Gifted + talented = separate + unequal

“Gifted and talented” classes are mostly white and Asian, even at predominantly black and Hispanic schools, reports the New York Times. At P.S. 163 on the Upper West Side, black and Hispanic students make up two-thirds of the student body but only one third of gifted students.

Once schools could set their own criteria for admissions to gifted classes, but since 2008 only students who test very well can qualify. In low-income neighborhoods, schools don’t offer gifted classes because not enough kids ace the test.

(Critics) contend that gifted admissions standards favor middle-class children, many of them white or Asian, over black and Hispanic children who might have equal promise, and that the programs create castes within schools, one offered an education that is enriched and accelerated, the other getting a bare-bones version of the material. Because they are often embedded within larger schools, the programs bolster a false vision of diversity, these critics say, while reinforcing the negative stereotypes of class and race.

Students in gifted classes have a much easier time qualifying for the city’s selective middle and high schools. Only 15 percent of seats at  specialized high schools go to blacks or Hispanic students, who make up 70 percent of enrollment.

Sara K. Bloch’s triplets go to P.S. 163. Leon is in a gifted class, Jason in general education and Felix in “an integrated co-teaching class, which mixes special education students with general education children like Felix.”

“To be completely honest, we feel that this class is probably similar to a regular fifth-grade class,” she said on the day she visited Leon in Ms. Dillon’s class. “Math is the same; all three — they have the same book.”

But Leon does seem to be pushed harder, Ms. Bloch said. He is asked to think of things in complex ways, not just to memorize dates of the American Revolution or names like John Adams, for instance, but also to understand relationships between events and people, or to explain possible motives or forces behind certain events, like the Boston Tea Party. She also said that the relationship between the parents and the teachers was more intense at the gifted level, with an expectation of parent involvement and connectedness.

A fifth-grade teacher at the school tells the Times she’d never let her own kids take general education classes at P.S. 163. There are too many kids from “the projects.”

About Joanne


  1. Since men are taller than women on average, most people who are six feet tall are male, as is almost everyone who is seven feet tall. Given that there are large group differences on IQ tests, similar “disparities” will exist for people with IQs of 130, and the disparities will be even larger for an IQ threshold of 145.

    • If your eyes can see group differences in IQ, they’re obviously racist and you should have them plucked out.

      • Florida resident says:

        In the Carboniferous Epoch
        we were promised abundance for all,
        By robbing selected Peter to pay
        for collective Paul;
        But, though we had plenty of money,
        there was nothing our money could buy,
        And the Gods of the Copybook Headings
        said: “If you don’t work you die.” …
        Greetings from F.r.

        • One of my favorites – and one of the reasons Kipling never became Poet Laureate, along with The White Man’s Burden.

  2. I don’t understand why the gifted class is using the same math book as the other fifth grades. While I realize that not all of the students may not be gifted in math, many probably are. There is no reason that at least some of the students are not accelerated a year or math for the math curriculum.

    Student needs should really drive how we organize classes. A student that scores only in the seventieth percentile, but is in a classroom that is made up of students at the fiftieth percentile needs attention even though they are not gifted. It isn’t just whether a student is gifted (and I say this as a formerly gifted student and parent of one) it is how their abilities compare to the rest of the students they are learning with. In a city as big as New York, maybe local control of this issue is better.

  3. Going back to the NYT article and comments, one of the gifted-program teachers said she’d never let her kids go into the regular classes in her school. Given what those classes are likely to be, I’m sure she’s pretty representative of most educated/academically motivated parents. I’d bet the farm that the politicians and edworld admins feel exactly the same way, although they either live where the schools don’t resemble inner-city schools or they send their kids to private schools. The hypocrisy is nauseating. Move chronically disruptive, disturbed or dangerous kids to alternative placements, enforce discipline for the rest, group kids according to academic need (by subject), feed them as much rich content (effectively and efficiently delivered) as fast as they can digest it and never mind if they are pink, green or striped.
    Pretending that all kids have the same academic ability, background and/or motivation is like pretending that ALL can be NBA players.

