Update on NYC Gifted and Talented Program and more…

Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña plans to preserve the hallmarks of New York City’s gifted programs, the immensely popular classes and schools that draw high achievers but have been criticized as shutting out low-income children.

Ms. Fariña, in an interview this week covering a variety of issues, pledged to continue using a contentious gifted admissions exam for 4- and 5-year-olds that was put in place under former Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg. She also promised to preserve the number of gifted programs citywide.

“What exists right now is serving the purpose of communities, and I have no intention of touching it,” she said during an interview at the Education Department headquarters on Monday.

She outlined plans to improve academic options for low-income students, including getting teachers at high-performing schools to advise teachers at struggling ones, and strengthening instruction in algebra, where many middle and high school students founder.

But Ms. Fariña, a longtime teacher, principal and administrator who got a quick introduction to politics this year, was careful to note that she intended no changes that could drive middle- and upper-class families from the system.

She said she opposed eliminating zone-based elementary school admission, which has been pushed by some advocates as a way of increasing racial diversity.

“You would find parents who have invested in certain places,” she said. “You’re not going to tell them this is your zoned school but you can’t go.”

And while she said she planned to expand tutoring for low-income children seeking entry to the city’s elite high schools, she said she would not mandate the return of an admissions program that allowed some disadvantaged students into the schools even if they did not score high enough on the entry test.

Some advocates had hoped Ms. Fariña would overhaul the gifted and talented programs, which they see as a critical front in the effort to reduce inequality in the school system. As principal of Public School 6 on the Upper East Side of Manhattan in the 1990s, Ms. Fariña ended a popular gifted program, arguing that students would be better served if they were mixed by ability.

In recent years, the city has struggled to increase the number of black and Hispanic students in gifted programs. In 2007, under Mr. Bloomberg, the Education Department instituted a citywide test that it hoped would make the admissions process fairer, replacing a system in which districts set their own standards. Instead, it wound up widening racial and socioeconomic disparities, with students in wealthier districts qualifying for gifted seats in far greater numbers than their poorer counterparts.

“The inequities in the current makeup of our gifted and talented programs are a citywide disgrace,” said James H. Borland, a professor of education at Columbia University. Professor Borland suggested that the city judge students relative to the performance of their neighborhoods, rather than the whole city.

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Ms. Fariña said she was eager to bring strategies used in gifted programs, including project-based learning, to schools across the city. She said bright children outside gifted programs could be served by other means, including clubs, lunchtime programs, and science, technology, engineering and math enrichment.

“There’s a lot of other ways to reach the needs of these kids,” she said.

Nearly six months into her tenure as schools chief under Mayor Bill de Blasio, Ms. Fariña said she was focused on improving the quality of teaching, especially at low-income schools. She said she was proud of her efforts to require new principals to have more teaching experience, to reduce the role of standardized tests and to negotiate a teachers’ contract that included bonuses for educators who take on leadership roles.

“We have changed the climate in terms of people feeling good about the jobs they’re doing,” she said.

Mr. de Blasio has promised to involve parents and neighborhood leaders more actively in the work of schools. On Tuesday, he announced a $52 million grant to create 40 community schools, which combine traditional academic programs and social services with the aim of addressing issues like chronic absenteeism.

Given a new state law requiring the city to provide free space to new charter schools or to help pay their rent, Ms. Fariña said she did not expect battles over space to end anytime soon, given the scarcity of available classrooms and the city’s efforts to expand prekindergarten programs.

Job protections for teachers may also emerge as a topic of contention. A California court recently found teacher tenure laws unconstitutional, and legal scholars expect copycat cases.

Ms. Fariña said she did not believe tenure laws hindered education. But she said principals had to be vigilant and work to remove ineffective teachers from the classroom.

“Getting tenure might be a goal, but also removing tenure when necessary is also a goal,” she said.

Ms. Fariña said that she was enjoying her job, and that she would stay on at least through the end of Mr. de Blasio’s current term. She said her biggest regret was a remark she made at the height of a snowstorm in February. Defending a decision to keep schools open, she said that it was a “beautiful day” outside, even as snow and freezing rain continued to hit the ground.

She said that the line had become a conversation starter, and that strangers shouted it to her on the street. “It’s going to be on my tombstone,” she said, “and I can live with it.”

Bilingual Kids See Gifted Scores Drop After Test Changes, Parents Say, by Amy Zimmer

If you live in NYC and you have a bilingual child and your child will be taking the G&T tests next year, be sure to build up the English you are speaking to your child over the next year. Those are the recommendations after seeing scores drop for bilingual kids after the DOE changed the weighting of the two tests it uses to determine qualification for gifted programs. To read this article at the DNAInfo website, CLICK HERE.

