Lawmakers want more Bronx kids in gifted classes

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Parents have said the city’s education department has not provided easy access to information about gifted and talented programs.

A new bill that will eventually go before city council would change that.

The plan, introduced last fall in the council’s education committee, would require the education department to distribute details about the gifted and talented program in material packets sent to potential pre-kindergarten students.

“They are like top secret, and you really have to dig around,” Marvin Shelton, president of District 10’s Community Education Council, said about locating information on gifted and talented programs. Introducing it to pre-K students is something Shelton said he could support.

Bronx borough president Ruben Diaz Jr., shared his support of the proposed law April 19 to the council’s education committee. The inclusion of more children of color in the gifted and talented process could increase the chances of those same students getting into specialized high schools, he said.

“Gifted and talented programming is a key piece of this educational puzzle because it provides academic rigor for young children that paves the way for later success,” Diaz said.

Diaz already had taken this idea on the road with Brooklyn borough president Eric Adams, sharing it in public hearings in both boroughs. There, Diaz warned of several “disturbing trends,” like parents not receiving information about the program, or being forced to proactively seek that information on their own. In some cases, teachers were not even advised about the placement test needed to get into the program.

“We feel a law like this would provide needed information to families that might not be aware of these programs,” said Damon Lipcomb, legislative and budget director for Brooklyn-based Councilman Robert Cornegy Jr., who is the bill’s lead sponsor.

The bill, Lipcomb said, has already been through committee and is now awaiting input from Mayor Bill de Blasio’s office, working out details like financing before it goes to city council for a final vote. So far, Lipcomb said, the measure has encountered no opposition.

Robert Sanft, the student enrollment office chief executive at the education department, said the gifted and talented handbook is published in nine languages, posted online, and distributed to all pre-K sites, elementary schools, standalone pre-K centers, shelters and libraries. Information about the program also is available at welcome centers across the city, superintendents’ offices, as well as social media.

Last fall, for the first time, the education department mailed postcards sharing placement test information to families enrolled in pre-K. It also piloted “It’s Elementary,” a series of school admission events for families, and partnered with the New York City Homeless Services and Human Resources Administration to encourage families living in shelters to submit testing requests at their shelter.

Last year, the incoming kindergartners taking the gifted and talented placement test rose by 14.5 percent to just under 16,600 citywide.

Students who receive a score of at least 97 are given first priority to attend gifted and talented programs. Siblings who receive 90 or better also receive priority, according to the program’s handbook.

But that creates a new hurdle for District 10 families — where to place all these new students in the gifted and talented program, if more begin to qualify. Right now, Milton Fein School P.S. 7 and The Spuyten Duyvil School P.S. 24 are the only gifted and talented programs in District 10 Bronx for kindergarten through fifth grade.

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Mom

Anyone can search the web for information on the G&T program. The real problem is that there are 50 seats per grade for the entire district: 25 in PS 24, and 25 in PS 7. PS 24 told me that they routinely have more than fifty applicants for their 25 seats, so they accept the children who've scored a 98 or 99 on the test, or siblings of children in the program. (Inexplicably, siblings with lower scores receive priority over non-siblings with higher scores.) Children who aren't selected for the class are sprinkled throughout the general education classes. I asked why a second G&T class is never added, given that there are more than enough children to fill it, but the response was a shrug. "They're fine in regular classes," Manny Verdi said. The DOE's response was that individual schools can make decisions about what's best for them, in terms of adding seats.

Children pass the G&T test when they receive a score of 90 or above, but only children with a 97 or above qualify to attend a "citywide" G&T school (a school solely for G&T students). The DOE promised years ago that each borough would have a G&T school, but the Bronx and Staten Island still do not have them. Children from Riverdale who qualify are actually admitted, and choose to attend a citywide school end up taking a bus to Manhattan, Queens, or Brooklyn. Most are not admitted, so they fill the district G&T classes. The result is that gifted children who've qualified with a 96 or below end up without seats in the program.

At a town hall meeting, when asked when the Bronx would finally have a citywide school, Chancellor Fariña gave a nonsensical answer, claiming that the city's G&T program doesn't start until third grade. In reality, children are only allowed to take the G&T test from ages 4 through 7. A child moving into the NYC school system in grade 3 or beyond cannot enter the program, no matter his qualifications. In fact, any child who does not enter the program in kindergarten is unlikely to ever enter it, because there probably won't be an empty seat.

When a child with any sort of learning issue enters the public school system, he is given an Individual Educational Plan (IEP), and his school must bend over backwards to accommodate him. When a child passes the G&T test, his special needs may or may not be met, depending on whether or not a seat is available. This is a bizarre form of discrimination, and there is no end in sight.

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