    • BTW, in a city with the population density of NYC, if there aren’t enough kids in a particular school to offer a particular level (any level, from top to bottom) class, it’s not as if kids couldn’t get to a neighboring school. We’re not talking rural Montana here, where distance makes consolidation/local collaboration impossible.

  4. cranberry says:

    Surely it would be less expensive and more efficient to create a formula which combines family income + mother’s education + race? Why beat about the bush with a test for 4 year olds?

    The division is criminal on its face. I would be willing to try to defend such a program if an IQ test were administered to every child in the New York system at the age of 8. Ideally, such an IQ test should not have any prep materials available, as prepping for an IQ test renders the results invalid. People who offered test prep tutoring should lose their license to practice.

    Failing that, all they’re doing is sorting out the middle class kids with helicopter parents.

    • GEORGE LARSON says:

      What criminal law is being broken? How will you prevent the parents from prepping their children? What license is required to conduct test preparation?

      • cranberry says:

        George Larson, if you search for “test name” + “prep,” you will find offers for materials and services which prep students for these tests. I suspect the sudden drop in minority kids in the G &T program in New York upon the change in testing formats may stem from rendering all prep materials for volunteer tutoring programs obsolete.

        When I see a test publisher selling official prep materials for an exam, I don’t think the results will tell you anything about the child’s giftedness.

        Psychiatrists who administer IQ tests are licensed. People who use their knowledge of IQ tests to prep kids for the exams, knowing they are distorting the test results, should not be able to continue to practice as psychiatrists. For every student they tutor over the 98% mark, they directly harm a student who was not tutored. This is not a victimless act.

        ” This past fall, a parent admitted to a psychologist who administers SB-5 tests for Hunter that he’d purchased a copy of the exam right off the publisher’s website. “The type of tests we sell are primarily for special education, so it’s never been an issue for us in the past,” says Elizabeth Allen, the director of research and development of Pro-Ed Inc., which only recently acquired the rights to the Stanford-Binet. “When I heard, I was like, ‘You’re kidding me! Some parent paid a thousand dollars so they could get their kid into a gifted program? Wow.’?” (The company has since fixed the problem; now only licensed professionals can buy them.)”

        The school system knows what it is doing. It could delay sorting students into tracks until middle school. It chooses not to. It creates not separate–but not equal–tracks in public education. It rations a public good on the basis of flawed, compromised tests, which it knows creates segregation in the student body.

        • GEORGE LARSON says:

          So, No laws are broken and there is no bar to test prep. You and others think it is unfair.

          “For every student they tutor over the 98% mark, they directly harm a student who was not tutored. This is not a victimless act.”

          Are here any non-self-serving statistics that suggest the effectiveness of commercial preparation? I am sure the industry wants us to believe they have an advantage.

          When I learn chemistry it does not mean one less person can learn chemistry. Knowledge is not a zero sum game.

          Failing, 97th percantile, on one test does not wreck a life. There are always other opportunities to succeed as long as the failure does not mean death.

          • “When I learn chemistry it does not mean one less person can learn chemistry. Knowledge is not a zero sum game.”

            The spots in the Gifted & Talented programs are limited. It is by definition limited, as the same spot can’t be awarded twice.

            “Are here any non-self-serving statistics that suggest the effectiveness of commercial preparation?”

            See: (don’t know how to quote in this comment system)”Nearly 50 percent more preschoolers earned a top score on the gifted and talented test this year compared to last year, setting up a stiff competition for the elite kindergarten seats, according to new numbers released Friday.
            A total of 1,603 preschoolers scored in the 99th percentile on the gifted test this year, up from 1,089 last year, the Department of Education said.
            Those 1,603 preschoolers, along with about 1,000 others who scored slightly lower, are now vying for just 300 kindergarten spots this fall in the five highly selective citywide gifted programs.

            Read more:

            I submit that an increase by almost 50% in the number of students scoring in the 99th percentile in one year is evidence of the success of prepping preschoolers for the G&T exam.

          • I submit that an increase by almost 50% in the number of students scoring in the 99th percentile in one year is evidence of the success of prepping preschoolers for the G&T exam.

            I submit that the increase is due to greater applications or an easier test.  An easier test allows the administration to select the admissions to improve the “optics” and dispense other favors.

