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New Test for City's Gifted and Talented Program

The new aptitude test hopes to diversify the gifted and talented program, but critics are wary.

New York City's gifted and talented program will be overhauled with a new admissions test that gives more focus to abstract spatial thinking, in an effort to better diversify the program, according to the Wall Street Journal.

The new exam, the Naglieri Nonverbal Ability Test, will now count for two-thirds of a student's score, while the the Otis-Lennon School Ability Test, which has been in place, will account for 75 percent of a students overall score.

According to the Journal, city officials signed a three-year, $5.5 million contract with testing company Pearson earlier this year for the NNAT.

The new test hardly utilizes language, which some believe better captures intelligence in multilingual settings.

The exam is indicative of the city’s attempt to bridge the gap of equality in public schools – last month, the NAACP filed a civil rights complaint against the city’s admission test for it’s elite high schools, like Stuyvesant and Brooklyn Tech, alleging that they are biased against black and Latino candidates.

City Council Speaker Christine Quinn even said that the admissions process should be looked at, and that the city needs more than one test to judge true aptitude.

"I think similar principles apply in the gifted and talented process," Damon Hewitt, director of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund's education practice, told the Journal, adding that the group was considering investigating the city's gifted and talented admissions.

The gifted and talented program runs from kindergarten to third grade, and has become a highly coveted prize for parents wishing to give their kids a head start to the best city education. According to the Journal, last year, nearly 5,000 children qualified for a spot in a gifted kindergarten program by scoring in the 90th percentile or above, and more than half scored in the 97th percentile or higher, though the top schools only had about 400 kindergarten seats available.

Carol Carman, associate professor in the School of Education at the University of Houston-Clear Lake, has studied the NNAT and is not so sure that its claim by Pearson as a "culturally neutral evaluation” is entirely true, though.

According to the Journal, in 2009, Carman studied 2,000 children in Texas who took an early version of the NNAT and found that non-Asian minority students scored six IQ points lower, and poor children scored eight points lower. Those who fell into both categories scored nearly 14 points lower on the test.

"You have to believe that what they're doing is a failure or you have to believe that African-American and Latino kids are less gifted," James Borland, a professor at Teachers College at Columbia University – and critic of the test –  told the paper. "One of those has to be true."

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