The Education Department will administer an entrance exam for its gifted and talented programs to four-year-olds this spring -- but it will be the last time.
The city’s gifted and talented programs have become a flashpoint in recent years, as Mayor de Blasio has pledged to diversify city classrooms, which are among the nation’s most segregated.
Like the controversial specialized high school admissions process, entrance is determined by a single, high-stakes exam -- but in this case, an exam given to four-year-olds. Critics say that makes it a better determiner of privilege -- some toddlers are tutored for the test -- than of talent.
But the program has supporters from across the political spectrum -- and among many parents -- who have argued the city ought to increase the number of seats available rather than scrap it.
Students applying to attend city kindergartens in fall of 2021 will still take the exam this year, and it will be given in person beginning in April.
“For our youngest learners, we must move forward and develop a system that reimagines accelerated learning and enrichment,” NYC Department of Education spokeswoman Miranda Barbot said. “At the same time, we want to honor the fact that families have been planning kindergarten admissions for many months now. We will develop new plans for identifying and serving exceptional students and release them for the next enrollment cycle.”
A proposed contract for the test company Pearson to administer the exam was posted Tuesday evening, ahead of a vote by the Panel for Education Policy on January 27.
The test is normally given in January, but the department says families will receive scores in the early summer, and will have enough time to apply to gifted and talented programs before the school year start.
While the test will be scrapped next year, the future of the program is less clear; the DOE plans to spend the next year determining what it might look like through a community engagement process.
“We will spend the next year engaging communities around what kind of programming they would like to see that is more inclusive, enriching, and truly supports the needs of academically advanced and diversely talented students at a more appropriate age,” Barbot said. “We will also engage communities around how best to integrate enriched learning opportunities to more students, so that every student – regardless of a label or a class that they are in – can access rigorous learning that is tailored to their needs and fosters their creativity, passion, and strengths.”
In 2019, a task force assembled by the mayor to help increase diversity in schools recommended that the city no longer track students deem gifted and talented into separate classes from their peers. The task force was co-chaired by Maya Wiley, who is running for mayor.
The classes are disproportionately Asian and white compared to the school system at large: 20% of all kindergartners this school year were Asian, but Asian students accounted for 43% of kindergartners in gifted and talented programs. White students accounted for 20% of all kindergartners but 36% of gifted and talented students.
Meanwhile, while 40% percent of all kindergarten students are Hispanic, they make up only 8% of the kindergartners in gifted and talented. And while 17% of all kindergartners this year are Black, just 6% of gifted and talented kindergartners were Black.
The programs see high demand for comparatively few seats: about 15,000 students apply each year, for just 2,500 kindergarten slots. Those seats are seen as a track for getting into the city’s most competitive middle and high schools.
Students who are already in gifted and talented programs, and those who start this fall, will be able to complete their elementary school program.
While the mayor has been outspoken about his opposition to using a single, high-stakes test for high school admissions, he's previously not taken a clear stand on the gifted and talented exam. This change comes in the final year of his mayoralty, and would go into effect essentially as a new mayor takes office.