  5. I think that, if the school system tested all kids (by subject) and assigned them to classes on that basis, a significant motivator for the GT designation would be removed. Such designation could then be limited to the very highly gifted, since even test prep would not move other kids past the cutoff. The problem is that, with heterogeneous grouping (and mainstreaming), well-behaved and motivated kids of even average ability are not challenged. Their needs are ignored, since they will pass THE test. It’s even worse for above average kids. I place no blame on the parents, who are simply trying to get their kids an appropriate education, but I do blame the system for failing to meet their needs, let alone its failure to ensure a safe and orderly environment. The system is operating at the lowest common denominator. No wonder “upward mobility” is declining; schools refuse to challenge kids by giving the able and willing more appropriate instruction, more content and as fast a pace as they can manage.

  6. cranberry says:

    Engineer-Poet, As there are only 300 spots available in the citywide Gifted & Talented schools, I fail to see how increasing the number of qualified students without increasing spaces counts as a favor.
    14,088 took the test in 2011. (
    14,249 took the test in 2012. (

    This year, (2013) , the city will institute a new test, the Naglieri Nonverbal Ability Test. (

    I predict the percentage of test takers this year scoring in and above the 97th percentile will drop this year. Thereafter, the percentages of top scores will increase steadily each year, as the test prep providers learn how to game the test.

    • I fail to see how increasing the number of qualified students without increasing spaces counts as a favor.

      The favor is when the pols pick one kid over another, as a quid pro quo for the parents’ support.

  7. Like all good leftists, the NYT thinks that incapable, lazy and/or disruptive kids should be forced into taking classes for the gifted. The Times is driven by ideology, not anything based in reality, and people who subscribe to the Times’ worldview are dangerous if given enough power. The left is altogether egalitarian and totalitarian, yet leftists don’t practice in their personal lives what they would foist upon others. Therefore, they are also hypocritical.

  8. Crimson Wife says:

    Prepping may boost a kid from the mid-to-high 80’s to over the 90th percentile hurdle (for regular GATE classes) or a kid from the low-to-mid 90’s to over the 97th percentile hurdle (for the citywide GATE schools like Anderson and Hunter Elementary). But they’re not going to take an average IQ kid and get him/her into GATE. The kids who are going to benefit the most from prepping are the ones with better-than-average memorization skills.

    • cranberry says:

      I found an interesting data table at the College Board’s site: Essentially, over a score of ~620 on critical reading and writing in Junior year, test takers score _lower_ on the first test taken senior year. Greater, but still limited, gains are made by test takers who score below 500, but 300 point gains don’t exist.

      However, we’re talking of preschoolers. Simply rehearsing test conditions with the students would increase the score, in comparison to students who haven’t been prepped. As the test measures spoken vocabulary, it would be just as effective to divide the students by family income. I think the tests have little to do with giftedness.

      If the preschool test worked, one would expect the premier high school, Stuyvesant, to have SAT scores in the 99th percentile. After all, IQ is not supposed to vary. Certainly, the students scoring in the top percent as preschoolers, with the best schooling, and admitted to high school on the basis of another test, would retain their ranking.

      Except they don’t. The average SAT score for Stuyvesant in 2012, the highest in the city, was 2,096. That’s a great score for a high school, but it’s the 96th percentile for SAT composite scores for 2012.

  9. A few (long, sorry) random comments:

    –Cranberry, the private schools and one public school (Hunter, which is not operated by the DOE) use IQ tests. The tests for the DOE’s G&T programs are ability/aptitude/reasoning tests that correlate with IQ, but don’t propose to actually measure it. You are correct to say that the DOE has done a terrible job of identifying gifted learners in poor districts.

    –The DOE encourages families to prep for the tests—the 40-page application booklet contains an extensive practice test, presented in the same format as the actual test and with actual questions taken from past exams. I generally agree with Crimson Wife’s opinion on the limits of prepping, but the really expensive tutor-based kind does convey the advantage of familiarity with how the test is given. The kid goes all alone into a classroom with a teacher they’ve never met before. The tester can’t deviate from the test script by a single word—they aren’t allowed to repeat an instruction, they can’t answer questions from the kid, the kid can’t skip a question and come back to it later. It is definitely a test of executive function that down the road seems to produce classes of highly motivated kids, FWIW.

