Ending New York City Gifted Program Testing May Be Another Blow to Black and Latino Students
New York City public school students attend a meeting with school board officials in January 2020. Andrew Lichtenstein / Corbis via Getty Images After years of relying on a single controversial test at 4 years for admission to their gifted programs, New York City schools are about to embark on a new way to identify gifted students. The city’s Department of Education announced in February that it would stop testing students for its gifted program, which places top students in schools with a curriculum designed for high academic achievement. Instead, preschool teachers will recommend students for consideration. The city’s principal of new schools, Meisha Porter, who was appointed to that position on March 15, has said reforming the gifted and talented system is one of her top priorities. That means the new system probably won’t be long-term, although there is still cause for concern. Research has shown that teacher referrals tend to lead to fewer black and Hispanic students qualifying for gifted programs, although black teachers refer black students more equally. As an education researcher studying how test data can help teachers tailor their lessons to the needs of students, I believe gifted education is a vital service in helping students with exceptional academic ability develop its full potential. A tense program that began with the old New York City system was riddled with inequalities and must be reformed. But I am concerned that the new system will be another blow to children and families of color, a group that has already suffered disproportionately during the pandemic. This is not because the system is an example of best practice, but because gifted education experts constantly criticize the practices of the system. Their visible flaws in equity could sway public opinion against gifted programs in general. Here are the key criticisms equity advocates had of New York City’s talent and gifted identification process: 1. Tested young children to make high-risk decisions For years, student advocates in New York City have argued that the use of high-stakes tests on children to determine their placement in school throughout the K-12 experience is unfair. Disadvantage to students who did not attend pre-kindergarten or academic-style early enrichment programs. Researchers have also shown how access to information adds to the advantage some parents had in New York City. These parents were aware of the testing process, signed up for tests at higher rates, and could afford test prep programs to optimize their children’s selection chances. 2. The “one and go” identification was used. The standards of the National Association for Gifted Children, a leading organization promoting education for gifted students, emphasize that students should have opportunities throughout their K-12 education to demonstrate the need for advanced or accelerated instruction, generally provided through gifted education services. Any tests administered at age 4 will quickly fail to provide useful information, as students develop at different rates. Some accelerate during the elementary or high school years, while others that initially seemed precocious adjust to average performance. A 2006 study showed that of students who scored in the top 5% on a test in one year, about half will score in the top 5% the next year. In other words, if they were tested again the following year, up to half of the “gifted” students would not make the cut. 3. Limit which students fully realize their potential. Selecting students for a full-time gifted program means that students who excel in one or more academic areas, such as English and speaking, but not others, such as math or science, will be overlooked. Among highly capable students, research suggests that at least 15% have at least one academic area that is noticeably weaker than the others. Impact on Low-Income Families As news reports have drawn national attention to New York City’s decisions, activists have called for the dismantling of such programs across the country. They argue that gifted programs are unnecessary and that regular classroom teachers can serve all students at once. But research shows that many students start the school year performing well above grade level and get bored and not reach their full potential. And when public schools do not serve high-achieving students, it is natural for many parents from high-income families to seek private services and additional opportunities for their children. Children from low-income families, however, have fewer options to supplement their school experience. By failing students with advanced academic needs who come from underrepresented groups, the New York City Department of Education risks losing the entire gifted program. I believe that the new solutions need to be systemic and specific, like those taking place outside of Chicago that have expanded the number of students served by these programs and give all students full consideration in identifying their academic talents. A review is possible, but it should start with evidence-based practices, not quick fixes. [Over 100,000 readers rely on The Conversation’s newsletter to understand the world. Sign up today.]This article is republished on The Conversation, a nonprofit news site dedicated to sharing ideas from academic experts. It was written by: Joni Lakin, University of Alabama. Read more: Schools Often Failure to Identify Gifted and Talented Students, Especially Black, Latino, or Native American How Public Schools Don’t Recognize Black Prodigies Joni Lakin is affiliated with Riverside Insights as the author of the Cognitive Abilities Test (R ), Form 8. You receive federal funds from the United States for your academic research.