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.