    — Before access to G&T programs was first standardized citywide and then determined only by test results the admissions process in many districts was a wild free-for-all, easily gamed by connected or squeaky-wheel parents, DOE employees, politicians, etc. Any reform to include broader or holistic measures would have to carefully guard against corruption.

    — The NYT piece was lacking in balance and perspective. It should have noted, e.g., that the high-performing non-G&T schools, almost all located in Manhattan south of 96th St, brownstone Brooklyn, and the far reaches of Queens, their individual school boundaries carefully drawn to exclude housing projects and lower income areas, are at least as segregated by race and (especially) class as any G&T program. It would not have been hard for the author to find families of bright children attending overcrowded/challenged gen ed schools in many districts and ask them whether they felt their child was receiving an appropriate education. And an examination of broader demographics would have been useful for context—for years Latinos and blacks with bright kids and with the means and motivation have been finding education for their kids elsewhere, whether it’s private, parochial, charter, moving to the burbs, or leaving the region entirely. On the other hand, affluent whites and Asians are now much more likely to stay in the city rather than move to suburbs for school. Some are even to choosing to move from the suburbs TO the city (or choose to live in the city rather than suburbs if relocating from another region), something that was unthinkable and unheard of 10+ years ago.

  10. Florida resident says:

    I do not quite understand all the fuss
    with the label “gifted and talented”.

    I know pretty well a student,
    who passed with “5” Calculus AP AB College Board exam
    at the end of 9-th grade (at the age 13),
    passed with “5” Calculus AP BC College Board exam
    at the end of 10-th grade (at the age 14),
    and went on taking math and computer courses
    at the nearby University.

    He had never been labeled as “gifted” or “talented”.
    So what ? He did OK further in his education.

    • Florida Resident,

      Being labeled “gifted and talented” doesn’t matter. Except when it does. It matters if the students without the G&T label receive a dumbed-down curriculum.

      I believe education works. It is cumulative. If you give one group of students an enriched, demanding curriculum, and give a second group of students a purposefully limited curriculum, the first group of students will do better over time.

      As school continues, eventually students get to a point at which further courses depend on prerequisites. If the accelerated track offers Algebra in 7th grade, only the students who’ve completed Algebra will be able to take Geometry in 8th. etc.

      • Mark Roulo says:

        Giving a child an enriched, demanding curriculum is only a win if the child is ready for it. This is true even for non-children.

        One of my friends in high school was much brighter than I was. He was taking math classes that I struggled with. I would not have benefited from the same classes.

        There were probably also kids who would have struggled (or failed) in the math classes I was taking.

        The problem here (if there is one) is kids being in the wrong class for their talent/motivation/whatever level.

        • Roger Sweeny says:

          But if we force everyone to take the same classes, we can pat ourselves on the back that we have given everybody the same opportunity. And then we can feel righteous that we who did well in the classes have more interesting, better-paying jobs.

        • cranberry says:

          I’ve read that parents are desperate to get into NYC’s gifted programs. I’ve never seen a description of how the classes compare to a good suburban school. I am concerned about declaring a group of “winners” at such a young age.

          In middle school, sure, there are kids who could learn much faster than their peers. If they don’t get challenging courses, their work habits suffer, which is a terrible problem for later academic pursuits. I’m not objecting to things not “looking fair” ; I’m saying the game is rigged from the start, on criteria which have nothing to do with giftedness. The affluent families whose kids aren’t pushed into the winners’ circle at 4 can go private or leave town. Some who remain will manage to win admission in charter school lotteries. They manage to escape the taint of not being dubbed G&T at 4.

      • It matters if the students without the G&T label receive a dumbed-down curriculum.

        That is a consequence of heterogeneous classroom groupings in non-G&T classes.  However, you can’t group by ability without having terrible “optics”.

        • Florida resident says:

          Dear E-P !
          Do you mean not diverse enough colors in the audience ?
          The school of that kid had (and still has) standard (for Florida) degree of diversity, but Calculus AP classes were not.