"A child's learning is the funtion more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Saturday, May 01, 2010

NY Parents Crazed to Land Gifted Kindergarten Seats

If you thought high-stakes tests were just for keeping poor high schoolers from graduating or to guarantee failure at an early age for the children of the poor, then think again. In New York City where the Bankster heist has increased the number of parents who can no longer afford the private kindergartens, competition is cut-throat to earn a seat in one of the high flying gifted public kindergarten programs. And parents who can afford it are hiring tutors to grill babies in strategies for passing the tests to get in--to kindergarten. Meanwhile, the poorer "gifted" little ones must settle for second best. If there could be a sadder commentary about our lives, I cannot imagine it. From NYTimes, a clip:

. . . .Already, the bar for admission to at least one of the citywide programs, the Anderson School on the Upper West Side, has been raised to the 99th percentile for most of its 50 seats. Almost 300 parents whose children scored that high attended recent daytime tours.

Anna Lewiston of the Upper East Side was determined to send her daughter, Lena, to Anderson but was told that the girl’s 97th-percentile score would not make the cut. Lena will go to a private school. “It’s really too much pressure for preschoolers,” Ms. Lewiston said of the test.

Another citywide program, the Brooklyn School of Inquiry in Gravesend, allowed 540 parents on tours before turning others away. The principal, Donna Taylor, said she noticed growing anxiety among them when they saw the odds of getting one of her 56 slots.

“It’s heartbreaking,” she said. Children who are not selected for citywide programs are eligible for district-based gifted programs; students may also enroll in regular kindergarten classes at their neighborhood schools.

The cause of the higher passing rates was not clear, but increased preparation might have been a factor. Hundreds of parents hired tutors or bought commercial test preparation materials before taking this year’s test, a mixture of the Otis-Lennon School Ability Test, a reasoning exam, and the Bracken School Readiness Assessment.

At the Perry School, a preschool in the West Village, children spent an hour a day in a “think tank program” designed to expose them to the reasoning and materials they would see during the test. They also had professional tutoring. Of the five students who took the gifted exam, “we got two 99s, a 98, and two 97s,” said Dawn Ifrah, the founder.

Bright Kids NYC, the tutoring company that worked with those children, reported that 80 percent of the 120 children for whom it had results had scored over the 90th percentile, and 60 children had scored in the 99th.

Department of Education officials acknowledged that preparation may have played a role but said they were confident that most children who passed belonged in accelerated classes. They added that the city was trying to increase the number of full-day preschools in poor, black and Hispanic neighborhoods, which are underrepresented in the gifted programs.

Anna Commitante, who heads the gifted and talented program, said the city “may very well think about something different” after next year, when its contract with testing companies expires. But officials later said no policy change was under consideration.

Susan K. Johnsen, the president of the Association for the Gifted, a division of the Council for Exceptional Children, recommends the use of many measures to assess giftedness, like observation, recommendations and student work, not simply tests. “Any test is susceptible to test preparation, and that’s why you start to invalidate those assessments,” Dr. Johnsen said.

The increase in high-scoring students was concentrated in the middle- and upper-middle-class districts of Manhattan and Queens. In the Bronx, fewer students qualified this year.. . . .


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