sorting the students

Fewer children make gifted cut for a second year, while inequities persist

The share of children qualifying for seats in the city’s gifted programs fell slightly for a second year following a change meant to both reduce the influence on test preparation in gifted admissions and improve the diversity of admitted students.

But most of the eligible children continued to come from affluent school districts compared to the city’s poorest districts, according to data that the Department of Education released on Monday.

City officials informed the families of 9,099 children that they are eligible to apply to one of the city’s district or citywide gifted and talented programs. That’s just under 25 percent of all students who took screening exams this winter seeking entry into the advanced classes, which admits students in kindergarten through third grade.

The passing rate is down from 32 percent two years ago, when the city added a new non-verbal test and decreased the weight of a verbal test that had previously counted for a majority of a student’s score. Last year’s screening weighed a student’s verbal and non-verbal skills equally, and just 26 percent of children were eligible. This year, no changes were made.

As usual, the most test-takers and the best passing rates came from school districts with more affluent enclaves. In Districts 2 and 3, which includes the Upper East and West Sides and much of Manhattan below 59th Street, 2,122 children — or 43 percent of those screened — hit the eligibility bar. Both districts have among the smallest shares of low-income students than any of the city’s 32 districts.

Conversely, a total of 357 students living in the city’s eight poorest districts — which include neighborhoods in Bushwick, South Bronx, Brownsville, East Harlem, and East New York — met the standards.  That represented just 11 percent of all students who took the exam, two and a half times under the city average.

“It’s critical that every student gets a fair shot at these unique programs, and that the Gifted and Talented test is accessible to all our students and their families while maintaining the same high standards,” said Department of Education spokesman Harry Hartfield.

The slight decline could have been in part because fewer students, particularly from some of the higher income districts, took the exam than in previous years.

The results came as education officials said the department would retain Pearson as its testing vendor for the gifted exams for at least another year. The testing company had a $5.5 million contract that runs until the end of this school year and officials had indicated they were looking to end the relationship after it botched scoring of the city’s 2013 gifted exams.

Families whose children are eligible now have until April 23 to apply for a slot, officials said. More than 2,000 students scored in the 97th percentile, meaning they can apply to one of six elite citywide gifted and talented programs; the remaining children can apply to less competitive programs in their home districts.

Meeting the eligibility bar is no guarantee of admission, however. Last year, only 60 percent of eligible students were offered a gifted seat.

Meanwhile, Chancellor Carmen Fariña has sought to downplay the allure of the city’s gifted programs during her tenure, saying that she hopes to make local neighborhood schools more attractive for parents to attend. The department’s spokesman emphasized that message again on Monday.

“Gifted and Talented Programs are just one of many high-quality elementary school options available to families across the City,” Harfield said.

What's Your Education Story?

As the 2018 school year begins, join us for storytelling from Indianapolis educators

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy/Chalkbeat
Sarah TeKolste, right, and Lori Jenkins at a Teacher Story Slam, in April.

In partnership with Teachers Lounge Indy, Chalkbeat is hosting another teacher story slam this fall featuring educators from across the city.

Over the past couple of years, Chalkbeat has brought readers personal stories from teachers and students through the events. Some of our favorites touched on how a teacher won the trust of her most skeptical student, why another teacher decided to come out to his students, and one educator’s call to ramp up the number of students pursuing a college education.

The event, 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 13, is free and open to the public — please RSVP here.

Event details:

5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018
Tube Factory artspace
1125 Cruft St., Indianapolis, IN 46203
Get tickets here and find more on Facebook

More in What's Your Education Story?

School safety

Hiring more security officers in Memphis after school shootings could have unintended consequences

PHOTO: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Tennessee’s largest district, Shelby County Schools, is slated to add more school resource officers under the proposed budget for next school year.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson earmarked $2 million to hire 30 school resource officers in addition to the 98 already in some of its 150-plus schools. The school board is scheduled to vote on the budget Tuesday.

But an increase in law enforcement officers could have unintended consequences.

A new state law that bans local governments from refusing to cooperate with federal immigration officials could put school resource officers in an awkward position.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen recently reminded school personnel they are not obligated to release student information regarding immigration status. School resource officers employed by police or sheriff’s departments, however, do not answer to school districts. Shelby County Schools is still reviewing the law, but school board members have previously gone on the record emphasizing their commitment to protecting undocumented students.

“Right now we are just trying to get a better understanding of the law and the impact that it may have,” said Natalia Powers, a district spokeswoman.

Also, incidents of excessive force and racial bias toward black students have cropped up in recent years. Two white Memphis officers were fired in 2013 after hitting a black student and wrestling her to the ground because she was “yelling and cussing” on school grounds. And mothers of four elementary school students recently filed a lawsuit against a Murfreesboro officer who arrested them at school in 2016 for failing to break up a fight that occurred off-campus.

Just how common those incidents are in Memphis is unclear. In response to Chalkbeat’s query for the number and type of complaints in the last two school years, Shelby County Schools said it “does not have any documents responsive to this request.”

Currently, 38 school resource officers are sheriff’s deputies, and the rest are security officers hired by Shelby County Schools. The officers respond and work to prevent criminal activity in all high schools and middle schools, Hopson said. The 30 additional officers would augment staffing at some schools and for the first time, branch out to some elementary schools. Hopson said those decisions will be based on crime rates in surrounding neighborhoods and school incidents.

Hopson’s initial recommendation for more school resource officers was in response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people and sparked a wave of student activism on school safety, including in Memphis.

Gov. Bill Haslam’s recent $30 million budget boost would allow school districts across Tennessee to hire more law enforcement officers or improve building security. Measures to arm some teachers with guns or outlaw certain types of guns have fallen flat.

For more on the role and history of school resource officers in Tennessee, read our five things to know.

Sheriff’s deputies and district security officers meet weekly, said Capt. Dallas Lavergne of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. When the Memphis Police Department pulled their officers out of school buildings following the merger of city and county school systems, the county Sheriff’s Office replaced them with deputies.

All deputy recruits go through school resource officer training, and those who are assigned to schools get additional annual training. In a 2013 review of police academies across the nation, Tennessee was cited as the only state that had specific training for officers deployed to schools.