New York City has made a number of positive changes to its gifted programs recently. In the past, different districts had different standards, and the application process was far from standardized. This meant, inevitably, that more savvy parents were better able to navigate the system, and that being gifted meant something different in some districts than others. This year, all children were able to take a 2-test screen for giftedness, and anyone who scored in the top 5% (on a national scale) would be guaranteed a seat in a gifted program.
This was as fair and straightforward a way of assessing giftedness as possible. Using two tests enabled scorers to look at multiple data points, and since the two tested different things (one aimed to be more of an intelligence test, and one more of a school readiness test) the tests were supposed to give a more complete picture.
Unfortunately, the results didn't turn out the way many people in the city wanted. This article from the New York Times explains that only 1,637 of about 50,000 kindergarten and first grade applicants met the 5% cut-off. Currently there are 4,649 kindergarten and first grade children enrolled in the city's gifted programs.
Not only was the overall number lower than people expected, some districts didn't even produce enough top scorers to field a single full class. District 7 in the South Bronx, for instance, had only 5 children score above the 5% cut-off.
So what did the New York City schools do? To their credit, they didn't revert to the old standard whereby the definition of giftedness changed from district to district. Instead, they changed the definition of giftedness overall. Now, students who score in the top 10% on a national scale on the two tests will be eligible for a seat. This raises the total number to about 3,000, and produces a full class of 13 children in the South Bronx (even so, District 16 in Bed-Stuy will have only 5 children qualify under the 10% standard; last fall 34 children enrolled in gifted programs. Previously enrolled children are not affected by the new standard).
What can I say? There is no magic number that makes someone gifted. Ten percent is no more arbitrary than five. I think 10% is politically more difficult to defend than interventions for the top 0.1% kids who cannot be served in normal classroom environments. Many kids in the top 10% can be served in rigorous, regular school programs as long as they're ability-grouped to some extent. Or they can skip a grade and be served well in the next class up. The problem is that New York does not, as a general rule, have a lot of rigorous schools or grade skipping. So gifted education winds up filling this gap. Since they had the teachers, had the seats and had the budget, they choose to fill the programs, rather than re-jigger the whole concept.
What do you think, readers? Did New York City do the right thing?