April 30, 2010
Thousands fewer parents had their preschoolers screened for the city’s gifted kindergartens this year, but the classes could still see enrollment rise.
That’s because the sheer number of children who scored at the 90th percentile or higher on the city’s two standardized tests for gifted programs — the OLSAT and the BRSA — increased by 10 percent, even as 16 percent fewer children took the test.
The families who stayed home this year live largely in low-income areas like Harlem (District 5) and the South Bronx (District 7), which saw a 30 percent and 52 percent drop in test takers, respectively. The only two districts to see an increase in students sitting for the exam were District 2, which includes most of Manhattan below 59th Street and the Upper East Side, and Brooklyn’s District 13.
Last year, far more families chose to have their children screened for gifted programs, and as a result more children qualified. One reason for the jump was that for the first time all districts planned to offer gifted classes in kindergarten. But this year, the number of test takers dropped back down to its level in 2008, when many districts did not offer gifted classes until first grade.City officials attributed last year’s increase in the number of minority children meeting eligibility requirements to higher participation and stronger outreach about the process.
Department of Education spokesman Daniel Kanner said weaker outreach isn’t to blame for the drop-off in the number of families choosing to screen their children this year. Instead, he said, last year’s spike was an anomaly.
“There were significant outreach efforts this year, as there are every year, and will be next year,” Kanner said. “Last year’s policy change standardized the process citywide, which created even more attention for gifted and talented programs on top of the outreach efforts that helped cause last year’s increase.”
The drop-off in screenings didn’t dampen a trend toward higher scores. In 2008, the first year the city used a standard screening process, 18 percent of test-takers met the 90th percentile bar. This year, 28 percent of children taking the tests fell into the 90th percentile or higher, up from 22 percent last year. All of those children are eligible to apply for seats in a gifted kindergarten class, and if their parents rank all of the programs in their district, they are guaranteed a placement in one of them.
The number of test-takers meeting an even higher standard jumped by a far larger margin. The number of children who scored at the 97th percentile or higher increased by a full third, making 1,788 children eligible to apply for five ultra-elite citywide programs. Together, those programs offer just 250 seats.
Robin Aronow, an educational consultant who helps parents get their children into selective schools, said she wasn’t surprised to see more students qualify.
“Certainly there is prep that is going on all over the city,” she said. “There are books out there now for kids. There are independent companies that have boot camps. Can I attribute all of the increase to that? Not necessarily, but I’m sure it played a role.”