results is tough. "We really need to have better alignment," she said.

Now, it seems the city will be shopping for a new admissions test once the current contracts with testing companies end next year. Newly-appointed Deputy Chancellor for Portfolio Planning Marc Sternberg said, "we are looking for a new test." Requests for Proposals will be issued in the fall but any changes in the assessments would not take affect until the following year, he said.

This news came as a surprise to all in attendance and later Department of Education spokesperson David Cantor told reporters that there was no change in policy and that the DOE doesn't believe there is anything wrong with the current tests.

In the past, when districts administered their own tests, minority 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. In the 2009-2010 school year, only 12% of admitted students were Latino and 15% were black.

Much of the City Council's discussion about G&T yesterday centered on how  to ensure that G&T classes remain diverse. To qualify for a gifted program students must score above the 90 percentile nationally on a combination of two assessments, the Otis-Lennon School Ability Test (Olsat) and the Bracken School Readiness Assessment (BSRA).

City Council member Jackson suggested that the city "eliminate a national norm and use a citywide or district level norm" in determining which students qualify for G&T programs.

Others have suggested assigning students to G&T classes using a holistic approach and considering factors other than test scores.

Still others question the validity of testing children for gifted programs at age four and urge assessing them at a later age.

We're wondering what you think.  How should students be evaluated for G&T programs? In what grade should G&T programs start?

Published in News and views
Monday, 21 June 2010 08:05

Admissions hearing today!

Got something to say about public school admissions policies? Today is the day to speak your piece. The City Council Education Committee  is calling all interested parents and advocates to testify at a hearing about Department of Education admissions procedures.  Among other things, the hearing will focus on changes made in the past few years,  including the  centralization of  admissions for pre-Kindergarten and gifted and talented programs.

The education committee, chaired by Robert Jackson, will be questioning elected officials and  members of the DOE's enrollment office about policies and procedures that affect  all students admissions from  pre-K, to high school.

According to the hearing notice: "We invite members of Community Education Councils, parents, students, educators, advocates, and all other stakeholders and interested members of the public to testify at this hearing.  Testimony will be limited to 2-3 minutes per person to allow as many as possible to testify.  Although the hearing starts at 1:00 pm, the Administration (Department of Education), as well as other witnesses (such as elected officials) have been invited to testify and answer questions from Council Members at the outset, so we do not expect to hear from others until sometime after 2:30pm.  Please make sure you fill out a witness slip on the desk of the Sergeant-at-arms if you wish to testify.  If you plan to bring written testimony, please bring at least 20 copies."

For those parents who have been commenting all year on InsideSCOOP, here's a chance to let elected officials know what you think! Head over to 250 Broadway, 16th floor hearing room this afternoon. (Take the 4,5 or R train to City Hall; 1,2, or 3 trains to Chambers Street.)  We'll be there too.


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With the June 18 registration deadline looming for the city's elementary school gifted and talented programs, PS/IS 217 on Roosevelt Island is reaching out to eligible applicants in Manhattan and Queens urging them to apply.

The Department of Education last week told the school that it could not open a G&T kindergarten class for next year because not enough families signed up. On Friday, school officials, parents, and local politicians met with Elizabeth Rose, director of portfolio planning at the DOE, to protest that decision. Rose agreed that the program could remain open providing 18 children could be recruited.

PS/IS 217 PTA President Nikki Leopold said that admissions were hampered this year because the DOE did not list PS/IS 217 as an option for students in Queens. While the school lies in District 2, the G&T program was open last year to District 30 (including Jackson Heights and other neighborhoods in western Queens) because of its' close proximity to Roosevelt Island (two subway stops on the "F" line). Enrollment in the school's current G&T kindergarten class includes four students from Queens, one from Manhattan, and the rest from Roosevelt Island, according to Assistant Principal Jenn Bartolino.

Bartolino confirmed that the school is still taking applications. "The school is very committed to the program," she said. "It's been a long process with the Department of Education. What we've been told is to 'do the outreach'."

PTA President Leopold said the school asked the DOE to "send a formal letter to all families in District 30, and the surrounding Queens area, letting them know that the program is now open to them."

In a reply statement forwarded to Insideschools, Rose said: "We are planning to notify any student in D2 or D30 who did not receive an offer to another G&T program through the match process. However, in potentially opening a class at PS 217, we have to be mindful of not taking enrollment away from D30 G&T programs. Those classes also require a minimum number of students to enroll. "

The school is committed to opening a kindergarten G&T class next fall, regardless of the number of students who enroll, according to Leopold. "As it was clear that the DOE would only do minimal outreach, the PS/IS 217 administration made the decision to move forward with our G&T program even if the number of recruited students turned out to be below 18," Leopold wrote in an email. "As the program had been fully embraced in its first year, and time and money was invested in anticipation of its growth, we felt that this was an important decision to make, despite the financial implications to our school."

