NYC’s ‘gifted and talented’ application timeline moves up

Kindergarten students at Brooklyn School of Inquiry, the first citywide gifted and talented program to join the city’s diversity efforts, learn how to read a number line in Nov. 2016.
Kindergarten students at Brooklyn School of Inquiry, a citywide gifted and talented program to join the city’s diversity efforts. The timeline for gifted and talented applications will move up this year. (Christina Veiga / Chalkbeat)

Families vying for kindergarten spots in New York City’s “gifted and talented” program next fall will submit applications and receive admissions decisions earlier than in previous years, under changes announced Wednesday by the education department.

In a departure from the past timeline, applications for the coveted gifted and talented seats are slated to open Dec. 7, at the same time as applications for traditional kindergarten programs. Families will have until Jan. 20 to select gifted programs on the same online application as other programs. 

Admissions decisions will be released in April, education department officials said. 

The city expects to have 2,500 gifted seats for next year’s rising kindergarten class, with preschoolers selected through teacher evaluations instead of the pre-pandemic practice of testing 4-year-olds. 

“This process may be a family’s first interaction with our schools, and it’s important we get it right and make it welcoming and easy,” said education department first deputy chancellor Dan Weisberg in a statement. “This year’s changes to the kindergarten application process will increase access to gifted and talented programming and make the process easier for families.”

The application process changes are the latest in a series of reforms to the program that has attracted fierce criticism for its segregating effects. In 2020, only 11%% of students who received offers to gifted programs were Black and Hispanic, compared to 66% of public school kindergarteners citywide.

The pandemic threw gifted admissions into disarray, with a stunning vote in January 2021 by the city’s Panel for Educational Policy, a supervisory board that approves education department expenditures, that canceled the contract for the entrance exam given to 4-year-olds. That move forced the city to shift gears.

Under former Mayor Bill de Blasio, the city switched to an admissions system based on teacher recommendations and a lottery, with plans to eventually phase out all separate gifted and talented classes altogether.

When Mayor Eric Adams and schools Chancellor David Banks took office, they reversed de Blasio’s plan, opting to preserve and expand the separate gifted and talented track, but did not bring back the entrance exam.

Banks added 100 seats to the kindergarten program and 1,000 seats to a separate gifted program that starts in third-grade, and selects students based on their second-grade marks.

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Banks argued at the time that adding the seats and ensuring that every geographic school district had options would “provid[e] more opportunities for accelerated learning to more families, while providing an equitable, fair process to identify the students who will excel with accelerated learning.”

The shift to a teacher recommendation and lottery-based admissions system noticeably shifted the demographics, more than doubling the share of Black and Hispanic students admitted for the 2021-2022 school year compared to the prior year. 

Officials did not immediately provide demographics of students who received offers to the program this year.

Families have pushed for years to move up the timeline for the admissions process to gifted and talented programs, which aims to place students deemed to need accelerated instruction in separate schools and classes.

Prior to the pandemic, when admission to the program was determined by a single entrance exam, students typically sat for the test in January, got the results back later in the spring, and then submitted applications. Admissions decisions typically came in June, weeks after the city sent out general kindergarten offers.

The gifted admissions process has been in flux over the past two years because of pandemic disruptions and reform efforts, further pushing back the timeline.

Education department officials said they heard feedback from families asking to move up the timeline to make it easier to plan for the coming year.

Applications for middle and high schools, which are run through a separate process and are not related to gifted and talented applications, are due Thursday.

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