What It Means to Be Gifted

The Gifted and Talented program is a helpful and fair way for students to receive accelerated learning, so give it another shot.

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When I was in first grade, I took the Gifted and Talented (G&T) admissions exam to get into the coveted program that offers smaller class sizes, better resources, and an accelerated curriculum. My parents were ecstatic when I earned a seat because I had previously been ignored in class and now had a chance to receive more attention from teachers. During my eight years in the G&T program, I experienced a rigorous, advanced curriculum that helped me build my confidence.

However, on October 8, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced his plan to eliminate the G&T program from NYC public schools. Calls for G&T program reform have been mounting for years, with angry parents claiming that the separate classes increase segregation among students regarding race and perceived intelligence. De Blasio has proposed replacing it with an accelerated program offered to all third graders, in which students will be screened to check if they need more instruction but will stay in the same class. In other words, while all students are in the same classroom, some will be learning different material. However, this replacement program is not a long-term solution. The key to truly integrating all children into NYC public schools is making G&T more accessible so that every child has equal knowledge heading into the exam room.

The G&T program has profound benefits for those who qualify. It raises standards among students, pushing them to reach their full potential in the classroom. Students in the program feel more motivated to get better grades, and the curriculum’s higher quality of education creates an environment for its students that cannot be replicated in every public school. Students in the program experience smaller classes, more challenging curriculums, and an advantage in middle and high school admissions compared to other children in the same grade.

However, some feel that it is immoral to separate students based on a school’s definition of “giftedness.” But the logic behind the G&T program is similar to other methods of separating students. Grade levels are based on age because an eight year old and a 10 year old have different academic experiences, knowledge, and learning methods. It is not fair to place eight year olds in fifth grade unless they are an exception. This idea of equality versus equity is used in G&T admissions: both systems have students at varying math and reading levels—perhaps because they had different childhood experiences or extra tutoring—and the G&T program separates kids not only by age, but also by how much they know and their learning styles.

De Blasio’s accelerated program would screen students to see if they need an advanced curriculum but keep them in the same classroom regardless, leading to confusion and restlessness among students. Some would be left behind while others would not be academically challenged. But with the G&T program, there is less of this confusion, as students can take the G&T exam multiple times to reflect their growth and adaptability over time. For example, some kids enter the program when they are four, while others, like me, join much later on.

The G&T program does have its downsides, however, especially in its lack of diversity. Currently, there is no way to blatantly discriminate against students’ identities because admissions are based solely on scores. On the other hand, parents of underprivileged communities may not know about the G&T admissions process nor have the resources to register their children for it. For me, registration and preparation were an easy process, and my school properly ensured that all students had access to the test. However, it’s important to recognize that this experience isn’t the case for everyone. We must employ guidance counselors or hold conferences so that students are aware of how to prepare for the exam and can do so at home.

Parents against the G&T program also point out that Asian American and white students make up 75 percent of classes, despite Black and Latino students making up 70 percent of all public school students, supporting the argument that the G&T program perpetuates racial segregation. Yet Asian American refers to students of many different ethnicities, including South Asians, Southeast Asians, Middle Easterners, and more. To group us all into one category does not accurately reflect the actual diversity in the program. The lack of Black and Latino students in the program is a large issue, but phasing out the program is not the solution. Instead, we should focus on the root of the problem: the lack of resources and information among parents and students in Black and Latino communities.

The best way to bring more diversity into the G&T program is not to erase its benefits from public schools but to provide more resources about it, which can be done through flyers, booklets, guidance counselors, school board meetings, and interpretation services. For students who do not learn enough to pass the exam, unifying the curriculum of all children in the same grade could solve this problem. The segregation in the G&T program is just a result of unequal education among children—a separate issue. If we truly want to end segregation in NYC public schools, we must pressure the Department of Education to make sure that every four year old has the resources to at least stand a chance of passing the G&T exam. After that, we can assess who truly qualifies as gifted and talented.