New York City officials are phasing out the controversial “Gifted and Talented” program for elementary school students, a massive change aimed at addressing racial disparities in the biggest school system in the country.
The entry exam identifying students as “gifted” will be eliminated, officials said Friday. Under the old status quo, about 2,500 incoming kindergarteners per year passed the optional exam, going on to spend their elementary school years in separate classrooms and schools.
That test was temporarily scrapped last year amid the pandemic. The last group of students in the program will still take G&T classes in their current form over the next five years.
Under the new system, all students will receive “accelerated instruction” featuring real-world projects about topics like robotics and community organizing starting in kindergarten, according to officials.
Then, in third grade, students will be screened in each subject area to see if they would benefit from continuing with the accelerated projects. Officials didn’t specify how the third graders will be screened.
All 4,000 of the city’s kindergarten teachers will be trained in accelerated learning, according to officials. The city will also funnel extra resources to neighborhoods that historically had few gifted programs. Seven borough-wide teams will help schools with some of the challenges of implementing the new system — including accommodating students with significantly different academic needs in the same classes.
The overhaul of the gifted program comes after years of debate and criticism — much of it focused on the fact that white and Asian students made up around 80% of gifted classes despite representing about a third of kindergarteners. Critics argued that the old system did not measure academic promise, but the ability of parents to prepare young kids for a standardized test. That contributed to the racial segregation of city schools, critics said.
Defenders have argued that the program is a lifeline for kids with unique academic talents who are not adequately served in traditional classrooms.
Since the start of his administration, Mayor de Blasio has vowed to reform the gifted program. Friday’s announcement comes with less than three months left in his term.
Officials said more changes could come before the end of the year as they gather parent feedback. A final plan will be rolled out in November.
Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, the Democratic nominee for mayor, campaigned on promises to keep the gifted exam for 4-year-olds and expand the number of separate gifted classes across the city. Adams, the overwhelming favorite to win November’s general election, won the endorsement of PLACE NYC, a parent group that has vocally supported the gifted admissions test and separate fast-track classes.
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