More children than ever passed the city’s admissions test for gifted and talented programs this year, according to data released today by the Department of Education. But the number of children qualifying in the city’s poorest districts has actually fallen in recent years.
In four districts where qualifying scores have historically been so scarce that the city has not opened gifted programs, just 52 children scored high enough to make them eligible for admission.
The 9,416 students who scored higher than 90 percent on the city’s two tests outpaced last year’s total — 7906 — by about 20 percent. The total represents a 77 percent spike since 2008, when the city first turned to a standardized application process for its elementary school gifted programs.
The increase means that more students are eligible to enroll in district-based gifted programs, which require scores in the 90th percentile or above, as well as in five elite citywide programs that requires scores in the 97th percentile. Last year saw a drop in students who qualified for the citywide programs, but the 4,092 students who scored that high this year is 40 percent more than two years ago.
The increase in applications and qualifying scores has been largest in districts with many affluent families. This year, just 52 students posted qualifying scores in in the South Bronx (Districts 7 and 9), East New York (District 23) and Bushwick (District 32) out of 479 test-takers — 27 percent fewer than in 2009.
The Bloomberg administration standardized the admissions process for gifted programs five years ago in an effort to increase equity. Before then, admission standards varied by school and neighborhood, an arrangement that critics said benefited only the most resourceful — and affluent — families. The city also began to make a more concerted effort to provide information about the process to more families.
As a result, the number of children who took the test saw a significant increase in the first year that the reforms were rolled out, but those numbers dropped back down in 2010. The number of test-taking children in high-poverty districts has barely changed since.
Now, the city is developing its own test to screen students for giftedness as a replacement for the tests it currently uses, the BSRA and OLSAT. A Department of Education spokesman said the new test would likely be administered during next year’s admissions cycle.
Robin Aronow, a consultant who helps families navigate public school admissions, said she thought the department was trying again to increase equity in gifted program admissions.
“I think it’s one of the reasons — to level the playing field a bit,” she said.
Aronow attributed the boost in qualifying students to more vigorous test preparation. “There’s been lots of prepping going on to make sure kids are ready for this test,” she said.
Explaining the phenomenon in 2010, she said, “Certainly there is prep that is going on all over the city. There are books out there now for kids. There are independent companies that have boot camps. Can I attribute all of the increase to that? Not necessarily, but I’m sure it played a role.”
As has always been the case, a spot in the citywide programs is hardly guaranteed for top scorers. Last year, 1,803 incoming students qualified for about 325 seats.
This year, 102 fewer children made the cutoff, and education officials said they expected that there would be more seats available. But last year, about 970 students scored 99 or above, “so you still have to be lucky just to get in,” Aronow said.
The number of students scoring in the 99th percentile this year was not immediately available. More than 40 percent of the qualifying students scored at the 97th percentile or higher.