QUEENS — Tim Wang wishes he’d spent more time speaking English to his son at home.

Wang’s 4-year-old recently scored in the 97th percentile on the city’s gifted and talented exam — a very high score, but likely not high enough to earn him a spot in the city’s most elite G&T programs, like the Upper West Side’s Anderson School and the Lower East Side’s NEST+m.

Wang’s son, who learned English as his first language, but now primarily speaks Mandarin at home, did better on the nonverbal section of the exam, which asks kids to identify patterns and shapes and draw logical conclusions, than he did on the verbal section, in which an adult reads a question out loud to a child once and then asks for an answer.

That wouldn’t have mattered as much last year, when the nonverbal section held more weight in determining a child’s overall score — but this year the Department of Education changed the scoring to give the two sections equal weight.

Scores fell sharply across the city, and test prep experts and families said children who speak more than one language had a tougher time achieving top scores this year.

“I was very proud of my son, especially what he did in the verbal,” said Wang, a 41-year-old software engineer who moved from Taiwan to Flushing in 2000.

But if Wang had known about the grading changes, he said, “I may [have] spent a little bit more time to read English stories for my son.”

The score drop in immigrant communities was most apparent in three school districts in Queens — a borough where nearly half of residents are foreign-born, according to city data — where scores of children trying to test into kindergarten G&T programs plummeted more than anywhere else in the city.

District 30, which encompasses Astoria, Long Island City, Jackson Heights and Woodside, saw the number of top scorers drop by 58 percent compared to last year. In District 25 — Wang’s district — which includes Flushing, the number of top scorers dropped by 54 percent.

And District 26, which covers Bayside, Fresh Meadows and Jamaica Estates, saw the number of top scorers fall by 52 percent. Because of the district’s strong schools, many immigrant families from South Korea, China, India and Japan have moved to the area, according to Insideschools.

The drops are even more striking considering that hundreds more children across the city took the G&T qualifying test this year compared to last year, records show.

Deb Alexander, who sits on District 30’s Community Education Council and is a parent of a G&T student, said families in her neighborhood complained the new test is “disadvantageous” to English learners.

“Our district has an incredibly high number of homes where English is not the first language,” she said. “The child may be a native English speaker, but it’s what they’re used to listening to.”

The DOE declined to comment on the impact of the testing changes this year on kids who speak English as a second language. A spokesman released a statement saying, “The tweak in the weights was designed to improve the psychometric balance across the two tests based on the data from the previous year, when the DOE first introduced this particular test combination.”

The Department of Education does provide translators for English language learners on the verbal and nonverbal portions of the test in Arabic, Bengali, Chinese (Cantonese and Mandarin), French, Haitian Creole, Korean, Russian, Spanish and Urdu.

But many families said the quality of translation services varies. In addition, they say, the verbal part of the G&T exam wasn’t designed for non-English-speaking children — leaving nuances to get lost even with a translator, said Michael McCurdy, co-founder of test preparation website Testing Mom.

“For example, even in the Department of Education gifted and talented handbook they have questions that use traditional American boy names and foods that are American, like pizza,” McCurdy said. “If a child is growing up in a household that only speaks Mandarin, for example, and has never eaten or seen pizza, they would be at a disadvantage.”

Bige Doruk, founder of test prep company Bright Kids NYC, analyzed data from her students’ scores after the changed G&T test this year. Though the scores were still high overall, she said, “Our ELL [English language learner] kids definitely scored much lower this year.”

Brooklyn College and CUNY Graduate Center education professor David Bloomfield said the results highlight the “mutability” of test scores.

“You switch to this 50/50 arrangement [equally weighting the verbal and nonverbal sections], and you change who’s considered gifted or not,” he said. “It just seems to me one more example of how the almost arbitrary changing of metrics creates huge differences in the lives of children.”

NYC G&T Test Results are Due Tomorrow – April 6, 2013

This just in from the NYC DOE:

Subject: Gifted and Talented Application Update
Date: April 5, 2013 3:53:22 PM EDT

Dear Parent/Guardian:

Gifted & Talented test results will be mailed to families today. If you submitted the Request for Testing form online, you will receive an email on Saturday by 9am, which will allow you to log in to the online site (https://prod.semsnycdoe.com/parentsite) to see your child’s results, and if eligible, begin the Gifted & Talented application for placement.

If you have any questions, please contact us at 718-935-2009.


