The percentage of children eligible for gifted and talented programs who received an offer declined precipitously this year, according to data released by the city's Department of Education. But the city says it's largely because so many more children tested well enough to compete for the sought-after seats.
A total of 5217 children entering kindergarten through third grade received offers, which was 54 percent of those who applied. Last year, 72.5 percent of those who applied received an offer, and more than three quarters received offers in 2011.
Department of Education spokesman Devon Puglia said in a statement that there were two reasons why the percentage of applicants who received an offer dropped so much this year:
"First, the number of eligible applicants rose by 2,232 compared to last year. Second, this year we did not guarantee a G&T; district seat for every student. We have found that in past years, many families opted not to take their offer, since it may not have been close enough to home for families with young children. Last year, only 58.5% of families accepted. As such, eliminating the guaranteed offer, which many families likely would not have accepted, contributed to the lower percentage of students receiving an offer this year."
The testing company Pearson admitted to making two different rounds of scoring errors this spring, after which it apologized and agreed to refund the city for part of its fees. Chancellor Dennis Walcott also said he would consider terminating the contract with Pearson ahead of schedule.
Children are only eligible to apply for seats in district gifted and talented programs if they score at or above the 90th percentile, and only those who score at or above the 97th percentile are eligible to compete for the five highly selective citywide programs, which include NEST+M in Manhattan.
This year, the Department of Education changed one of the tests that's used to determine eligibility, in an effort to increase diversity and reduce the benefits of test prep. But once again, District 2 in Manhattan had the most offers among children entering kindergarten, who make up the majority of those tested. More than half of the 842 children who applied were offered seats. District 2 also had the greatest number of students tested: 1794 children entering kindergarten.
The Upper West side, District 15 around Park Slope in Brooklyn, District 25 in Eastern Queens, and Staten Island also received high numbers of offers.
By contrast, only 69 entering kindergarten students were tested in District 7 of the South Bronx, 24 of whom were eligible. Just eight of those applied and seven were given offers.
The Department of Education stood by its efforts to expand its gifted and talented programs. It noted that it's increased the number of kindergarten sections citywide, and that it's been able to offer seats to many more kindergarten pupils in the past five years.
“Since 2007, we have almost doubled the number of kindergarten Gifted & Talented sections, and that’s as we’ve created two new citywide programs," said Senior Deputy Chancellor Marc Sternberg, in a statement. "We try to make offers to as many families as possible, but our Gifted & Talented programs are just one part of the wide menu of school options we’ve created for parents. A great neighborhood school or program can deliver instruction that is just as good as any Gifted & Talented program. Our goal is a great school everywhere - and that’s what we’ve strived to provide.”