Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Report on Queens Gifted & Talented Town Hall Meeting

About 60-70 parents attended the Thursday, Nov. 8th meeting at Hillcrest High School. Although some of the questions were similar to those at the Manhattan meeting (see our previous posting and InsideSchools blog for reports on that meeting) there were many other concerns and questions raised, including:

Q. How/why was the 95th percentile chosen as a cut-off?

A. Research shows that it is this group of students who need significant curriculum adjustment. This is the cut-off used by a number of other large, urban school districts, including LA, Philadelphia, Seattle etc.

Q. How do the OLSAT and BSRA test scores relate to Stanford-Binet?

A. Unlike Stanford-Binet, no IQ score is yielded by the tests the city has selected.

Q. Will students NOT currently enrolled in G&T programs who are at or above the entry grade still be allowed to test for open spots in upper grades?

A. Yes, at a later time in the spring. However, District 29 in Queens just started its G&T program this year with a 1st grade class, so no seats above 2nd grade will be available next year. (This was met with much disgruntlement and begs the question of why several grades weren't added all at once this year in this particular district since the DOE had a test available which could be administered to children in different grades?)

Q. A number of parents, including many whose children are currently in G&T programs raised questions and concerns about what the curriculum is once children are in the program. One parent said she's had several children in G&T classes over the years and she believes the classes have "degraded." She believes many G&T teachers are not state certified and don't know what a G&T curriculum is.

A. The DOE has and will continue to offer professional development and support to G&T teachers. In addition, the DOE website offers G&T units of study which are aligned with the state standards. Marcia Lyles added that on Nov. 7 she met with principals whose schools have G&T programs to share with them concerns over the curriculum.

Another parent added that in D24, G&T programs at two schools differ as to whether they use a grade-level math book or one which is a year advanced. If there is such a discrepancy within one district as to curriculum, what goes on citywide? Also, some more established G&T programs may get grants from elected officials or have more organized committees of parents to fundraise for "extras" for the G&T classes (e.g. Chess, Foreign Language, Theater), while new programs don't.

Q. A few parents had questions about busing for children enrolled in G&T programs. One parent from D24 said her elementary school child lives 5.22 miles from her district G&T program and has been refused yellow busing (for living over 5 miles away). The mother now takes her daughter on two buses and a subway to get her to school. Another parent added that Special Ed. Students are bused all over the city and kids in G&T programs should be eligible for busing as well.

A. No real answer – they asked for the one mother's name to look into her individual situation.

Q. Why are the three city-wide G&T programs, which serve the highest scoring students (97th percentile), all located in Manhattan (and with no transportation provided for those living in the other four boroughs)?

A. No real answer – perhaps the DOE will look into this.

Q. Why do almost all the programs in Queens begin in 1st grade while in Manhattan almost all begin in Kindergarten? (Incidentally, D24 had a K start for 20 or 25 years, but was forced to drop K two or three years ago by the Region 4 G&T Director - who hailed from D30, which had a 1st grade start. The D24 CEC passed a resolution a year or two ago that the K start should continue, to no avail.)

A. No real answer. Ms. Lyles indicated that it was a decision made by the districts, then amended to say the regions. When asked how individual districts in Queens could go back to a K start, she had no answer.

Q. Are class sizes in G&T classes capped? One parent stated there were 34 children in her child's G&T class.

A. There are no special caps for gifted classes – they can go up to the contractual limits.

(Note:This is misleading – there are caps in some places, whether they be formal or informal – e.g. in D24 – 25 children are admitted to K-3 classes and then, perhaps, 30 for 4th and 5th grade. Other districts may have lower caps (D30?) and the city-wide programs are also allowed to keep their class sizes small (e.g. Anderson keeps 5th grade at 28).

Q. What is the plan for G&T students at the Middle School level?

A. This proposal only covers elementary school programs. OSEPO will be working on a middle school catalog, but there is no proposal to change G&T on the middle school level.

(Note: Again, this is an area where there are distinct differences around the city. D24 just added two "middle school gifted programs" this year with a proposal to have the students take 4 or 5 Regents exams by 8th grade as well as the Foreign Language test (Checkpoint-A). Instead of having 8-10 periods of English and Math per week, the plan is for these students to only have 5 or 6, thus allowing additional time in their schedules for Music, Foreign Language, Robotics etc. Do other districts have such distinct programs for middle school students? Furthermore, there is variation on whether, once admitted in K or 1st grade, students can make a seamless transition to middle school. In D30, the G&T program which begins in 1st and 2nd grade allows students to remain through 8th grade, without requalifying, even though they are the only 6-8th graders in an otherwise K-5 school – P.S. 122. Other districts require 5th graders to apply and qualify for middle school programs.)

Questions there wasn't time for:

1. It was mentioned by DOE officials that once a child is in a G&T program at a specific site in their district, they cannot transfer schools to a different G&T program. Why this is the case was not elaborated upon, but wouldn't it make sense that if one program is doing a "better" job than another or offering a better G&T curriculum and/or more enrichment opportunities, that parents might want the option to transfer?

2. Since many districts may have to add G&T programs, where will all the certified teachers come from? (Even if a few G&T programs are eliminated, there is no guarantee that those teachers will move from the schools where the currently teach.)

3. Why not create additional classes at higher grades if enough children test at the 95th percentile? Parents of current 2nd and 3rd graders expressed concern that their children would only be able to compete for an extremely small number of seats which open up in the higher grades. If a child has newly moved into a district, didn't perform up to his/her abilities when tested in a previous year, is an immigrant who has now sufficiently developed English skills, etc. shouldn't the DOE be able to accommodate them at higher grades?

--Reported by Marge Kolb, CPAC Rep. for District 24

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