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A gifted program in a poor area fights to survive, via test prep

When the city last year centralized admissions standards for gifted and talented programs, setting a single standard for all city programs, one goal was to open the programs up to a more diverse set of students. But, as Eduwonkette first pointed out and Elissa Gootman then reported in the Times, the result was the opposite: Although more students were tested for giftedness, poor children fared much worse on the admissions test. The low admit rates put gifted programs in poor neighborhoods at risk of shutting down; the city discontinues programs if there aren’t enough students eligible to join them.

Now, I’m hearing that at least one of the programs that’s in jeopardy is fighting back. Its strategy: stealthily test-prepping 4- and 5-year-olds for the admissions test, which students take in January. The program’s idea, described to me by an educator who asked to remain anonymous, is to zero in on pre-kindergarteners and kindergartners at the school that houses the program. If those students can learn to score well on the gifted test, called the OLSAT, the program might survive.

There’s nothing unique about prepping children for the test. Tutoring companies offer just that service to families that can afford it. But at this program, the educator I spoke to said she’s doing the homework herself, studying the OLSAT and buying prep materials that matched the kinds of skills it demands.