Gaps in gifted

New York City gifted programs show progress towards modest student diversity goals

PHOTO: Christina Veiga
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.

Some of New York City’s starkly segregated gifted programs are showing promise when it comes to meeting new diversity goals, according to city numbers released Friday.

But those goals, and the scale of the city’s integration efforts, are still modest in the face of the glaring underrepresentation of students in gifted programs who are poor, of color, homeless, or learning English as a new language. One school, for example, was able to meet its target by offering six seats to poor students, out of 49 that were available.

Six gifted programs have joined the city’s Diversity in Admissions initiative, which allows schools to set-aside seats for needy students. All of the programs except one met their targets for admissions offers, according to new data. Though the students have been offered admission, it remains to be seen whether they will enroll.

“We are working to make gifted and talented programs more accessible for students and families across the city,” education department spokesman Doug Cohen said in an emailed statement.

Gifted enrollment is almost a reverse image of the city’s demographics: Black and Hispanic students make up only 27 percent of enrollment in gifted classes, but they comprise close to 70 percent of students citywide. Students are admitted based on test scores, which most take when they are about 4 years old.

Matt Gonzales, a school integration advocate with the nonprofit Appleseed, said that set-asides will do little to spur integration as long as the city sticks to its admissions test for gifted, which few children in poor districts take or do well on. He said it’s time to rethink whether the city should have separate gifted programs at all.

“There’s been over a decade of efforts to reform and to shift, to tinker,” he said. “None of those have ever really made a significant change.”

Some programs are starting their integration efforts small. P.S. 77 Lower Lab School set-aside 12 percent of kindergarten seats for students who qualify for free- or reduced-price lunch, a commonly used measure of poverty. That meant that six poor students were offered admission for next year. The Upper East Side school only enrolls gifted students from kindergarten to grade five, and fewer than 6 percent are poor. Out of more than 350 students, only a single one is black.

While schools like Lower Lab are aiming to cultivate a more diverse student body, others have used the Diversity in Admissions initiative to preserve it. That may be the case at TAG Young Scholars in Harlem, which set aside 40 percent of admissions offers for kindergarten students who qualify for free- or reduced-price lunch. As a citywide gifted school, TAG requires top test scores on the gifted test, and its enrollment of poor students has dipped in the last five years — from almost 53 percent poor students to about 39 percent. Out of 50 admissions offers, 20 went to poor students.

The only school that didn’t meet its goal was P.S. 15 Roberto Clemente, which is part of a districtwide effort on the Lower East Side to integrate elementary schools. The District 1 school is aiming to enroll a less needy student population, and offer 67 percent of seats to students who are poor, live in temporary housing, or are learning English — in line with the district average.

But all of the its offers for the gifted program in kindergarten went to students who meet those criteria.

Naomi Peña, a parent on the Community Education Council in District 1, said it has been a challenge to convince a wider range of parents to consider the school. It serves a disproportionate share of homeless students, but has recently posted impressive test score gains and has a loyal following of parents.

“It’s just getting parents to look at the school. It’s frustrating because it sits in a location near public housing, and people have these preconceived notions,” she said. “Once they go, they love it.”

Below is a breakdown of how many students applied to gifted programs in each district for next year.

Since the districts vary widely in size, we compared the number of applicants with the overall kindergarten enrollment in each district last year. That gives us an estimate of the share of students vying for gifted programs in each district. So, only 1 percent of all kindergartners applied for a gifted program in District 10 in the Bronx, but more than 17 percent of kindergartners applied for a gifted program in District 2, which spans Lower Manhattan and the Upper East Side.

An important caveat about these numbers: The share may be a little off, since they are based on last year’s kindergarten enrollment data. The education department expects fewer kindergartners to enroll in the next school year — but those figures aren’t available yet.

We also included the poverty rate of all students in each district to compare how participation in gifted programs varies based on a student’s likely economic status (a breakdown of poverty rate among only kindergarten students wasn’t readily available.) As you can see, many of the poorest districts have the fewest gifted applicants, while some of the most affluent have among the most applicants.

* The share of program applicants represents the percentage of kindergarten students in the district who applied to a gifted program.

Future of Schools

Chicago Schools sets community meetings on controversial school inventory report

Chicago Public Schools is hosting a dozen workshops for community members focused on a controversial report about local schools that offers an unprecedented window into the assets — and problems — in certain neighborhoods.

The district published report, called the Annual Regional Analysis, in September. It shows that, in many areas of the city, students are skipping out on nearby options, with less than half of district students attending their designated neighborhood schools.

