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7th April

First Published in The New York Sun, April 7, 2006

By Andrew Wolf

Parents of children on Manhattan’s West Side, many excluded from the gifted and talented programs at their home-zoned schools under new Department of Education rules, claim to have evidence that the system has been “rigged” to create “equity” for others at the expense of opportunities for their children. They say it is likely that they will turn to the courts for relief.

“I don’t understand why expanding opportunities for children perceived as ‘underserved’ must come at such a steep cost to the children of other communities,” one of a number of parents who are pressing this issue on the Upper West Side, Jennifer James, said. “This needn’t be a ‘zero-sum’ undertaking. The mayor and Chancellor Klein have failed to establish enough classes to serve all gifted children, and our children are being asked to pay the price.”
In the past year, no new G&T seats have been added in West Side schools, and only 340 have been added citywide.

Also new this year are testing procedures that use a controversial, subjective questionnaire, the Gifted Rating Scales, which are filled out by the preschool teachers of students applying for spots in the programs.
The GRS is a four-page questionnaire that asks teachers to rate 4-yearolds on a scale of 0 to 9, not just on intellectual and academic ability but on creativity, artistic talent, motivation, and leadership ability.

Ilana Ruskay-Kidd, the director of the Saul and Carol Zabar Nursery School of the Jewish Community Council in Manhattan, a preschool program popular with West Side middle-class families, charged that her teachers were warned by a Department of Education official not to give children ratings that were “too high,” lest this be perceived as unduly helpful to “entitled” students. The teachers, Ms. Ruskay-Kidd said, were cautioned that if the school scored their students too generously, there would be negative consequences.

The directives came from Nicole Kram Rosen, who is in charge of gifted programs on the West Side. Teachers took Ms. Rosen at her word and completed the forms rigorously. It appears that teachers at some other schools were given no such admonitions.

Ms. Ruskay-Kidd said she found this use of GRS scores to be “troubling.” She noted that if the Department of Education is training teachers to complete these evaluations, “it must be done uniformly across the board. This appears not to be the case.” She said she believes that the GRS could be used appropriately, but only “if there were checks and balances and we could confidently determine that the device was being used evenly.”
Some parents believe that results have been manipulated to satisfy the demands of a radical organizing group, the Center for Immigrant Families, which has been critical of previous admission policies as “discriminatory and racist.” A spokesman for the Department of Education, David Cantor, denied the charge. “Regional G&T staff involved in training teachers to fill out the GRS forms made no effort to socially engineer the results,” he said.

In previous years, children were accepted to the West Side G&T programs based on the results of the widely used Stanford-Binet I.Q.test. In general, children scoring in the top 10% on the exam were admitted. Using the new formula, some children scoring in the top 2% on the I.Q. test were rejected. Mr. Cantor says that the U.S. Justice Department’s Office of Civil Rights mandates the use of multiple criteria rather than just one test; thus the use of the GRS.

Previously, preferences were given to children applying for programs in their home-zoned school or those who had siblings already attending that school. These preferences have now been eliminated, which means some parents either must permit their children to be bused to schools out of their neighborhoods or give up the child’s place in the G&T program.

This is exactly what many parents from the P.S. 9 zone have decided to do. They found that their children were no longer eligible for any program due to poor ratings on the GRS or have refused to allow their qualified children to be bused. Enough children have fallen into this category that P.S. 9 is creating another general education kindergarten class to accommodate them. It will be established as an “inclusion” class that will be open to special education students.

Parents now appear willing to take the matter to court and may subpoena teachers at preschools throughout the district to testify about the instructions they received. They also will demand results of both the GRS and the objective testing, looking to identify a potential wide variance and correlate that by race, geography, and economic background to prove discrimination against their children.

© 2006 The New York Sun, One, SL, LLC. All rights reserved.

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