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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!

Published in News and views
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.

Published in News and views

The deadline to apply for upper grade Gifted and Talented programs has been extended from August 27 to September 17, according to an update on the Department of Education's website.

Acceptance into 4th and 5th grade programs is based on standardized test scores -- to be eligible, students must score at a Level 4 (highest level) on both the reading and math tests. The  2010 test results only became available online on August 15, leaving a very short window of time in the midst of summer vacation for parents to access the scores and submit an application by August 27.

Now they will have a few more weeks to apply, but they may not find out until September 30, well after classes start, whether their children have gained a slot.

"Seats are very limited," according to the DOE's notice.  We've asked how many openings there are, and where they are located,  and will post the information if we get it.

Check the DOE's website for links to the applications and the particulars on how to apply.

Published in News and views
Monday, 16 August 2010 05:43

2010 test results are available on ARIS

Students' individual scores on the 2010 state English and math exams are now available on ARIS Parent Link. Families who have set up an ARIS account will be able to find out their child's proficiency level (1 to 4), actual test score, and read a breakdown of their child's test performance by skill set.

If you're having trouble logging on to ARIS, or have never set up an account, you can get help here.  Families with children enrolled in independent and charter schools will need to contact their school to find out test results. 

G&T Reminder

Families of rising fourth and fifth graders applying for seat at a Gifted and Talented program can submit their completed applications as soon as they find out their child's 2010 test results.  Applications are due August 27

Students entering grades 4 or 5 in September, who achieved the highest level of  “4" on both their 2010 English and math tests, are eligible to apply for a G&T seat for the 2010-11 school year.

Published in News and views

UPDATE: On August 24, the deadline to apply for upper grade Gifted and Talented programs was extended from August 27 to September 17,

The Department of Education is accepting applications for upper elementary grade seats in Gifted and Talented programs through August 27.   One  hitch:  Parents can't complete their applications until they know their child's scores on the 2010 standardized English and math exams, which will be available on the ARIS Parent Link beginning the week of August 16. Another hitch: There may be very few seats available.

Students entering 4th or 5th grade who achieved the highest level of  "4" on both their 2010 English and math tests are eligible to apply for a G&T seat for the 2010-11 school year.  Rising 4th graders can apply for available spots at K to 5, K to 6, and K to 8  G&T programs.  Rising 5th graders only can apply for spots at K to 6 and K to 8 G&T programs.

Eligible applicants will be ranked in order of their combined English and math scores and offered seats based on availability within their zoned district, according to the DOE's website.  Families offered a spot in a district G&T program "will be contacted" by September 3.  Those not being offered a spot "will be notified by mail."

You can download the application from the Department of Education's website or pick one up at your nearest borough enrollment office.

Current public school students can download an application here.

A separate application for non-public school students is available here.

Published in News and views
Thursday, 05 August 2010 11:07

Elite schools: Testing and diversity

A front page story in today's New York Times spotlights the practice of deciding a student's "giftedness" based on performance on just one test and points out a lack of diversity of students accepted to the city's topnotch public schools.

The article focuses on Hunter College High School, a laboratory school for the intellectually gifted, where students are admitted based on their scores on an exam given in the winter of 6th grade. Other students  move up from Hunter College Elementary School which they entered in kindergarten, after scoring high on an IQ exam.

In his speech at the Hunter College High School graduation, senior Justin Hudson, who is black and Latino, expressed his guilt at being accepted at the school based solely on "performance on a test we took when
we were eleven year olds, or four year olds." He said that less fortunate students, especially those from inner-city neighborhoods,  "who naturally needed those resources much more than us wallowed in the mire of a broken system."

Although 70% of the city's public school students are black or Hispanic, only 3% percent of the students entering Hunter in 2009 were black; 1% percent were Hispanic. That compares to the entering class of 1995 which was 12% black and 6% Hispanic, The Times reports.

Hunter is a public school administered by Hunter College not the Department of Education, but the same lack of racial diversity in gifted programs has become increasingly evident and reported in other city public schools. Of the 5,261 students scoring high enough on an exam to qualify for one of the city's eight specialized high schools this year, 7% were black and 8% were Hispanic.

Black and Hispanic students are also under-represented in the city's elementary school gifted and talented programs. As we reported last week, Times  educational columnist Michael Winerip noted 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” when admissions criteria varied from district to district.

Now the city is looking for a new way to assess the city's youngest pupils for G&T programs, that might not rely only on the results of one test, for which students who can afford test prep appear to have an edge.

Some members of the Hunter High faculty have called for that school to adopt a multi-dimensional measureof student giftedness, such as interviews,  and an examination of student work.  Critics of the current kindergarten G&T assessment advocate additional measures such as observing kids in groups or at play.   The release last week  of sub-par test results for New York State’s students appears to reinforce doubts about using tests as the single measure of achievement.

Should entrance to elite  schools or programs be based on the results of one test? Is there a more equitable way to assess which students are truly intellectually gifted? Share your thoughts and ideas.

Published in News and views
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