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More students qualify for gifted programs; DOE credits outreach

Nearly 50 percent more incoming kindergartners scored high enough on two nationally normed assessments to be eligible for a seat in a gifted and talented program, according to data released today by the Department of Education. The percentage of test-takers who qualified also increased, from 18 to 22 percent.

The jump in participation shows that the standardized procedures the DOE established last year for admission to gifted programs are gaining traction, DOE spokesman Andrew Jacob told me today. “It reflects that families are more familiar with the way we’re running the admissions process,” he said.

The increased number of students eligible for gifted programs could be seen as a feather in the cap for the DOE, which has said it wants to expand access to gifted programs to children citywide, particularly in communities that have not had robust gifted programs in the past. Jacob told me the department this year ramped up its outreach to prekindergarten programs in districts where too few children took the tests and scored high enough last year to warrant opening programs.

“We wanted to find as many children as possible in the city who could meet the standard that we set,” he said.

In terms of sheer numbers, some of the biggest gains happened in districts that already enroll many children in gifted programs, including the districts comprising Staten Island and most of Manhattan below 96th Street.

Children are eligible to join a gifted program if they score in the 90th percentile or higher on two nationally normed assessments; children who score in the 97th percentile or higher can also apply to ultra-elite citywide programs.

The DOE has said it will add as many as 175 seats in citywide programs, bringing the total number to 435; a total of 1,345 incoming kindergartners scored high enough to jockey for coveted spots, ensuring that many families who apply to citywide programs will not be placed in them. The total number of students qualifying for gifted admission is 3,231. All of the children, including those who qualify for the more selective programs, are guaranteed a spot in a district program if they want one.

Families will receive their children’s scores this week. The next step is for families of eligible children to submit an application ranking the programs in their district and, if applicable, elsewhere in the city. The DOE will match families with programs based on their preferences and demand for each program and will let families know where they’ve been accepted by mid-June.

The department has said it expects applications to gifted programs to siphon away some of the enrollment crunch that has left families on the waiting list for their zoned school at more than 100 schools around the city. It will not be until the end of the school year, when families are required to accept or decline the gifted program they’ve been placed into, that waitlists at overenrolled schools should start moving, Jacob told me today.

The admissions process is substantially the same as last year, when it debuted to some rocky results, including a drop in the number of children in poor districts gaining admission to gifted programs. But there are some some changes, Jacob told me. First, he said that while the department hasn’t yet set a minimum number of students for a gifted class, the number will definitely be higher than the one used this year, when programs were permitted to open with as few as eight students.

Also, the DOE is trying to make it easier for families to evaluate their options. Last year, many parents reported finding it difficult to figure out which schools were holding open houses and when. This year, the DOE is maintaining a schedule of open houses for all schools that families of eligible children can rank.

Even with the increase, most families still do not participate in the gifted screening process. When the DOE first announced the standardized G&T admissions procedures last year, it said it planned to screen every child for eligibility this year. It dropped that plan last May as a result of budget cuts. Jacob told me today the decision to scrap universal screening was also a response to an outcry from some parents who said they did not want their children tested. He said the department is instead focusing on outreach to continue increasing the number of families seeking G&T screening.

From my conversations with parents, it’s clear that there is much room for improved outreach. When I was at the lottery for the Harlem Success network of charter schools two weeks ago, I asked all the parents I spoke to whether they had also had their children screened for gifted programs, in addition to applying for charter schools. Only one had, and several told me they didn’t know they had the option or found out about it only after the deadline had passed.

I spent way more time than I should have tonight looking at the numbers. Tomorrow, I’ll post a little more analysis about the data released today.

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