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After screening overhaul, applicants qualify for G&T more often

UPDATE: Two weeks after releasing these data, the Department of Education revealed that an error by Pearson, the company that administered the screening tests, meant that thousands of students had been wrongly deemed ineligible for gifted programs.

Amid efforts to make the screening tests for the city’s gifted and talented programs harder to game, the proportion of test-takers who met the city’s eligibility threshold actually climbed this year, according to Department of Education data released today.

After more children than ever passed the screening tests last year by scoring at or above the 90th percentile on two assessments, the city announced that it would reduce the weight of a test that emphasized verbal skills, which was seen as favoring students from middle-class, English-speaking families, and introduce a new test that would be harder to prepare for. The new assessment, the Naglieri Nonverbal Ability Test, counted for 65 percent of students’ scores.

But test prep companies, who had been doing a brisk business readying 4- and 5-year-olds for the tests the city introduced in 2008, quickly adapted their offerings. And in the city’s wealthiest districts, the appetite for gifted programs remained strong, with only slightly fewer families opting for the screening this year.

Overall, 8 percent fewer children took the screening tests, and test-takers qualified for five elite citywide gifted programs at a significantly lower rate.

But the proportion of students screened who scored in the 90th percentile or higher rose to more than 25 percent this year, from less than 24 percent last year, and districts that historically have not had many students qualify fared poorly again.

Indeed, in those districts — the city’s poorest —  far fewer students were screened for giftedness. In East New York (District 23), 30 percent fewer children were screened for gifted programs. In the South Bronx (Districts 7 and 9), 28 percent fewer children were screened than last year. Altogether, in the four districts where qualifying scores have historically been so scarce that the city has not opened gifted programs, just 47 children scored high enough to make them eligible for admission — five fewer than last year.

In the end, the 9,020 students who scored higher than 90 percent on the city’s two tests was just less than last year’s total — 9,416 — but still far higher than the number of qualifying students in 2011, when 7,906 students made the cut. And the total is still 70 percent more than in 2008, when the city first turned to a standardized application process for its elementary school gifted programs in a quest for equity.

But while the number of students posting scores over the 90th percentile fell by just 4 percent, the number of students qualifying for the five elite gifted programs dropped by nearly 20 percent.

Those programs — which are located in Manhattan, Queens, and Brooklyn — have just under 300 seats for students who scored at or above the 97th percentile, so once again students are unlikely to land a seat unless their score puts them in the 99th percentile of test-takers. This year, 1,363 students landed in that range, or 3.7 percent of the students screened, down from 5.5 percent last year.