October 5, 2009
Advocates for gifted children in the Riverdale section of the northwest Bronx are shaking their heads in disbelief — and disgust.
The Department of Education’s rules for admission to gifted and talented programs have shut some qualified children in Riverdale out of the program located in their own zoned school. At the same time apparent changes in the rules allow several students who didn’t qualify under the city’s rules to be added to district’s other gifted class at the discretion of that school’s principal.
Two years ago, the city decided that children would have to meet a citywide standard for admission to gifted programs in each borough. The goal was to increase equity and access to the programs, DOE officials said at the time.
The new rules assign applicants to schools based on test scores, a practice that some experts in gifted and talented education, such as Razel Solow, director of the Hunter College Center for Gifted Studies and Education, and her predecessor, Dona Matthews, have told me could be a misuse of these tests.
At first only children scoring in the 95th percentile or higher of a nationally normed I.Q.-type test were to be admitted to the programs, which are organized by school district. The number was quickly expanded to the top 10 percent. But most children who met the standard were in districts with more white and Asian students, not from districts with large black and Hispanic populations. In three districts, so few children qualified that no gifted class was formed at all.
District 10 is huge — it has one of the three largest populations of students in the city — but the number of children qualifying for G&T is distressingly small, and they come disproportionately from upper-middle-class Riverdale. That’s where PS 24, which houses one of the district’s gifted programs, is located. The city also selected PS 7, located in Kingsbridge, to house a second gifted program for the district.
This year, only two students living in the PS 7 zone qualified for G&T admission, and only 17 families districtwide listed the school as their first choice, compared with 92 at PS 24. Not a single parent from Riverdale agreed to allow their child to be transported daily to PS 7, a chronically underperforming school, even if it meant exclusion from G&T for their children, according to enrollment figures provided by Andrew Jacob, a DOE spokesman.
As a result, nearly 40 percent of the available seats in the gifted program at PS 7 in Kingsbridge were unclaimed as of the first day of school.
PS 7 principal Renee Cloutier filled six of those spots with children who did not qualify for the gifted program. Cloutier “placed some of her higher-performing general education students in the G&T program in order to accommodate all of the zoned general education students who want to attend her school,” Jacob confirmed.
At the same time, many students enrolled in general education classes at PS 24 meet the standard for admission to gifted classes but didn’t get into one at their school.
Some families in Riverdale caught a break when some parents declined their children’s placement at PS 24, and some of the unserved students were allowed to fill the vacancies. But others, according to Community Board 8 Chairman Damian McShane, became disgusted with the process and moved to nearby Westchester County over the summer. He said he has heard of about five families in that situation.
Parents and elected officials in Riverdale say the best solution is to add more classes to the gifted program at PS 24. They say the school could easily accommodate the students, especially because it recently regained an annex located across the street. They also note that the school could add space if it reduced the number of students it accepts from outside of Riverdale; children from outside the neighborhood now make up nearly 30 percent of students. And parents note that because so many of the gifted children are zoned for PS 24 or nearby PS 81 anyway, it is more a question of which room a child is assigned to within the school, than a need for a significant number of new seats.
Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz and Community Board 8 backed this plan. So has Comptroller William Thompson, who told the Riverdale Review that he backed the parents’ demand for assignment to gifted programs based on proximity, rather than test scores. This issue could impact election results in an area won handily by Mayor Bloomberg in 2001 and 2005.
But the DOE has not accepted it.
Lessons should be learned from this ill-fated endeavor to provide “equity” to the city’s gifted and talented programs. Even with a more “fair” system, the education department’s gifted programs are still not diverse. In fact, these efforts towards diversity appear to have had the opposite effect.
But the department has persisted, and with some Riverdale children unserved, and others having moved away, the sudden flexibility of the Department of Education in deciding to expand the PS 7 program with less qualified students has left community leaders enraged.
“When will the administration understand that we are dealing with real children from real families,” Dinowitz asked. “This smacks of discrimination to me, making children from one community jump through hoops, while the door is swung wide open for even unqualified students elsewhere.”