On a typical weekday morning, Cynthia Caban wakes up at 5:15 am to begin her daily commute. Her family lives in the Parkchester section of the Bronx, but her 5th-grader goes to school at TAG (Talented and Gifted) Young Scholars in Manhattan, one of five citywide gifted and talented programs. Yesterday, the drive was particularly bad. “It took me an hour and 45 minutes to get her to school,” Caban said. It then took two more hours to get out of Manhattan and back to the Bronx, where Caban works. Since the DOE does not offer cross-borough transportation, a bus is not even an option.
For Caban, seeing her daughter “blossom” at the right school is worth it, although the price is high. “Some days I have to remind myself why I’m doing this,” she said.
A Change.org petition to create a citywide gifted and talented program in the Bronx shows just how hard the reality is for families who commute to a citywide program. Parents note daily commute times of up to four hours to get their kids to and from school. In a borough with a high poverty rate and some of the worst performing schools in the city, families of high-achievers are willing to make many sacrifices to find better options. Advocates say they shouldn’t have to.
A few days before the start of school in September, Ilise Alba was surprised to learn via email that her rising 4th-grader had not qualified for gifted and talented admission (G&T). “His teacher’s feeling was that he should be eligible and going to one of these programs,” Alba said. Still, she moved on. After all, it was September: afterschool classes were paid for and her son was set to re-join his friends at the popular PS 101 in Forest Hills, Queens.
Just this past Monday, however, everything changed. A new Department of Education (DOE) email arrived, saying that her son was in fact eligible and apologizing for the confusion. The email included an application, a list of all the G&T programs in the city (rising 5th-graders may only apply to k-8 programs) and a deadline to apply less than 72 hours later. Alba researched schools “on the fly” and applied to several, though she remains frustrated and confused.
“It feels like it’s too late,” she said. “Now that he’s in place and happy a month into school, we’d be taking a huge risk with his grades and with all the emotional issues involved in switching schools."
If you’re thinking of applying to a gifted and talented program in New York City for your child currently in pre-k to 2nd grade, the time is now: The G&T application season is open and the sooner you sign up, the better your chances are of getting your preferred test date.
The first step is submitting your RFT (request for testing) form either online or in person at your child’s current NYC public school or at a Family Welcome Center (if your child is a non-public school or charter student). All RFTs must be submitted by November 12. (The original deadline of November 9 was extended, the Department of Education announced on Nov. 5)
Here's an overview of gifted and talented programming, testing procedures and—as always—advice to help your family navigate the process.
Sixty-six percent of eligible students who applied to G&T (gifted and talented) programs in 2015 received offers today, up from 2014 when 60 percent of applicants received offers. Fewer students applied this year: 7,242 students in grades k–3 applied for a spot, a decrease from 8,010 applications last year.
Incoming kindergartners—the first entry point for gifted programs—had the best chance of gaining a seat: nearly 80 percent of the applicants received an offer, as compared to only 36 percent of 3rd-graders.
As in previous years, admission to one of the five citywide G&T programs eludes most eligible students. While more than 1,500 kindergarten test-takers scored high enough—97th percentile or better—to qualify for a citywide seat, there are only about 325 slots. Most offers go to children who score in the 99th percentile, or to eligible siblings of current citywide G&T students. The DOE has not yet released figures for how many were offered a citywide G&T seat this year, but last year roughly 300 earned a spot.
With all of the hoopla that accompanies G&T testing for rising kindergartners every spring, it’s easy to forget that there are opportunities for older elementary school students too. If you have a rising 4th- or 5th-grader who is ready for more of an academic challenge, this Friday, May 22 is the last day to apply for a gifted and talented program for fall 2015.
Unlike applications for the younger grades, the RFP (request for placement) for 4th- and 5th-graders must be made in person at a Family Welcome Center. There is no special test; instead a student’s eligibility is based on three main factors, all weighed equally:
1. The 2015 NYS English language arts and math exam scores
2. 2015 report card grades
3. A form, "Descriptors of Exceptional Characteristics,” filled out by the child’s teacher
After you submit an RFP for your child, the Department of Education will collect all the information including test scores, grades and teacher recommendations and will notify families of their child’s eligibility in late summer. Student’s who qualify will receive an application to submit, along with a list of all G&T programs with seats available for 4th- and 5th-graders.
There were few surprises in today's release of the numbers of children who qualified for the city's elementary gifted and talented programs. Hundreds of kids qualified from Manhattan's districts 2 and 3, compared to only a dozen from District 7 in the South Bronx, according to statistics released Monday afternoon by the Department of Education.
