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Inequities grew after city fixed Pearson's G&T screening errors

Pearson’s errors when grading city students’ screening tests for gifted programs did not affect all test-takers equally.

Children in districts with many white and Asian families — who make up more than 70 percent of students in gifted programs, despite being just a third of the city’s student population — were most likely to have learned that their score was higher than they had been told, according to data the Department of Education released today. The good news came much more infrequently in districts that are heavily black and Hispanic.

The department announced nearly two weeks ago that Pearson, the testing company, had botched the scores of nearly 5,000 children who were screened for gifted programs. Instead of slightly fewer children qualifying than last year, as the department initially said had happened, children had met the eligible requirements at a record rate.

Today, the department released an updated breakdown of where children qualifying for gifted programs live. The data reinforce the fact that the department’s overhaul of the screening process — which included a test that was billed as harder to game — seems to have done little to chip away at longstanding inequities in the racial makeup of students in gifted programs.

Nearly 52 percent of children screened in Manhattan’s District 3, which includes the Upper West Side, posted scores high enough to make them eligible for gifted programs. In District 2, which includes the Upper East Side and most of Manhattan below 59th Street, that proportion was 50 percent. The department had originally said 44 and 41 percent of test-takers in those districts had qualified.

In District 7 in the South Bronx, just 13 percent of test-takers qualified after the regrading. Of 189 test-takers in the district, only six more children passed the screening test than Pearson originally said.

Two districts had students deemed eligible after regrading even less often. District 16, which includes the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn, and District 12 in the Bronx — long two of the city’s lowest-performing districts — had students move over the eligibility bar at the lowest rate, 2.14 percent. Heavily black and Hispanic districts generally saw their proportion of passing students increase by less than 5 percent.

Across the city, the scoring errors affected 7.5 percent of test-takers’ eligibility for gifted programs, and in districts with many middle-class families and Asian immigrants, more than 8 percent of students screened were deemed eligible after the error was fixed. In District 26 in Queens, which is packed with both populations, more than 10 percent of test-takers had been wrongly told they were not eligible.

The city standardized the admissions process for gifted programs in 2006 in an effort to increase equity in who attends them. But the city’s poorest districts have continually had the fewest students qualify under the standardized process, and several districts have routinely had too few students pass the screening test to warrant opening gifted programs.

Last week, Chancellor Dennis Walcott said the department would use $420,000 docked from Pearson because of the scoring errors to “support our schools, especially in areas where we have not been satisfied with the participation level of students of color in taking G&T [tests].”

While about the same number of Manhattan students took the gifted screening exam this year, the number of students screened in the other boroughs fell by about 10 percent, according to the department. A spokeswoman said the department would spend more in the future on recruitment and outreach with the help of community groups.

Another $80,000 docked from Pearson’s $5.5 million contract is being used to inform families about the errors and operate a hotline to answer their questions. The department released $55,000 to schools to run additional open houses for families that were newly notified that their children are eligible for gifted programs, according to a memo distributed today to principals by the department’s budget office.

Families have until May 10 to apply for gifted programs, a deadline that the department extended from April 19 after revealing Pearson’s errors late that day.

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