Parents of children in District 26’s elementary school gifted and talented program were ecstatic to learn that the city Department of Education is allowing their children to keep their seats for middle school.
All 768 children at PS 18, PS 115, PS 188, and PS 203 are guaranteed an automatic promotion until 2020. The DOE also plans to add more middle-school gifted and talented classes, as District 26 has many high-performing students. This year, over 700 fifth-graders received fours on both the New York state English language arts and math tests.
“With the opening of additional classes for incoming students who qualify for the program, the agreement is good news for parents across the district,” said Councilman Mark Weprin (D-Oakland Gardens).
The DOE told the parents on Nov. 13 that admission into the program for middle school would be determined by a list of all fifth-grade students with their standardized test scores ranked in descending order. The DOE’s intention was to create access for students who didn’t have the opportunity to join the program before and remove students with lower scores. Most students in the gifted and talented program were tested before kindergarten.
Middle-school applications were due a month later and parents felt blindsided by the last minute announcement.
“There was no communication or collaboration with the parents,” Susan Oh, the mother of a fifth-grader at PS 203 said. Oh said that completing the middle-school application process on short notice without guidance “felt like counting cards.”
A group of parents brought their concerns to Rep. Grace Meng (D-Flushing) at a meeting last Thursday morning, hoping to gain political support for their opposition to the DOE’s policy change.
Jackie Ling, the father of a fifth-grader at PS 203 circulated a petition which received over 700 signatures. Prior the DOE’s announcement that their children would keep their seats, parents were planning to confront the DOE at the community educational council meeting on Jan. 30.
“Queens needs more gifted and talented seats,” Meng said. “It’s problematic that there are different standards for different districts. Kids who live within an hour of each other should have the same opportunities.”
The department defended the move by saying the situation in District 26 was an exception to the rule citywide, where automatic promotion is not done, though it is done in District 30 in northwest Queens. There, parents and politicians successfully fought to keep the automatic promotion policy until 2019.
Weprin met with Sandy Ferguson, the deputy Chancellor of School Enrollment several weeks ago, after hearing from the unhappy parents of children in the program as well as some who support the DOE’s plan to open up seats to new students. He called the issue a “sticky wicket,” as parents were angry with policy makers questioning which tests determine “giftedness.”
Roshan Perara, a parent, argued that testing young kids is preferable because IQ tests measure learning ability and intelligence, while after that any testing is knowledge-based, so children can be prepared for the tests. He compared switching from the IQ tests to using standardized tests to comparing apples and oranges.
However, some critics say that some parents prep their four-year-old children using the specific questions on the IQ tests to ensure their children will make it into the program, nullifying the test itself.
Many parents say that the shift in policy has affected their life decisions, as many bought their houses based on where they assumed their children would go to school.