If city officials tried to make the exams for public school gifted and talented programs less susceptible to test preparation, in order to level the playing field, would anxious parents back off the tutoring?
That’s the question city parents are asking themselves, as they decide whether to enroll their children in test-preparation classes this fall, for G&T; tests starting in January.
Gifted and talented programs have become so popular that last spring there was a 47 percent increase in the number of children eligible for seats in the five most competitive citywide programs. More children were eligible for seats in district programs, too.
Several parents told SchoolBook they believe this is why the city changed the exams.
“To me it seems perfectly appropriate that if you only got a limited number of seats and you’re qualifying two or three times that number, it makes sense to have the test more difficult,” said David Gordon, whose daughter Sophia did not qualify for a G&T; kindergarten program but he’s looking to have her tested again next year for first grade.
This year, the Department of Education is replacing one of the two exams used to determine all gifted and talented placements with the Naglieri Nonverbal Ability Test. It will count for two thirds of a child’s score. The remaining third will be determined by verbal test items from the Otis-Lennon School Ability Test (OLSAT), which used to be given much greater weight. The D.O.E. said the OLSAT includes tasks such as detecting likenesses and differences, recalling words and numbers, defining words and following directions.
The D.O.E. did not comment when asked if the Naglieri test was introduced to reduce the number of eligible students. However, city officials have described the change as an attempt to level the playing field, because the old system gave an advantage to children whose families exposed them to lots of reading or early education.
“We think this is going to create opportunities for kids who speak other languages or haven’t had as much preparation to display their strengths,” said Chief Academic Officer Shael Polakow-Suransky, in an interview with Schoolbook earlier this fall.
Suransky said he believes it will be harder for parents to prepare their children for the Naglieri test because it relies more on conceptual and spacial skills which aren’t taught in formal settings as opposed to upper and lower-case letters, a subject often taught in pre-kindergarten classes.
But that hasn’t deterred the test prep companies.
Michael McCurdy, CEO and co-founder of TestingMom.com, which provides practice tests on its web site, said switching to the Naglieri test is a “significant” change.
“The types of questions that are on the Naglieri aren’t types of questions that most children have ever been exposed to in any shape or form,” he said.
A sample question on McCurdy’s web site asks a child to look at five squares that are each partially shaded to figure out which one is different.
McCurdy said his two year-old company has seen a surge in interest from parents, and will hold “emergency” meetings this week in Manhattan to explain the change in the exams. The Department of Education is also holding information sessions this week.
Bige Doruk, C.E.O. and president of Bright Kids NYC, which offers private tutoring and books, said the Naglieri is much more difficult than the test it replaced, which is called the Bracken School Readiness Assessment.
“It’s harder than teaching a child numbers and letters,” she said, adding that she agreed with the D.O.E. that Naglieri is a “better” test that's used by many other cities.
But she disagreed with those who say you can’t prep for a test that includes pattern recognition. “If you have a child that does a lot of puzzles at home they can recognize patterns easier,” she explained, adding that some children have more natural abilities than others or develop them at an earlier age.
The test prep industry for young children has been growing in New York City, and some parents believe it's become a necessary, if unfortunate, fact of life in place where well-regarded neighborhood schools are bursting at the seams and threatened by budget cuts. The G&T; programs are viewed as havens for extra enrichment.
Lisa Chamberlain said she would love for her daughter to attend kindergarten next fall at the Brooklyn School of Inquiry, a gifted and talented program that’s in high demand, because she worries her local school, P.S. 10 Magnet School of Math, Science and Design Technology, is overcrowded. She’s not sure if she would shell out the money for private tutoring but she is looking at online test-prep.
“I would say there’s no harm in prepping for anything,” she said.
However, Nilde Leo – whose daughter attends kindergarten at P.S. 122 Mamie Fay in Astoria – said she would not pay for a test prep class in order to get her into the school’s gifted and talented classes. “They’re five, they should be playing,” she said, adding “the homework she’s getting is enough from school.”
David Gordon, who said his five year-old daughter is happy in kindergarten at P.S. 278 Paula Hedbavny in Inwood, said he will have her tested again just to give her more options next year. He said he and his wife don’t want to pay a thousand dollars for tutoring at Bright Kids, but he will look into other options. He also expressed concern that the city’s attempt to level the playing field by changing a test won’t work so long as middle and upper-class parents continue to pay for test prep.
“I think that test prep should be available to everybody,” he said, adding that private tutoring only puts up another road block between children of different socioeconomic groups.
Children as young as four years old can be tested for kindergarten up to third grade programs starting in January. The deadline for registering for the exams is November 9.