Last week, Insideschools spoke with Anna Commitante (head of DOE G+T), Elizabeth Sciabarra (OSEPO head) and Marty Barr (OSEPO's elementary-schools head) about gifted and talented programs, enrollment, and admissions policies. Here are highlights from our conversation; a longer article in the next alert will answer some new questions, too.
Centralized admissions will still be the mode for grade-school gifted and talented programs in 2009-2010. The two exams currently used to evaluate youngsters, the OLSAT and the Bracken School Readiness Test, will continue in use; there is no plan whatsoever to add a human, subjective eye to assess the effects of, say, a suddenly tongue-tied, shy, or stubborn four-year-old. The OLSAT carries triple the weight of the Bracken, because the former looks at aptitude and the latter, at actual knowledge (letters, numbers, colors, etc.).
Sibling priority enrollment meant, this year, that applicants with older sibs in the program or in the school building (a subject of significant confusion at PS 9, which also houses the Anderson School) were eligible for citywide g+t classes at lower test scores than kids who don't have sibs in the first-choice school. The three citywide g+t schools, Anderson, NEST+m, and TAG, accepted siblings with scores from the 99th to the 96th percentile. Non-sib applicants were admitted at the 99th percentile at NEST and Anderson, with a few exceptions at TAG.
We asked how many of the newest crop of citywide g+t Kindergarten students were younger siblings vs. non-sibs; DOE rep Andy Jacob said he would get us the numbers, and we hope he will.
The question of opening a new citywide g+t school in an outer borough is under discussion, but has not yet been resolved. (We'll know more in a few weeks, promises Liz Sciabarra.) Ditto, for whether gen-ed Kindergarten applications will be centralized or school-based. Pre-K applications will, however, continue to be centralized again this year -- but the timeframe will be earlier, and communication, everyone promises, will be better, clearer, and more consistent.
As parents learned this year, some districts start g+t programming in Kindergarten, and others in first grade. While there's no citywide mandate to regulate when g+t 'should' start (or, for that matter, an official, citywide g+t curriculum, above and beyond grade standards), DOE planners now recognize that their guarantee to seat every qualified student was understood by many parents to mean, starting in Kindergarten, with new classes created where none existed before.
But new K classes were never part of the plan, said Marty Barr. The decision to hold over scores -- the 'exemptions' parents got letters about -- came about in the wake of parent protest. Most kids who qualify for g+t seats will receive them, but in first grade. (Qualifying students in Districts 7 and 14, however, were offered seats in alternate districts, because no g+t programs were offered within 7 and 14, forcing parents to consider commuting challenges and other daunting logistics.)
"It's a communication issue," said Sciabarra, who cited 'lessons learned' and a desire to "take the angst out" of admissions. "We have to do better at that."
We couldn't agree more.
(Readers seeking nitty-gritty answers to fine-tooth questions, watch for an expanded story in the upcoming alert -- too much here to bog down the blog.)