NYC Mayor Considers Ending ‘Gifted’ Exams for Four-Year-Olds

(Bloomberg) -- New York City’s 4-year-olds may be spared the agony and anxiety of cramming for those “gifted and talented” kindergarten entrance exams.

Mayor Bill de Blasio says he’s skeptical about the test’s ability to further the city’s goal of improving the quality of schools and expanding opportunities for disadvantaged kids. At the same time, he sought to assure parents that he’s not about to scrap “gifted and talented” programs, as recommended by a panel he appointed on desegregating the largest U.S. school system.

NYC Mayor Considers Ending ‘Gifted’ Exams for Four-Year-Olds

“We need to rethink how we evaluate kids,” de Blasio said during a weekly Friday appearance on WNYC radio. “I’m a believer in multiple measures, and I do not believe in a single test for any decision. We also have to think about the right age at which to test.”

The mayor’s comments come amid a debate over whether the gifted and talented program is reinforcing racial segregation in schools and failing to improve the education of kids, in part because wealthier parents often spend heavily on tutors to prepare for the test. It is given to about 15,000 pre-kindergartners each January, testing skills such as shape pattern recognition, counting and vocabulary.

In a system of 1.1 million students, those scoring in the top 10% qualify for a program that places them in their own classrooms or schools.

“There are a lot of kids who are gifted and talented who aren’t being reached right now,” de Blasio said. “There are many kids who are creative critical thinkers, who are not so good at taking standardized tests and have tremendous talent and ability.”

Yet at the same time, de Blasio, who’s also engaged in a long-shot campaign for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, used test results on third-graders to support his contention that his universal pre-kindergarten program has been working to close the achievement gap between white and minority students. The scores, reported last month, were the first since de Blasio began instituting all-day free pre-school to 4-year-olds in 2014. That year, more than 50,000 students were enrolled in the program, which has expanded to serve about 70,000 students and this year will include a pre-school program for 3-year-olds.

In comparing students in universal pre-K to students who weren’t, 3rd graders who had been in the program scored an average 2.8 percentage points higher in English skills and 1.1 points better in math, according to Michelle Paladino, director of research and policy for the city’s education department. Black students from pre-K programs scored an average 7.2 points higher in English and 6.5 percentage points higher in math than white students who had experienced pre-K, she said.

The mayor had reassuring words for parents who have voiced alarm at the suggestion of eliminating “gifted and talented” programs.

“I made an advisory group, they gave some advice, it hasn’t been decided by any stretch of the imagination,” Blasio said, “They came up with some very bold ideas. It’s not necessarily where we end up.”

He promised a year of study and public comment about the proposal. “There’s going to be a very public extensive process to evaluate that proposal,” he said. “I haven’t made any decisions.”

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.

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