The school district and Kids First, the school-choice group that helped compile the report, maintain that the analysis is meant to help guide investments and empower communities to engage in conversations about their needs.

The report divides the school district into 16 “planning regions” showing where schools are, what programs they offer, how they are performing, and how people choose among the options available.

The meetings will start with a presentation on the report. They will include small-group discussions to brainstorm how Chicago Schools can invest in and strengthen schools. The first workshop is scheduled for Wednesday at Collins Academy High School.

While the school district has touted the detailed report as a resource to aid planning and community engagement, several groups have criticized the document and questioned the district’s intent.  The document has sparked fears among supporters of neighborhood schools that the district might use it to propose more school closings, turnarounds, and charter schools.

The parents group Raise Your Hand, the neighborhood schools’ advocacy group Generation All, and the community organizing group Blocks Together penned a letter recently scrutinizing the report’s reliance on school ratings, which are based largely on attendance and test scores.

“Research has shown that test scores and attendance tell us more about the socioeconomic status of the students’ communities rather than the teaching and learning inside the school itself,” they wrote. Chalkbeat Chicago first reported about the analysis in August after obtaining a copy of it. Yet, the document has sparked fears among supporters of neighborhood schools that it could be used to propose more school closings, turnarounds, and charter schools.

Here’s a list of the 12 community workshops, all of which all begin at 6 p.m.:

West Side Region: Oct. 17, Collins Academy High School

Greater Lincoln Park Region: Oct. 18, Lincoln Park High School

Greater Calumet Region: Oct. 22, Corliss High School

South Side Region: Nov. 7, Lindblom High School

Greater Stony Island Region: Nov. 8, Chicago Vocational Career Academy

Far Southwest Region: Nov. 13, Morgan Park High School

Far Northwest Side Region: Nov. 14, Steinmetz High School

Greater Milwaukee Region: Nov. 15, Wells High School

Greater Stockyards Region: Nov. 19, Kelly High School

Pilsen/Little Village Region: Nov. 26, Benito Juarez Community Academy

Greater Midway Region: Dec. 6, Curie Metropolitan High School

North Lakefront Region : Dec. 11, Roger C Sullivan High School

testing questions

‘The needle hasn’t moved’: Regents sound off on racial gaps in 2018 test scores

PHOTO: Getty Images/Kali9

New York State’s top education policymakers raised concerns Monday about whether the state is doing enough to address persistent racial gaps on state exams.

The discussion was the first opportunity the Board of Regents have had to discuss the results of last school year’s reading and math tests since they were released late last month. And while the Regents seemed to be in agreement that the gaps are problematic, there was little discussion of what to do about it beyond requesting more data.

The test scores released in September show just under 35 percent of black students statewide are proficient in reading, 17 points below their white peers. In math, the gap jumps to 25 points. (The gaps are similar for Hispanic students compared with their white peers.)

The gaps are even wider in New York City.

Regent Judith Johnson, who has repeatedly criticized the state tests for not reflecting student learning across different ethnic groups, said the education department is still not doing enough to analyze the causes of racial differences in proficiency on the grades 3-8 exams. Those gaps, Johnson said, will bring down the competitiveness of the American workforce.

“It’s absolutely based on poverty and color,” Johnson said. “That has not changed and that begs for analysis at this point.”

Commissioner MaryEllen Elia acknowledged “troubling gaps” on student achievement, but also said state officials, including the Regents, have been working on it for years. She also pushed back on the idea that the tests themselves aren’t useful, arguing they draw attention to issues of inequity.

“If we didn’t have an opportunity to see this, it wouldn’t be as high up in our mindsets,” she said.

While some gaps have narrowed slightly among certain student groups, it’s happening at a glacial rate, said Regent Luis Reyes. He pointed to a two-year period where the gap between Hispanic students and their white peers shrunk by about 1 percent on both math and English tests.

“One percent is not a revolution, it’s not a reform, it’s not a transformation,” Reyes said. “It’s ice age.”

Reducing an emphasis on state tests in how officials judge overall school performance is part of the education department’s plan under the federal Every Student Succeeds Act. In coming up with school ratings, officials will consider factors such as how often students are suspended, are absent from class, and how prepared they are for life after high school.

Regent Kathy Cashin said she wants to see teaching and learning take the main stage of the state’s education agenda. “The needle hasn’t moved for minority children in decades,” she said.

Elia emphasized that the test includes an essay and that it’s not “just a multiple choice test.” And she reminded the Regents that the math and English assessments are required by the federal government, but there are options to consider performance-based testing on science exams. Elia has previously shown some interest in an alternative science test.