Gentian Falstrom
Director, Elementary School Admissions

New Gifted and Talented Test Leaves Parents Stumped, by Julie Shapiro

I wanted to share this story from DNAInfo.com. CLICK HERE to read read the article on their site and to read other related stories.

NEW YORK — The new gifted and talented test isn’t just tough for 4-year-olds — it’s also stumping their parents.
The Naglieri Nonverbal Ability Test — which preschoolers have to ace to win one of the city’s coveted public gifted and talented kindergarten seats for fall 2013 — quizzes kids on their spatial reasoning skills, asking them to analyze complex geometrical patterns.

Parents across the city are helping their kids prepare — and must decide if they will request a test by early November — but many said they first had to teach the material to themselves. “I don’t know if I would have been able to figure it out on my own,” said Monica, a Lower East Side mother who is using a test prep guide from TestingMom.com. “If you’ve never done it before, you can find it very difficult.”

The NNAT is an abstract test that asks kids to look at a series of complicated shapes and figure out their pattern, so that they can fill in the missing piece. To solve the visual riddle, the young test-takers have to pay attention to the size and color of the shapes, how they are oriented and how they relate to each other. “There are some questions that many adults might not even be able to answer,” said Janet Roberts, director of education and product development at Aristotle Circle, a test prep and admissions company. “It requires a lot of patience and a certain level of endurance as well. ”

When parents first see a sample Naglieri test, with its rotating triangles and checkered squares, “They typically panic,” Roberts said. “[There’s] a little bit of hysteria.” Aristotle Circle’s NNAT preparation book sold out four times faster than any of the company’s other books this fall, Roberts said.

The Department of Education decided to start using the NNAT this year to replace the Bracken School Readiness Assessment, which covered basics like shapes, numbers and colors. The goal is to test children’s true intellectual ability, rather than their learned knowledge — and to make the test harder to prepare for after more than 1,600 preschoolers earned the top score on the entrance exam for this fall, the DOE said earlier this year.

The glut of top-ranking preschoolers left those and an additional 1,000 high-scoring children vying for just 300 kindergarten seats this fall. The NNAT will comprise two-thirds of each child’s score, while the Otis-Lennon School Ability Test, which examines students’ logic skills, will make up the rest.

Radmila Gordon, a Coney Island resident, has been researching the NNAT for months so that she can prepare her 4-year-old daughter Alisa for the test. “It’s very difficult,” Gordon said. “I don’t know how 4-year-old kids are going to do it.” Alisa is good at puzzles and breezes through the easier questions in the NNAT practice guides, but as soon as the problems get harder, she loses focus, Gordon said.

Ella Sidorenko is having the same challenge in working with her son Max, who is just 3-years-old and will be among the youngest children in his class when he starts kindergarten next year. “The more difficult the questions become, he gets frustrated and starts crying and says, ‘I can’t do it,'” Sidorenko said. “I don’t know if it’s fair for the children.”

Test preparation experts recommend that parents start by teaching basic pattern recognition concepts with hands-on exercises, using puzzles and building blocks. Then kids can gradually move onto more complicated questions in workbooks.

Practice is very important, especially to ensure that kids understand the format of the test and what they are being asked to do, said Karen Quinn, founder of TestingMom.com. “If a child walks in absolutely cold and sees one [of the complicated pattern questions] for the first time, I would say it’s probably too hard for most 4-year-olds,” Quinn said. “Some would [be able to do it], but others would look at it and it would make absolutely no sense.”

Before even explaining the content that will be on the test, parents should make sure their children understand the idea that for every question there is just one right answer, and the kids should try to find that answer, Quinn said.
Bige Doruk, founder of test preparation company Bright Kids NYC, teaches children strategies like breaking down each question into parts and eliminating wrong answers among the multiple-choice options.

“They’re hard because they’re very visually confusing,” Doruk said of the NNAT questions. “There’s a lot going on.”
While Doruk said she has spoken to many parents who are upset about the harder test, she thinks it’s a good way to identify the children who are truly gifted. “We expect a lot from 4-year-olds in New York,” Doruk said. “The idea is that this is not for all kids. Not every child is going to do well.”

Parents who want to apply for a gifted and talented program for the fall of 2013 must submit a Request for Testing form by Nov. 9. The tests will take place in January and early February, and parents will learn their child’s score in April.

Read more: http://www.dnainfo.com/new-york/20121024/new-york-city/new-gifted-talented-test-so-hard-it-even-leaves-parents-stumped#ixzz2AwS2DJKy