This year's G&T kindergarten class -- the first ever at PS/IS 217 -- has only 14 students enrolled but "enrollment went from 14 to 18 or 19 [for 1st grade next year] because it was such a successful year," the assistant principal said.

Interested parents, whose children meet the criteria (scoring above 90% on admissions exams), should contact Parent Coordinator Lauraine Rademaker at 347-563-5165. For more information on how to register, see the school's G&T Kindergarten Update flier.

While schools such as PS/IS 217 and PS 376 in Brooklyn's District 32, where only seven students qualified, are lacking in applicants others have too many.

The Brooklyn School of Inquiry, a citywide G&T program that opened last fall, had 251 families listing it first on their application, for only 56 seats, making it the "city's second most coveted gifted program," according to the Wall Street Journal. Students who score at 97% or above on the assessments are eligible for five citywide programs. In reality, however, most citywide seats fill up with students scoring 99%. And at some schools, including the Brooklyn School of Inquiry, there aren't enough spaces even for the highest scorers.

We're hearing from parents, and some districts, that there were many more students scoring 99% this year than previous years, but we're still waiting to hear from the DOE exactly how many.

Got any news about the G&T programs in your district? Please share it in comments below.

Published in News and views
Friday, 04 June 2010 09:53

G&T offers go out today!

The wait is almost over for parents and kids who sweated out this year's round of Gifted and Talented (G&T) admissions. Placement letters are being sent out today, Department of Education spokesman Matthew Mittenthal confirmed.

The registration period for anyone offered a spot in a G&T program will run from Monday, June 7 to Friday, June 18.

Information about summer G&T testing for families new to New York City will be  is posted  in mid-June on the DOE's website. Summer G&T test administration is only open to children entering kindergarten or 1st grade in September, 2010 who moved to the city after the main testing period ended. A Request for Testing form must be submitted by June 25; testing will take place from July 6-16.

Applications for upper elementary grade G&T seats are not yet available on the DOE's website. Check there regularly for updated information.  According to the latest information, because standardized tests were administered late in the school year, test scores, which determine placement in G&T programs in the upper grades, will not be available until late in the summer. According to the DOE's website, applications will be available on the website in August; and placement offers  for "the few available seats" will be made in late August or early September.

Did you get your letter yet? Please comment below.

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More incoming kindergartners qualified for gifted and talented programs in the city's public schools this year, although fewer kids were tested. According to Department of Education data released today, 3,542 incoming kindergartners are eligible for district or citywide programs as compared to 3,231 last year. (Data about students in other grades was not available today.)

The percent of qualifying kindergarten testers has increased from 18% in 2007-08, to 22% in 2008-09, to 28% this year. The DOE standardized admissions criteria citywide in 2006, for the 2007-08 school year.

There were 2,400 fewer students tested for kindergarten G&T programs this year than in 2009-09. The DOE said that there was a spike in test takers last year, especially in Staten Island, the Bronx, and Queens, because previously most programs in those boroughs began in 1st grade, not kindergarten. Now all G&T programs begin in kindergarten.

All incoming kindergartners and 1st graders who score at or above the 90% on the assessments are guaranteed a seat in a district program, providing they list all available options on their applications. Those scoring between 97 and 99% are eligible for five citywide programs. Applications are due today.

A quick look at the data shows that while most districts saw a rise in the percentage of test takers who were eligible for district programs, there was a decrease in qualifiers in District 4 (East Harlem), District 14 (Williamsburg and Greenpoint), and District 32 (Bushwick where only seven students qualified).

In three districts, 40% or more of those tested are eligible for district programs: 47% in District 3 (the Upper West Side), 44% in District 2 (which includes Manhattan's East Side and the West Side south of 59th Street), and 40% in District 13 (which includes Brooklyn Heights, Fort Greene, and parts of Prospect Heights and Park Slope.) In those same three districts more than 20% of those tested were eligible for citywide programs. The percentage of testers eligible for citywide programs rose over last year, in every district except District 32.

The number of test takers varied widely around the city with 1479 tested in District 2 and only 85 in District 7 (the South Bronx, which did not offer a gifted program for incoming kindergartners last year.)

In general, a G&T program is not offered in districts where fewer than 10 students qualify.

