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

By Eduwonkette — April 14, 2008 3 min read

“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.

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.

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.

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.

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