In total, 25 percent of the 36,413 test-takers entering kindergarten through 3rd grade were eligible for a district or citywide gifted program, just slightly below the 26 percent who were eligible last year.
The number of incoming kindergartners who scored in the 99th percentile—the score usually necessary for a chance at entry into one of the five coveted citywide G&T schools—fell from 985 in 2014 to 689 in 2015. Children who score at or above the 90th percentile are eligible for a district G&T program; those who score between the 97 and 99th percentile are eligible for a citywide gifted school. But since there are only about 300 seats in the citywide programs, students who don't score in the top percentile have little chance of getting in.
This weekend, thousands of 8th and 9th graders will be presenting art portfolios, delivering monologues, dancing and singing in an effort to win admission to the elite “Fame” school, Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music and Art and Performing Arts. But some parents and faculty say that the performances the students have been preparing for months may have less influence than the state English and math tests they took last spring.
Parents of several students who applied for admission last year said their children did well on their auditions but were rejected on the basis of their academic performance or attendance. Students applying to the school in September 2014 were the first seeking admission since Dr. Lisa Mars, a former assistant principal at Townsend Harris High School,became principal in 2013. The school's admissions director, Mark Neidorff left last spring after four years in the job.
LaGuardia is one of the city's nine specialized high schools, whose admissions process is set by the state. But while the other eight admit students entirely on the basis of an exam, the state law says children applying to LaGuardia "shall be required to pass competitive exams in music and/or the arts in addition to presenting evidence of satisfactory achievement."
All pre-kindergarten through 2nd-graders are eligible to be tested for the city's gifted and talented programs—but the overwhelming number of test applicants come from Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens. Bronx children are tested at the lowest rate in the city, and some say it's because efforts to reach them are lacking.
"Information is not being disseminated widely," said Bronx parent Jonathan Ettrick, whose two children attended citywide G&T schools in Manhattan.
The tests are free but parents must fill out a short form called a Request For Testing (RFT). Families may submit online or at an enrollment office. The deadline to sign up for G&T testing for the 2015-2016 school year is midnight, Nov. 7th is Wednesday, Nov. 12. The Department of Education announced on Nov. 6 that it had extended the deadline from Nov. 7.
Ahh, it’s that time of year again. The pumpkins are out, and sunscreen and sandals have given way to light jackets and boots. There’s no denying it: gifted and talented testing is upon us.
Two years ago, I documented my elder son’s attempt to penetrate the exciting, if somewhat notorious world of gifted and talented testing in New York City. Several Pearson debacles and rejection letters later, our son ended up happy and thriving at a wonderful neighborhood school. And although the G&T testing experience taught me a great deal and yielded a few laughs, I secretly vowed then that unless my youngest son was clearly a savant—say, reciting Chaucer and analyzing Bayesian statistics—I’d spare him the hours seated with strangers asking him weird questions.
My husband disagrees. In his opinion, “Delta Force”—my sweet little powerhouse of a 4-year-old—gets the shaft in everything. He wears his brother's old shoes and gets less attention, so how dare we deny him this opportunity. "And besides," he explained, "I want to know how smart he is."
(Note: Post updated on Sept. 17, 2014)
Mayor Bill de Blasio has hinted that his administration will change the admissions procedures sometime in the future—not this year—at the five specialized high schools established during the Bloomberg administration, which are not governed by state law: Brooklyn Latin; High School of American Studies at Lehman College; High School for Math, Science and Engineering at City College; Queens High School for the Sciences at York College; and Staten Island Tech.
The changes would address concerns that declining numbers of black and Latino students are accepted at the elite specialized schools that use the Specialized High School Admissions Test (SHSAT) as the sole criterion for admission.
No changes are planned for this year, and the SHSAT given on Oct. 25 and 26 will be basically the same as it's always been.
Even in the future, it's not likely that the SHSAT will be eliminated for the three older, exam-based specialized schools—Stuyvesant, Brooklyn Tech and Bronx Science—because that would require action in Albany. Some legislators have introduced bills to change the 1971 law that establishes the exam as the only admission criterion for these three schools, but the chance of passage appears slim. However, it looks likely that the test itself will change. The city's Department of Education has issued a request for proposals "to provide a standardized testing program which is designed to select students for admission into the specialized high schools." The new test would come into effect in 2015 and proposals are due by Oct. 23, 2014. There is a pre-proposal conference on Sept.29, 2014, at 10:30 am at 131 Livingston Street, Room 610 in Brooklyn.