On last year’s New York City Department of Education gifted and talented assessment, thousands of pre-kindergarteners scored high enough to be eligible for approximately 275 kindergarten slots at popular “citywide” gifted and talented elementary schools. These coveted programs are available only to children who qualify by scoring at or above the 97th percentile on a short placement test.
But because of high demand every year, the seats are awarded by lottery almost entirely to children who score at the 99th percentile.
In a school system of over 1 million students, Chancellor Dennis Walcott has now responded to this overwhelming imbalance — not by increasing the number of G&T; programs, but by revising admissions rules for siblings.
Walcott's solution is to alter D.O.E.'s slight preference that affords automatic placement for qualifying siblings of children who already attend citywide G&T; programs. This affects a handful of seats each year at schools like Brooklyn School of Inquiry, which our children attend.
The D.O.E. currently uses a lottery for all qualifying children, which seems to acknowledge the limits of two placement tests given together during less than an hour. Instead, the proposal to be voted on Thursday night by the Panel for Educational Policy would mean prospective kindergarteners are ranked by aptitude on the tests, with those achieving the highest adjusted raw scores admitted.
By attempting to make minute distinctions among the abilities of hundreds of young children already within the 99th percentile, the D.O.E. is endowing the test with an ability its authors have never claimed, let alone demonstrated. It assures an explosion of test prep, mostly within affluent families, among kids who can’t even tie their shoes. The D.O.E. will make no attempt to keep families together - even twins must have the exact same score to be placed together.
The fact is, sibling preference exists in nearly every N.Y.C. public school and for good reason: without it, life becomes a series of logistical hurdles. Can you get from work in time to pick one kid up and meet the bus for the other one? Can you afford to pay two babysitters for pick-up at schools miles from each other?
At citywide gifted and talented schools, the majority of siblings do not make the cut for entrance. That’s a risk all families with multiple children take when they sign up for these programs. But by denying seats to qualified students - perhaps even those in the upper reaches of the 99th percentile - Chancellor Walcott is granting numbers an artificial power at the expense of other important values.
We believe that choice will have damaging consequences. Even under the old policy, every year families pull older children out of G&T; programs where they are thriving because a younger sibling hasn’t qualified and they can’t manage the schedules of two children going to schools miles away from each other. Not surprisingly, the families forced to make these difficult choices are disproportionately low-income and often of color.
By eliminating the existing mild sibling preference, this new policy virtually ensures that many more families will be faced with similar dilemmas. G&T; programs will become an enclave of the wealthy - those who can afford thousands of dollars a year for bus pick-up service, private taxis or after-school babysitters.
What’s the solution? Every month the D.O.E seems to find space to house another few charter schools. Surely it can find space for more G&T; programs.
Matt Kovaleski is a member of the Brooklyn School of Inquiry’s Parent Teacher Organization. Willow Lawson is a member of PACE, the Parents Alliance for Citywide Education (citywideschools.org)