With all of the debate regarding the recommendations to reform the City’s Gifted and Talented program, I decided to provide my own testimony, which I submitted to the City Council earlier this year, which also discusses the Specialized High School admissions process. I submitted a similar testimony to State Senators Robert Jackson and John Liu later that month.
I also ask that before people rush to conclusions regarding what is actually being proposed, please read the actual report drafted by the School Diversity Advisory Group. Despite the frenzy created by the media, they are not proposing to do away with enrichment programs. They are questioning how it is currently being implemented, which I have also taken issue with. This report was a follow up to the original report developed by them, which can be found here. Both documents should be read together to develop a full understanding.
Here is my testimony below. Feel free to share your thoughts.
City Council Hearing – Joint Hearing on Segregation of NYC Schools – 5/1/2019
Dear Council Members Treyger and Eugene and other members of the Education and Human Rights Committee,
I thank you for holding this hearing, as this has been a very important issue for me. Sadly, I am unable to attend but am sending my suggestions of how the city can diversify both the Specialized High Schools and the Gifted and Talented (G & T) Schools/programs, which are naturally feeders for the Specialized High School. I speak as a former science teacher at Stuyvesant High School whose son attends the most diverse of the city-wide G & T programs and will be attending a Specialized High School. My son is bi-racial, Asian and black, and represents the 30.7% of students in his racial category who received an offer.
This biggest problem I see with this debate is the public’s misunderstanding of gifted education, which includes the Specialized High Schools. Giftedness is a neurodivergence, and gifted education is a type of special education. Yet, too many upwardly mobile parents see it as a ticket to the top schools and universities when it should not be viewed that way. It should be one of many options for students who are the right fit. The for-profit test prep industry has made the situation worse by drilling four-year-olds with flash cards and getting eleven and twelve-year-olds to study every day for hours for what was supposed to be an aptitude exam, i.e. they are reading and doing math at an early 8th grade level.
Here are my solutions for how we can increase diversity and achieve equity:
- Universal Screening for all 4-year-olds. This could be part of the Turning 5 evaluation. The OLSAT and NNAT can be administered at all the Pre-K and Head Start classrooms, while children of other education programs can arrange to take the exam. It will not counter the ridiculous lengths some parents take to inorganically prep their child, but it may start the conversation for many parents who may have not even considered gifted programs as an option.
- Better training of teachers. The research shows that black teachers are best at identifying black children who are gifted. Implicit biases and systemic racism within our school system cause more gifted black and Latinx children to not be identified. For many of these children, they can even be classified as children with “behavioral problems”, when they are just very bored. This can start as early as Pre-K and Head Start, which will now be part of the Dept. of Education.
- State Senator Jamal Bailey has introduced a bill, S7984, that requires schools to screen all children for gifted and talented programs before the 3rd Students not in G & T programs should be screened again at 2nd grade, since seven to eight-years-old is the more accurate age to determine giftedness in a child, where additional gifted programs can be created at the local school districts for these children, which addresses the lack of gifted programs in many districts. Broward County in Florida, although far from perfect, implemented this from 2005 to 2010 that had successful results. Senator Bailey has also introduced S8212, which requires all students to take a “pre-SHSAT” exam that identifies students who have the potential to score well on the SHSAT and work with them in areas, either in math or reading, that may inhibit their ability to do well on the actual exam. This may be a more accurate selection criterion. Programs like DREAM rely on state exam results and grades. There are students who scored strong 4’s in both Math and ELA that will not do well on the SHSAT. There are students struggling to get a 3 on either or both subjects who have the potential to do well if they just caught up with their peers.
- Redesign of gifted education programs. A recent study found that many gifted programs do not have well-defined criteria for justifying their program as gifted, as other special education programs do. Faculty members in these schools also need to be trained to work with a more culturally diverse population. Special Education teachers should be teaching gifted programs.
- Issuing an RFP for the few test prep programs who do understand the purpose of the SHSAT exam and the importance of equity and representation, which can work with the students identified from Senator Bailey’s proposed bill. We cannot ban for-profit test program programs, but we can reward the ones whose curricula are sound and do not exist to give students a “competitive edge”. Possible regulation from Department of Consumer Affairs for those who make false claims to their potential customers would also be helpful.
- The validity of the SHSAT in its current form needs to be assessed. If the exam was redesigned to increase diversity, it failed miserably. I still do not understand why logic problems were eliminated. The fact that the exam was written by Pearson is also problematic, given errors made by Pearson for the state exam. I also do not believe that the SHSAT should be the sole criterion for admissions. Students should also have at least an 80 average and score at least a 3 in both the math and ELA at the end of 7th grade to qualify to take the exam. There are parents who tell their children not to focus on the regular school work and just study for the SHSAT. This does a disservice to their children since it eliminates other high school options that their children might do well in. Theoretically, a student should be able to score at least a 3 on both math and ELA if they also do well on the SHSAT. The exam could also be administered on a school day at the school as an additional option.
- Identifying and providing more support for children considered Twice Exceptional. According to the Inside Schools website, the percentage of students with I.E.P.s or a disability in the SHSAT schools range from O% at Stuyvesant High School and Queens High School for the Sciences at York College to 5% at High School for Math, Science and Engineering with most at 1% or <1%. I was shocked by these numbers because I remember teaching many students at Stuyvesant who had I.E.Ps. The city-wide G & T programs are not that much better ranging from 5% at TAG to 8% at N.E.S.T + M. Theoretically, the SHSAT, OLSAT and NNAT should be able to capture a certain percentage of students with I.E.P.s, given that many gifted children also have other diagnoses. My son lost at least two of his classmates within the first three years at his school because both parents gave up on fighting for the I.E.P services they were entitled to.
All these measures may cost much more than the mayor and chancellor’s plan, but it is a much more accurate plan that still follows the mission of gifted education while also creating a more equitable selection process that seeks talent in every part of the city. This is not just about achieving equity, although that is also very important; this is about identifying future leaders and great minds. Society and humanity lose out if we are unable to identify children who may accomplish great things in the future if they are given the support they need.
-Flora Ichiou Huang
National Association of Gifted Children Website. Available: www.nagc.org
Elysian Trust Website. http://www.elysiantrust.org
Davis, Dr. Joy Lawson. Bright, Talented and Black. Great Potential Press. 2010