We have asked the DOE which districts will not offer programs to incoming kindergartners next year, and to confirm which new district programs will open, and whether there will be any new citywide programs. Last year new citywide programs opened in Brooklyn and Queens; the Bronx and Staten Island are still waiting.

Far more children qualify for citywide seats than there are slots available. Based on our calculations, from conversations with citywide schools, there are fewer than 300 seats available in those programs.  In District 2 alone, 341 children qualified for a citywide program.

We asked for a further breakdown in the data, including how many students scored in the 99th percentile. We'll post the information as we get it.

Click here for the spreadsheet with the G&T results.

And share your comments below!

Published in News and views
Thursday, 29 April 2010 06:19

G&T applications due April 30

The due date for Gifted and Talented applications for qualifying elementary school students is Friday, April 30. Among the hundreds who submitted comments to Insideschools on this topic, some raised questions and asked us to clarify. Thanks to all the posters who chimed in to answer one another!

Here are a few of the questions and what we've been able to find out:

  • Parents reported conflicting information on the applications about whether qualifying kindergartners and 1st graders are guaranteed a seat in a district program. Kindergarten and 1st graders are guaranteed a seat if they list all programs; 2nd and 3rd graders are only placed if there is space available. There is no guarantee of placement in a citywide program.
  • At least one parent reported that her district options on the online application were different than those on the paper application. The DOE did not confirm that this was a problem (although they said it might be if the parent had moved or had a different address.) Bottom line: to be safe, compare the options on the paper application with those online. If they are different, double-check with the enrollment office.
  • Do children scoring 99 fill all the citywide seats? It is true that while a child scoring at the 97% and above is eligible for a citywide program, there are many more children scoring 99 than there are seats available at the most popular citywide and district programs. When there are more eligible applicants within a percentile than available seats, slots are randomly assigned in that percentile. There is no such thing as a high or low 99%.
  • Parents asked about openings in the citywide programs, especially in the older grades. Here's what we found out: Anderson has 50 seats for kindergarten, but about 10 of them will be taken by siblings, leaving 39 or 40 seats for non-siblings. Anderson anticipates two seats open for 1st graders, one in grade 2, and none in grade 3. NEST+M only has openings for kindergarten. TAG has 50 openings for kindergarten and between 12-20 seats for grades 1-3. Last year the lowest score accepted at TAG was 97; however this year the school may accept students with scores lower than 97 as well, the parent coordinator said. TAG is the only G&T program in its district. STEM at PS 85 in Queens has only 13 students in its kindergarten class this year and will take up to two incoming kindergarten classes for next year (depending upon demand.) The Brooklyn School of Inquiry anticipates accepting two classes of 28 kindergartners and will have 3-5 openings in both grades 1 and 2.
  • Can you decline a seat offered at one school and be considered for a seat at another school if one opens up? According to the G&T office: "Offers are final and there is no wait list. Parents must either accept or decline the offer of placement."

We'll post further information if we get it. Keep us informed as you get news.

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Tour dates for schools that will be offering G&T programs in 2010 are now posted on the Department of Education's website. Click here to see the links for each borough, and for a list of all the programs. Tours are being held this week and next; the deadline for submitting an application is April 30.

A quick look at the DOE's list shows that there are some new -- and returning -- district programs opening up next fall. Many of these are in schools that had programs in the past and still have G&T classes in the upper grades but did not accept incoming kindergarten classes in 2009. (Click here to see a list of 2009-2010 elementary schools with G&T classes by grade.) Some programs -- especially the new ones -- do not have posted tour dates, so check the DOE website for updates or contact the school.

Here's a borough breakdown of G&T programs offering kindergarten classes in September 2010 that do not have kindergarten classes this school year, according to the posted list.

Manhattan: In District 2, PS 198, on the Upper East Side, will open a program. It shares a building with Lower Lab, long a G&T school.

The Bronx: In District 11 PS 153 is back on the list. (Last year they did not have an incoming kindergarten class.) Once again this year there are no programs listed in Bronx districts 7 or 9. (Generally, if fewer than 10 students meet the cut-off score for G&T, no district program is offered and qualifying students go to schools in neighboring districts.)

Brooklyn: In Brooklyn's District 19, PS 677, the East NY School of Excellence, an early childhood school which opened in 2009, is listed with a G&T program. In District 20, a new school, PS 748, will open with a gifted program. In District 22, PS 195, which did not take an incoming kindergarten gifted program last year, is back on the list, while PS 206, which has a G&T gifted class this year, is not.

