'Brilliant NYC' to replace controversial Gifted and Talented exam for 4-year-olds

NEW YORK CITY (WABC) -- The New York City Department of Education is phasing out the controversial "gifted and talented" exam that fast tracks some kindergartners, and on Friday, Mayor Bill de Blasio and Schools Chancellor Meisha Porter announced the future of the program.

"Brilliant NYC" will eliminate the highly selective high stakes test for 4-year-olds that critics say unfairly favors white and American Asian youngsters, as well as families with means.

The test had typically admitted only about 2,500 kindergartners a year, with 15,000 applicants and approximately 65,000 rising kindergarteners across the city.

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Brilliant NYC is billed as a blueprint for accelerated learning for all elementary students in New York City and a 32 district engagement plan to solicit community feedback.

Students currently in Gifted and Talented will remain in their programming without disruption to their learning, and Brilliant NYC will be phased in for grades one through three.

Starting with kindergarten in September 2022, accelerated learning will be offered to all 65,000 kindergarteners.

"The era of judging 4-year-olds based on a single test is over," de Blasio said. "Brilliant NYC will deliver accelerated instruction for tens of thousands of children, as opposed to a select few. Every New York City child deserves to reach their full potential, and this new, equitable model gives them that chance."

The mayor said Brilliant NYC marks the total end to a single test and the segregation of students if they're labeled as "gifted."

All students will be universally screened in second grade by subject area to determine where their strengths lie in order to tailor accelerated instruction.

"As a life-long educator, I know every child in New York City has talents that go far beyond what a single test can capture and the Brilliant NYC plan will uncover their strengths so they can succeed," Porter said. "I'm excited to get into neighborhoods across the city to hear directly from communities about the types of learning opportunities that pique students' interests and lets their gifts shine."

Students identified as "brilliant" will be mixed with all other students in a classroom, and 4,000 teachers will be retrained to teach them together.

"We're going to be ending something that I think was a mistake all along," de Blasio said. "We're going to reach tens of thousands more kids with accelerated learning."

Not everyone is in favor of the change, including state Senator John Liu.

"This is a sneak attack on the part of the mayor against parents and the public," he said. "And now in the dark of night, on a Friday before a long weekend, to put this out there basically saying he's going get rid of Gifted and Talented programs and have no real plan in place? This is another mess for the next administration to have to deal with."

It's unclear if the next mayor, be it Eric Adams or Curtis Sliwa, will go along with de Blasio's plan.

Congresswoman Grace Meng said the program should be reformed and not removed.

"Phasing out this program is a mistake," she said. "Instead of making any adjustments, the city is taking the easier way out by implementing a mass elimination of the program."

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New York City schools are some of most racially segregated in the nation. Right now, Asian and white students make up about 25% of the overall student population, yet they're 75% of those deemed gifted and talented in the city.

"I know there are kids that are deserving that are Brown and Black children, and something has to get done," parent Timothy Garcia said.

Some believe the focus is misplaced.

"I understand the need to integrate," parent Lisa Steinmetz said. "I understand the importance of everyone getting a good education, but I think that should be done by building more schools, paying more to teachers."

Early this year, a school diversity advisory group recommended the city move away from the exam and toward a system where all students get additional enrichment programs.

"The gifted and talented test is the definition of a high stakes test, a single test, that determines so much," de Blasio said in January. "This approach to testing is not something I believe in."

The final test was given in April, with families receiving their scores ahead of fall 2021.

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