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With New Gifted and Talented Rules, Who Wins and Loses?

| 6 Comments
"Today, there’s limited access to gifted and talented education in some districts. The opposite is true in other districts. We want to create universal opportunity—and dramatically increase the numbers of students testing for, and hopefully entering, gifted and talented programs."

-Joel Klein, October 29, 2007 Press Release


This fall, New York City adopted a uniform system for gifted and talented admissions. Educational equity, we were told, was the reason for this reform; New York City has long operated a decentralized network of gifted programs, and the conventional wisdom is that more affluent community districts had more than their fair share of these programs. Tapping into this debate, Joel Klein framed his reform as a mechanism to increase access to poor and minority kids.

Last week, the Department of Education released the number of kids qualifying for gifted and talented programs by community school district (those scoring at or above the 90th percentile on the OLSAT and Bracken School Readiness Assesment qualified). The DOE did not release socioeconomic or demographic breakdowns, but one way to get at the equity question is to look at which districts won and lost under the new system.

Did poor kids gain ground? The graph below, which plots the percent change in the number of students offered gifted seats in the entry grades against the percentage of students qualifying for free lunch in the district suggests that the answer is no. On average, districts with higher proportions of poor kids saw declines in gifted admissions. Districts above the red line gained seats, while those below the red line lost seats.

Percent%20change%20GT%20Seats%20vs.%20Free%20Lunch.png


Here's a closer look: in Washington Heights' District 6, 80 students are currently enrolled in kindergarten G&T classes, but only 50 have been offered seats next year. In Manhattan's more advantaged District 2, 174 students are enrolled in G&T kindergarten this year, but 371 have been offered seats for next year. District 3, which includes the Upper West Side, saw increases from 192 to 310 students. In District 9 in the South Bronx, the number of seats declined from 37 to 11. (Footnote: It's possible that admitted students in more advantaged districts will enroll in private school at higher rates, so the gains may not be as pronounced as they appear here. With available data, we can only compare the number of students admitted for fall 2008 with those enrolled this year. Also, my free lunch numbers are from the 2005 School Report Cards; please point me to more recent data if you know where to find it!)

If we cut the data by the percentage of African-American students in the district, we also see that many districts with high proportions of black students lost ground.

Percent%20change%20GT%20Seats%20vs.%20Black.png


Yet the Department of Education continues to swagger about how many more students were tested. Yes, the number of students tested in all districts increased, and we see larger increases in high poverty districts.

Pct%20increase_apps.png


But parents in disadvantaged districts have not been complaining about their kids' lack of opportunity to take an admissions test, but their lack of access to programs for more advanced students. Families in New York City's poorest districts face disadvantages that make them less likely to reach the 90th percentile on a national assessment, but the highest achieving students in these districts could still benefit from enriched instruction.

If we want to increase access to advanced instruction for disadvantaged kids who are more advanced than their peers, we might consider offering gifted slots to the top 5% of students in each community school district, while also guaranteeing a seat for any student who scores in the 90th percentile or above of the national distribution. This is analagous to states' top 4% (California) or top 10% (Texas) plans for college admissions, which guarantee college admission to students who have excelled in their own high schools. What do you think, readers?

Preview: I've also put together tables on the proportion of students applying to and qualifying for gifted and talented programs in each district, and will post these tables later this week.
6 Comments

I taught honors classes in a low income middle school and an upper middle class high school in California.

The "honors" students in the high school were definitely performing / testing at higher levels than the "honors" students in the lower income middle school. That is, the academic level of "honors" did not mean the same thing at both schools.

However, I highly appreciated my honors middle school classes. They were the most motivated and academically oriented students at their large middle school. In separating them from their less motivated and more disruptive peers, they were able to receive stronger instruction and also receive stronger peer support.

I'm not sure how "honors" classes in CA compare to "G&T" classes in NYC, but given my experience I highly recommend eduwonkette's suggestion of placing the higher performing students from all districts into special classes - even if they test below the 90% mark on the gifted & talented admissions tests.

Several points: First, since mayoral control and Klein came in, they have exemplified the cliche of "throwing the baby out with the bath water." In the name of "equity" and expanding opportunities, they have dismantled some of the most successful programs, instead of trying to extend them to more students in more areas.

Second, many of the things that make G&T programs successful for their students would make them equally appealing for the kids who are supposedly not "gifted." When I went to check out a gifted program for my older child (now in college), the principal could not tell me the program's educational philosophy, and was surprised that I even asked. Instead, she told me, "These kids get the best of everything--the best teachers, the best materials..." and she could have added, the smallest classes, the best trips, and so on. These kids didn't get "drill and kill," and the "letter people"; they got interesting literature and motivating lessons.

Which leads me to my third point. Separating kids into "gifted" and "nongifted" tracks this early in life--the old "tracking" system--sets into stone what would otherwise be a fluid situation. Kids are coming from different home situations with different opportunities to pick up early literacy skills. In fact, even within the gifted classes, kids have a wide range of skills--some come into kindergarten reading, while others don't read until first grade. Of course, age differences can have a big impact on how kids test at this age, as well as how developed their abilities are. But once kids are tracked into the "nongifted" classes, they get less of everything, and it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

So as to your proposal for offering gifted slots to the top 5% of students in each community school district, well, it's better than what we've got, but, if only young kids were given the opportunities to make the most of their abilities before they got tested, sorted, graded ... What a dream!

Ellen, My proposal is pragmatic - I don't think GT is going away anytime soon. I also have mixed feelings about ability grouping in early education - my reading of this literature is that kids in the high groups benefit and kids in the low groups lose out. Where you come down on this issue depends on whose education you think we should privilege.

DC, Thanks for that insight from the classroom.

While I'm not familiar with the OLSAT test, the WPPSI that my DD took has a definite cultural bias on the vocabulary portion. For example, one of the words she missed was "newspaper". DH and I are Gen Xers and we read our news online rather than getting a hard-copy paper. So a newspaper is not something that's a regular part of her environment.

Fortunately, our DD exceeded the cutoff for the particular program we were hoping for. But what if the one word had been the difference between acceptance and rejection?

If a child places in the top X% for any of the sub-tests, they should qualify for GATE regardless of their overall score.

Still catching up...

in the subsequent post it looked like 1, 2, 3, 25, 26, 28 and 31 should be grouped.

Throw in 15 and 30, and draw a circle around that group of 9 districts in each of your scattergrams.

If we divide the Percent change in gifted population by percent Black into 4 quadrants, (upper right mostly empty), do we get a majority Hispanic quadrant in the lower left?

very very informative. ty. I will be bookmarking this for future use.

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  • Free Myspace Layouts: very very informative. ty. I will be bookmarking this for read more
  • Jonathan: Still catching up... in the subsequent post it looked like read more
  • Crimson Wife: While I'm not familiar with the OLSAT test, the WPPSI read more
  • eduwonkette: Ellen, My proposal is pragmatic - I don't think GT read more
  • Ellen: Several points: First, since mayoral control and Klein came in, read more

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