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Children Who Ace City's Gifted Test Outnumber Seats 4 to 1

Friday, April 20, 2012 - 06:15 PM

“We just said goodbye to our last 175,” said Donna Taylor, principal of the Brooklyn School of Inquiry, referring to the 175 parents who toured her school in a single day — the last of the 800 she had shown around the building in the days leading up to Friday, the deadline for families to apply to gifted and talented programs.

But unlike the private school admissions process, in which parents try to charm admissions officers, there is little point in trying to make a good impression on Ms. Taylor.

On Friday, officials at New York City’s Education Department announced that the number of children who earned top scores on the admissions tests for gifted and talented programs had risen by 47 percent this year, virtually assuring that children who were not at the top end of scorers would be shut out of the most selective schools, like Ms. Taylor’s.

This was unwelcome news to the parents who had assumed that a score in the 99th percentile would guarantee their child a seat in one of the five most selective schools, which enroll children from across the city. But this year, for every available seat, those schools could see four applications from children who scored in the 99th percentile on the two exams the city uses for gifted and talented admissions.

Technically, the 2,656 preschoolers who scored at or above the 97th percentile this year are all eligible to attend one of the five citywide gifted and talented schools: the Anderson School, the Brooklyn School of Inquiry, TAG Young Scholars, STEM Academy at Public School 85, and NEST+m (New Explorations into Science, Technology and Math). But the number of children earning top scores on the exam has increased competition.

This year, scoring in the 99th percentile qualified a child’s family to vie with 1,602 others for 400 seats in citywide schools. This was a 47 percent increase from last year, when 1,089 children scored at or above the 97th percentile, but city officials said they had no plans to open more schools or to add seats.

Those 400 seats are unlikely to go to children who scored below the 99th percentile, except for the siblings of students currently enrolled in a citywide school, who are guaranteed a spot if they score in the top 3 percent.

At the Brooklyn School of Inquiry, the only citywide gifted and talented program in Brooklyn, there has been overwhelming demand for years. The program has 44 open kindergarten seats for next year, and for the third year in a row, all of them will be filled by children who scored in the 99th percentile.

“I feel so bad when parents say, ‘My kid got a 97, what do you think?’” Ms. Taylor said. “And I don’t know what to think, but we haven’t had any 97s in the last two years.”

As recently as 2010, that was not the case at TAG Young Scholars in Harlem. It had fewer applicants than seats in 2010, so it had room for children in District 4 who scored in the 90th percentile.

But last year, District 4 was given its own gifted and talented program, and TAG Young Scholars got so many applicants that it had room only for students in the 99th percentile, a trend that city officials expect will continue.

The city’s Education Department oversees gifted and talented admissions, letting parents submit their ranked preferences and then holding lotteries to determine which children get in.

This year, nearly 5,000 children qualified for gifted and talented kindergarten seats at either a citywide or district school, a 22 percent increase from last year. Those scoring at or above the 90th percentile are eligible for one of the dozens of gifted programs in the five boroughs. Officials said they were still deciding whether they needed to add seats to the district programs.

Since those who score below the 99th percentile have little chance of getting into a citywide school, the Anderson School on the Upper West Side restricts tours to parents of children in that top percentile. STEM Academy in Astoria, Queens, limits tours to parents of children in the 98th and 99th percentiles.

Most of the growth has come from parts of Lower Manhattan, northeastern Queens and southern Brooklyn. By contrast, in one district in the South Bronx, no children qualified for the most selective schools this year.

In Districts 2 and 3, which include most of Manhattan below 110th Street, the number of children in the 99th percentile rose to 549 this year, from 389 last year. In District 20, which encompasses the Brooklyn neighborhoods of Bay Ridge, Borough Park and part of Sunset Park, the number of top-scoring children more than doubled to 134, from 62.

There are several possible reasons for the increase, including an influx of upper-middle-class families into the public school system — families who under better economic conditions might have paid to send their children to private schools.

Experts have also suggested that the city is experiencing a boom in private tutoring for school admissions, including gifted and talented programs, which test 4-year-old children.

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