Queens: PS 153, in District 24, will have a program (although, interestingly, a footnote mentions that the 1st grade class will share a large classroom with another teacher and class.) Programs will also open in District 24 at PS 229 and PS 873/290, a new school set to open in September. In District 25, PS 165 will have an incoming kindergarten (they do not have one this year.) In District 26, PS 115 will have a kindergarten program (this year it only has 1st and 2nd grades). In District 28, PS 144 will have G&T kindergarten.

Staten Island: No new programs are listed.

For more information about the G&T process, check out the handbook.

Do you have additional information to share? Please comment below.

Published in News and views
Friday, 16 April 2010 12:29

G&T letters going out today!

Score reports and applications for students who qualified for kindergarten and 1st grade gifted and talented programs are to be sent no later than today, April 16, according to the Department of Education.Letters will be mailed to eligible students who then must fill out an application for seats in district or citywide programs. Applications are due by April 30. 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 -- 98 or 99-- were accepted at the most sought-after Manhattan programs: Anderson and NEST+M.

No word yet from the DOE about how many children qualified for gifted programs this year. Last year 3,231 incoming kindergartners were eligible, 22% of those who sat for the tests. We have yet to see the 2010 district-by-district breakdown although we have heard unofficially from a few districts that have their results.

In District 10, which covers Riverdale and other Bronx neighborhoods, the number of children qualifying for district programs was down from last year, according to Marvin Shelton, a member of the District 10 parent council. He said 73 incoming kindergartners, and 47 entering 1st-graders, qualified. That's compared to 88 kindergartners who were eligible for district programs last year, according to the DOE"s spreadsheet.

In Brooklyn's District 20, we heard, unofficially, that close to 220 incoming kindergartners qualified for either a district or citywide program. That's higher than the 192 who qualified last year. More than 100 incoming 1st graders are eligible for a citywide or district seat.

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. Please comment below.

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A host of parental postings on this blog in recent weeks have included the following concern: “My child has so much homework and gets so little sleep that I feel really sorry for him/her.”

Often, this has come from the parents of freshmen at schools like Brooklyn Tech, Bronx Science and Stuyvesant, large, highly sought after and filled with high expectations and high achievers.

High expectations mean that students will be expected to keep up with what in some cases might feel like a daunting work load, while adjusting to huge schools filled with ambitious classmates and teachers who may not have time to get to know them.

Beyond academics, exciting opportunities exist at the schools for everything from research to sports and clubs, so it’s not surprising for students to feel a little lost and overwhelmed. Some will thrive, despite long commutes and challenging courses. Others will flounder.

Next month, 7th  8th and 9th-graders will learn if they scored high enough on the SHSAT (Specialized High Schools Admissions Test) exam to win acceptance at one eight specialized high schools in New York City that requires a test (the ninth, LaGuardia, admits students based on an audition.) Getting in is just the first hurdle, though, and many parents and kids will need to do a little more investigating and some soul searching to be sure the school will be a good fit.

There are plenty of articles that describe how good these schools are; US News & World Report, for example, just looked at the friendly rivalry between Bronx Science and Stuyvesant, and noted all the Nobel Prize winners and other luminaries who are graduates of both.

But what’s life really like inside the specialized schools, including some of the newer ones that get less publicity? Insideschools would like parents (and kids) who attend these schools to be honest and post helpful insights.

“Think about what all the pressure does to these kids,’’ the mother of a Bronx Science student told me, noting that her child’s workload has a big impact on family life. The sophomore routinely has two to four hours of homework a night and as much as seven hours on weekends.

Informal conversations reveal that many parents are shocked at the amount of drugs and alcohol at the specialized schools. (In fairness, you may hear this complaint about any high school in the city; what’s different is the parents of these very bright and ambitious kids say they did not expect it to be part of the culture.)

“These kids have already been weeded out [intellectually] but they still have all the curiosity of adolescence, and they while they may not want to talk about the pressure they are under, they might choose adult things like alcohol and drugs for an escape,’’ a Bronx Science parent noted. “They still have immature brains, but they think they can handle it.”

Parents have expressed concerns about the uneven quality of teaching, a concern at all high schools, since the quality of a teacher sets the tone and is considered the single most important factor for student success.

There’s also another question for parents whose children get into the specialized schools but are also weighing other choices: If your child is not oriented toward math and science, where most specialized schools are especially strong, will they get as rich an education? Do humanities teachers care as passionately about literature, history, and the quality of writing? Are the arts encouraged and celebrated? Can creative types flourish with the lab rats?

Are there any parents, or kids, who attend a specialized high school and wished they’d known what they were getting into beforehand? Would the same decision be made? What else can you share with parents and students who are trying to decide?

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