By ANNA M. PHILLIPS
Nearly 5,000 children qualified for gifted and talented kindergarten seats in New York City public schools in the fall, 22 percent more than last year and more than double the number four years ago, setting off a fierce competition for the most sought-after programs in the system.
On their face, the results, released on Friday by the Education Department, paint a portrait of a city in which some neighborhoods appear to be entirely above average. In Districts 2 and 3, which encompass most of Manhattan below 110th Street, more students scored at or above the 90th percentile on the entrance exam, the cutoff point, than scored below it.
But experts pointed to several possible reasons for the large increase. For one, more middle-class and wealthy parents are staying in the city and choosing to send their children to public schools, rather than moving to the suburbs or pursuing increasingly expensive private schools. And the switch to a test-based admissions system four years ago has given rise to test-preparation services, from booklets costing a few dollars to courses costing hundreds or more, raising concerns that the test’s results were being skewed. …
Of the children who scored high enough on the entrance exam to be eligible for a gifted program, more than half — 2,656 — qualified for the five most selective schools by scoring at or above the 97th percentile. But those schools — three in Manhattan and one each in Brooklyn and Queens — have only about 400 kindergarten seats. The rest of the 4,912 children qualified for one of the dozens of gifted programs spread throughout the five boroughs.
A.K.A., the Loser Gifted Programs for Loser Children of Loser Parents who Don’t Love Their Children Enough to Figure Out How to Get Them into the Golden 400.
Gifted programs generally offer an accelerated curriculum, as well as the opportunity to be around other high-performing children.
Keep in mind, we’re talking about high-performing kindergarteners here.
The city did not provide a racial breakdown of students who qualified, but as in years past, the more affluent districts — 2 and 3 in Manhattan, in neighborhoods west and south of Prospect Park in Brooklyn, and in northeastern Queens — had the most students qualify. In District 2, 949 children qualified for a gifted program, far more than in any other district.
District 2 starts at about 96th St. on the Upper East Side and includes all of Manhattan south of Central Park, except, amazingly enough, Alphabet City on the Lower East Side. (And even that’s gentrifying.)
In District 3, 505 children qualified. By contrast, in District 7, in the South Bronx, only six children qualified for gifted placements and none for the five most exclusive schools.
Two orders of magnitude difference.
Every year since 2008, when the city put the current testing program into effect and 2,230 students qualified for seats in gifted and talented kindergarten classes, the number of children scoring at or above the 90th percentile has steadily grown. The chancellor in 2008, Joel I. Klein, made the change to standardize the admissions process, replacing a system in which each district set its own standards for entry, a process that drew criticism from parents who said favoritism sometimes played a role.
When school supremo Joel Klein made the switch to pure test-based admissions, using tests would obviously have a huge disparate impact effect. But, Klein didn’t know or didn’t care, because kindergarten admissions is serious stuff where testing is too crucial to be sacrificed on the altar of racial equality. This isn’t something trivial like saving people from burning skyscrapers, this is NYC kindergarten admissions, and don’t you forget it. Different rules apply.
But the new process has come under scrutiny for its complete reliance on the test — actually two exams, the Otis-Lennon School Ability Test, or Olsat, a reasoning exam, and the Bracken School Readiness Assessment, a knowledge test.
In January, the city awarded Pearson a three-year contract for roughly $5.5 million to replace the Bracken exam with the Naglieri Nonverbal Ability Test, which city education officials contend will better measure ability.
Isn’t it weird that this is a golden age for the psychometric industry? Standardized tests are constantly denounced, yet governments keep shoveling more money to testing firms to create new tests that will Finally Get It Right. These firms have achieved the perfect marketing equilibrium.
The contract places restrictions on Pearson’s ability to sell its test materials to anyone outside the Education Department, to make it harder for test-preparation companies to get their hands on them.
Oh, well, that will stop New York City test prep firms dead in their tracks.
… Always on the alert for changes to admissions policies, some tutoring companies, true to the nature of their profession, are prepared for it.
One of the companies, Aristotle Circle, already offers a $300 “test preparation and enrichment kit” designed for the Naglieri and similar exams.
“You can build a better mousetrap, it doesn’t matter,” said Suzanne Rheault, one of Aristotle’s founders. “There’s no way you can stop it because now the idea of preparing for the kindergarten test is totally the norm. The stakes are so high.”