City parents reacted with anger and cynicism after the Department of Education acknowledged late on Friday that testing company Pearson made numerous mistakes in scoring the gifted and talented test used to determine which children can apply to some of the most competitive programs in the city's public schools.
"Shouldn't the headline be:' Pearson fails own test'?" Elizabeth Ellis wrote to SchoolBook.
The D.O.E. contacted families of 2,698 children, or 7.5 percent of all test takers, over the weekend to let them know that their students qualified for gifted and talented programs. Those families were originally told otherwise. The department also contacted the families of another 2,037 pupils, or 5.7 percent of test takers, to let them know that they qualified for the five citywide programs because their children had scored at the 97th percentile or higher.
Astoria parent Kristina Kirtley said her four-year-old daughter, Melia, initially scored at the 88th percentile on the combined exams, or two percentage points below the eligibility cut-off for a G&T; program in District 30. But over the weekend, she got an automated call saying her daughter did qualify for a district program.
"It seems outrageous to me that they would make such a big mistake," said Kirtley, referring to the multiple errors acknowledged by Pearson. The company released a statement Friday saying three different errors occurred in the scoring process for New York City's talented tests. The company called the errors "simply unacceptable."
Astoria parent, Rachel Paster, also got a call over the weekend. Her first grade son had missed the cut off for a district program by one point. She hadn't told him yet, because he really wanted to follow his older brother in the gifted and talented classes at P.S. 122. So she told him the news after getting the call.
"What we told him actually was 'you did even better than we thought and there's a possibility was you might get a seat,'" she said, adding, "These are kids, they have very fragile little psyches."
But she said her son was still upset. "When we told him the results had changed I think he was very suspicious that we were not being honest with him."
Among families whose children now qualify, relief was immediately offset by concerns that there are not enough seats. Approximately 11,700 children are eligible for the different gifted and talented programs this year, about 2,000 more than last year.
Districts may have several programs, but there's typically only one new class admitted per grade in each participating program; and in some districts there is much more demand than supply. There are just a few hundred seats in total each year for the five most competitive citywide gifted and talented programs. Even though all children who score at or above the 97th percentile are eligible, lotteries are typically held only for those in the 99th percentile.
Lower East side father Jason Goodrow found out his six-year-old son, who's in first grade at P.S. 64 Robert Simon, went from the 96th percentile to the 99th. He said he would apply to the NEST+m program again. His son didn't get in last year after scoring in the 99th percentile when he was in kindergarten.
"I think that it's less likely, and I also think that this whole correction that they're trying to do might be theater because they already received enough applications to fill up a couple of hundred gifted and talented seats so it wouldn't surprise me at all" if the decisions were already made by the city.
The Department of Education has extended the application deadline to May 10 but could offer no guarantee there would be seats for all the elgible G&T; students.
"Space constraints limit the number of G&T; seats that can be created," said D.O.E. spokeswoman Erin Hughes. "The D.O.E. will evaluate and see if there is the potential for additional sections at existing programs."
As for Pearson, the city said it would withhold $500,000 from its current contract, $80,000 of which would cover expenses for communications and outreach to families. The contract is worth $5.5 million over three years.
Parent Kristina Kirtley wondered aloud: "Can they use this money to pay for more G & T seats?"