Applications for “gifted and talented” people in NYC will open earlier this year

Families vying for kindergarten spots in New York City’s “gifted and talented” program next fall will submit applications and receive admissions decisions earlier than in previous years, under changes announced Wednesday by the Department of Education.

Deviating from the previous schedule, applications for the coveted gifted and talented seats are scheduled to open on December 7, concurrently with applications for traditional kindergarten programs. Families have until January 20 to select gifted programs through the same online application as other programs.

Admissions decisions will be released in April, Education Department officials said.

The city expects 2,500 gifted spots for the rising grade of kindergarten next year, with preschoolers being selected through teacher evaluations rather than testing 4-year-olds as it was before the pandemic.

“This process could be a family’s first interaction with our schools, and it’s important that we get it right and make it welcoming and easy,” First Deputy Chancellor of the Department of Education Dan Weisberg said in a statement. “This year’s changes to the kindergarten application process will increase access to gifted and talented programs and simplify the process for families.”

The changes to the application process are the latest in a series of reforms to the program, which has been heavily criticized for its segregating impact. In 2020, just 11% of students receiving offers for gifted programs were Black and Hispanic, compared to 66% of preschoolers in public schools citywide.

The pandemic has muddled the admissions of gifted students, with an impressive vote in January 2021 by the city’s education policy board, a board of directors approving spending by the Department of Education, which canceled the contract for the 4-year-old entrance exam. This move forced the city to switch.

Under former Mayor Bill de Blasio, the city transitioned to an admissions system based on teacher recommendations and a lottery, with plans to eventually phase out all segregated gifted and talented classes entirely.

When Mayor Eric Adams and School Chancellor David Banks took office, they reversed de Blasio’s plan and opted to preserve and expand the separate careers for the gifted and talented, but did not bring back the entrance exam.

Banks added 100 spots to the kindergarten program and 1,000 spots to a separate gifted program that begins in third grade and selects students based on their grades in second grade.

Banks argued at the time that adding the seats and ensuring each geographic school district had options “would provide[e] provide more accelerated learning opportunities for more families, while providing an equitable, fair process for identifying those students who excel at accelerated learning.”

The move to a teacher-recommended and lottery-based admissions system has notably shifted the demographics, more than doubling the proportion of Black and Hispanic students admitted for the 2021-2022 school year compared to the previous year.

Officials did not immediately provide demographics of the students who received offers for the program this year.

Families have been pushing for years to move up the admissions schedule to gifted and talented programs, aimed at placing students who are believed to need accelerated instruction in separate schools and classes.

Before the pandemic, when admission to the program was determined by a single entrance exam, students typically took the test in January, received the results back later in the spring, and then submitted applications. Admissions decisions were typically made in June, weeks after the city sent out general kindergarten offers.

The admissions process for the gifted has been in flux for the past two years due to pandemic disruptions and reform efforts, further delaying the schedule.

Education Department officials said they had heard feedback from families asking for the schedule to be pushed up to make planning for the coming year easier.

Middle and high school applications, which go through a separate process and are not related to applications for gifted and talented individuals, are due Thursday.