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DOE move not so smart, say parents - Assert city should have sought parental input into procedures for gifted programs

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The new admissions procedures for gifted and talented programs would have run smoother if the city Department of Education (DOE) had sought parental input before implementing the changes, according to Brooklyn parents.

Parents made that assertion after learning that half as many children were admitted to gifted programs this fall compared to the year prior.

“DOE went about making the changes fairly quickly and again, without very much input from the community,” said Jennifer Stringfellow, president of District 15’s Community Education Council (CEC), a volunteer parents’ group advocating for schools in Red Hook, Park Slope and Sunset Park.

“Having the input and seeing what the community wants and needs does help before you decide that this is the right thing. And implementation is just as important and there was a lot of confusion around it and all of this centraliza­tion,” Stringfellow said.

Under the revamping of admissions procedures, this year marks the first time the DOE has used a uniform application process for all of the city’s gifted programs in elementary schools, which were previously run by individual districts. The DOE centralized the system to set one clear-cut standard for admission and to spread the programs around the city. Parents have long complained that the programs were concentrated in districts with large populations of white, middle-class students.

Parents argued that the new admission standard – scoring in the 90th percentile on a citywide exam – was difficult or nearly impossible for many students in low-income areas and struggling school districts.

“The tests were clearly culturally biased,” charged Jim Devor, first vice president of District 15’s CEC. The exams “gave an advantage to people who had extensive preschool development. People who sent their kids to pre-K had a leg up.”

According to DOE records posted at http://schools.nyc.gov/Academics/GiftedandTalented/ProgramsServices/default.htm, District 15 currently has four gifted programs in elementary schools and two gifted programs in middle schools.

In District 13, which spans Fort Greene, Clinton Hill and Prospect Heights, there are five elementary school gifted programs and zero middle school gifted programs.

In District 14, which includes Williamsburg and Greenpoint, there are two elementary school gifted programs and one middle school gifted program.

Even though fewer students were accepted to elementary school gifted programs this year, the DOE defends the revamping – and the higher admission standards.

“We have taken critical steps to expand gifted and talented – including extensive outreach that has led to many, many more students being tested – but we won’t compromise standards and thereby dilute our programs,” schools Chancellor Joel Klein said in a statement. “In the past, when gifted and talented programs were run by the districts, students scoring at the five percent or 10 percent level on a national scale were being admitted to gifted programs. This is unfair to the students and makes gifted programs a subterfuge for other agendas – since many of these students clearly can’t do gifted work.

“We will continue to perform outreach and run programs where we have the requisite number of students and look forward to expanding options throughout the city as we already have by opening the first gifted and talented programs in Staten Island and District 10 and as we will next year by adding citywide programs in Queens and Brooklyn.”

But parents argue that the new system is unsuccessful.

“It seems like it blew up but unfortunately, they aren’t going to admit that there may be something wrong with their testing,” said Christopher Spinelli, president of District 22’s CEC, which represents parts of southern Brooklyn.

With the revamping, Spinelli said, “They wanted to serve children in traditionally underserved neighborhoods and communities. It had the exact opposite effect. There are less African-American and Latino children in the program now than there were last year. The programs have become whiter and more Asian, which was totally against what they wanted to do. Those neighborhoods that did not have them before still don’t have them and a lot of the programs that we had ended up going to Manhattan.”

Updated 11:48 am, January 16, 2019
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