More New York City children took tests to qualify for gifted and talented kindergarten programs this year. But the number of students scoring high enough to attend those programs remained about the same.
The latest figures, released Thursday, come at a time when the city is debating the best way to diversify the city’s gifted programs. While 70 percent of New York City students are black or Hispanic, less than 30 percent of gifted students are.
While the overall number of test-takers went down slightly, the number of entering kindergartners who took the test went up 14.5 percent, to a total of more than 16,500, according to the city Department of Education. There were increases in every school district of the Bronx, and 10 out of 12 districts in Brooklyn — both historically underrepresented areas. The department has increased its outreach, mailing postcards to families, for instance, and sharing information about gifted at the city’s pre-K centers.
Still, the number of students who scored high enough to qualify for gifted stayed the same. The city noted there are typically year-to-year fluctuations.
But Halley Potter, a senior fellow at The Century Foundation, a progressive think tank, pointed to a more systemic problem: The test itself poses a barrier for poor students, with scores reflecting uneven quality in pre-K programs or a lack of access to test prep, she said.
“The test is always going to be better at measuring social advantage than innate aptitude,” Potter said.
There have been similarly disappointing results in the city’s efforts to diversify elite specialized high schools, which base admissions on a single test. Though the city offered test prep programs and administered the test at a handful of middle schools in underrepresented communities, the number of black and Hispanic students who were offered admission to the schools didn’t budge this year. And the proportion of offers that went to black and Hispanic students stayed flat at just over 10 percent.
“It’s a paradox to think that some people aren’t doing well because some families aren’t getting into test prep, so we need more test prep,” Lazar Treschan, youth policy director at the Community Service Society, told Chalkbeat in March. “Test prep is the problem.”
The Bronx and Brooklyn borough presidents recently launched a task force to explore equity issues in both gifted and specialized high schools. They have argued that without access to gifted programs early on, black and Hispanic students are less likely to pass the specialized high school test.
“I am certainly happy that more kids from the Bronx are taking the test,” Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz said in a statement. “But there’s still a lot of work to be done to ensure that high-quality gifted and talented programs are available to children no matter where they live.”
New York City’s diversity problem in gifted programs can be traced back to changes made about a decade ago under former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, according to Clara Hemphill, director of education policy and editor of InsideSchools, a review website with a focus on equity.
Previously, admission rules were set by individual districts or schools. But Bloomberg moved to standardize admission based on national standards.
“Though this sounds fair, it works against bright kids in low income neighborhoods,” she said. “In low-income neighborhoods, you may be two or three years ahead of your classmates, but not two or three years ahead of the national norm.”
As a result, gifted programs in some communities disappeared since there weren’t enough students who passed the test to fill a gifted class. The education department, which is generally seen as reluctant to expand gifted education, recently opened new programs in Brooklyn, the Bronx and in one under-enrolled school on the Upper West Side.
Those programs don’t rely on the gifted test for admission. Rather, students are identified based on teacher recommendations and report card grades, and the program doesn’t start until third grade. This year, more than 1,800 students were identified as eligible to apply.
“We continue to review ways to ensure G&T testing is equitable,” education department spokesman Will Mantell wrote in an email, “and maintain the high standards of the program.”
Clarification: This story has been edited to clarify that roughly ten percent of offers to specialized schools went to black and Hispanic students. That is not the pass rate for black and Hispanic test-takers.