This is part 3 of a guest post series on one mom’s story about applying to the competitive New York City elementary school programs. This post focuses on public elementary schools and how to get into your zoned school, district schools, gifted and talented programs, unzoned schools and charter programs.
The New York City Gifted and Talented testing has gotten extremely competitive over the last several years. I think part of it stems from the fact that they implemented the system-wide G&T testing process several years ago. Prior to that change, many of the G&T schools used their own criteria to admit their choice of students. To be more equitable, they changed to a system-wide testing with priority lists so that all admissions are based on your child’s score, district, sibling preference, and your order of preference (not necessarily in that order), and the matches are generated by a computer. Since most District-Wide G&T programs reside within a general education school (meaning that your child is in a G&T class but in the same school as general education students), parents must test their kids and rank their neighborhood G&T as their top choice if they want their child in the G&T class. Another option for parents who do not have a great gen ed program is to move into one. But that does not always pan out either.
Before I try to explain why the process is so crazy, take a look at this NYC DOE map below. (source: insideschools)
Each number represents a District. Within each District, you have schools. Each school will have a zoning map, much like the one below for P.S. 9 (source: insideschools)
If you live on the inside of the white blocks, you are zoned for that school. If you live on the outside of the white blocks, you are in a different school zone.
Zoned or Neighborhood Schools
To register for your zoned school, you must bring registration materials, such as birth certificate, immunization records, and proof of address, to all of the schools that interest you. The chances of attending a school outside of your zone is limited due to the following priority list. They place students who fall in priority category #1 before #2, and so on.
- Zoned students with a sibling who will be in grades K-5 at the school in 2013-2014
- All other zoned students
- Students residing in the school’s district but outside the school’s zone, with a sibling who will be in grades K-5 at the school in 2013-2014
- Students residing outside of the school’s district with a sibling who will be in grades K-5 at the school in 2013-2014
- All other students residing in the school’s district but outside the school’s zone
- All other students
Some districts are designed as “Choice district” which means that there is one application in which you rank the schools within your district. Priority lists also exist and students are placed by priority.
In either case, if all of the spots are filled due to overcrowding, your child may be placed in a neighboring school. The DOE may also decide to re-draw the zones to create a new school in a high-demand area. For example, in the Upper East Side, the new school zones changed the limits for overcrowded schools, and created another school to handle these students.
What does this mean? If you lived in the pink zone that is now outside of the yellow line, you were “zoned-out.” So living or moving to a popular zone does not guarantee your admission into that school. Talk about frustrating!
Gifted and Talented (G&T) Programs (both District-Wide and City-Wide)
For the G&T process, you must register your child to test in late fall, the year before they start Kindergarten. The test is administered in January and early February. For Kindergarten, your child sits in a room with the proctor one-on-one and answers over 100 questions. The questions are repeated once, and any questions from the children are answered. The proctors are not allowed to “re-direct” the child, as in bring the child back to the correct topic or guide him towards what the question is asking. The whole process takes approximately one hour. The results are sent to you in April with an official application that lists all eligible programs for your child. You then rank your choices among the eligible programs, and based on your rankings, your district, your child’s score, and any sibling factors, you are matched to a school. Children are placed in priority order based on their score first (i.e. 99% has higher priority than 98%, and so on).
There are two types of G&T programs in NYC. To qualify for a District-Wide G&T program, your child’s score must be at least in the 90th percentile. Your application will list all G&T programs within your District and there are usually several programs to choose from within each District. To qualify for City-Wide G&T, your child’s score must be at least in the 97th percentile. There are five City-Wide G&T Schools within NYC. These schools are special in that anyone with a qualifying score from the five boroughs can attend. What is the difference? Generally, in a City-Wide program, the entire school is made up of G&T classes, whereas most District-Wide programs have one or two G&T classes within the grade. Also, the City-Wide G&T programs are very well known and very sought after by parents because they are more selective and have great reputations.
Currently, the NYC DOE allows for siblings with qualifying scores to be placed in a higher priority than those who do not have siblings. This is an extremely controversial topic because some parents may think that a child scoring in the 97th percentile should not be given priority over those children who scored in the 99th percentile. Others may think that family trumps a couple of points on a standardized test for a child. You may be thinking that all NYC parents are crazy, debating the merits of 1 percentage point for a four year old! Unfortunately, that is the reality for many who pursue G&T in NYC, especially Manhattan.
Last year, there were a total of 14,249 children who were tested for a public G&T Kindergarten program in NYC. Of those, 2,656 children were eligible for City-Wide programs. In addition, another 2,256 children were eligible for District-Wide programs. Again, this is only for Kindergarten! Think about the competition here: Over 2,600 children qualified for a City-Wide program, and yet there are only 400 seats in a City-Wide G&T program. In fact, last year over 1,600 children got a 99th percentile score (another proof that everyone preps), which means that not every child with a 99th percentile score will end up in a City-Wide program. So for some parents, having a chunk of the 400 seats go to children with lower scores solely due to a sibling factor is unfair. Personally, I do not feel strongly either way, even though I have more than one child. There is no telling what the future policies will be, but it is likely that things may change in the next few years.
Unzoned or Specialized Schools
In addition to the G&T programs, we have been looking at some of the Unzoned schools in our district. Unzoned schools typically have their own criteria for admissions. Some unzoned schools accept children only living in those districts, with preference for siblings and neighborhood families. This is similar to Charter Schools, where children from all areas can apply, but preference is given to those in the neighborhood. Other unzoned schools are specialized in a certain area, and may set their own testing criteria. An example would be the The Special Music School, where the children are tested in their natural musical abilities prior to admission. Like the G&T programs, unzoned schools that have good reputations have more applicants than spots. Unfortunately for us, the schools we are interested in are not near us and we would fall near the bottom of the preference list.
My child will be taking the G&T exam later this month. If he does not score in the 99th percentile, we can assume that he will not be able to attend the popular City-Wide programs, as well as some District-Wide programs that fill up with only 99th percentile scores. In that case, we still have other options to fall back on, such as unzoned, private, or general ed Kindergarten and trying again next year (or praying for Hunter!).
Hopefully we will get one of our top choices though, because I don’t want to do this again next year!
Getting into a New York Elementary School part 3 of 31. Getting Into a New York Elementary School by Education
2. Testing for NYC Elementary Schools: Gifted & Talented and Private by Education
3. Getting into Your Zoned Elementary School in NYC and the G&T Testing Process by Education