Seriously, gifted kindergarten?
The Kansas City Star
The big news out of New York City is that the admissions test for the city’s gifted kindergarten programs is about to get tougher.
News organizations report that a portion of the current test, which assesses which 4-year-olds have an exceptional grasp of shapes, colors and numbers, will be replaced with a way to better gauge logic and reasoning skills.
It’s about time, is all I can say. The last thing we need in this country is a bunch of overrated preschoolers coasting into gifted kindergarten.
Wait a second … gifted kindergarten?
You have got to be kidding.
Add this to the list of plusses to living out here in flyover country: We do not have gifted kindergarten. (The state of Kansas hasn’t even gotten around to paying for full-day kindergarten for all students, but that’s another story.)
Because we do not have gifted kindergarten, parents do not have to dip into their savings accounts to afford test prep for the gifted kindergarten admissions exam.
Preparing for the baby boards is big business in New York and Chicago and perhaps some other places. Parents have admitted to paying thousands of dollars for “kindercramming.”
According to news reports, more than 14,000 New York City tykes took the gifted kindergarten entrance exam this winter, and almost 5,000 made the cut. In some neighborhoods, nearly all the children scored above average, making entire blocks look like the metropolitan version of Lake Wobegon.
But that’s only the first step. New York City’s five most selective public elementary schools — supposedly the fast tracks to the Ivy League — have only 400 kindergarten seats. Neighborhood schools don’t have enough slots to meet the demand, either. So many of the qualifying students will have to take their chances in a lottery.
I am not down on gifted programs. Kids with exceptional abilities or intelligence should be nourished in school.
But kindergarten? Seriously?
“Standardized testing for kindergarten is an insane practice,” said Robert Schaeffer of FairTest, which works to eliminate abuses in educational testing practices. “What you’re measuring more often is how well kids can sit still.”
And how well they’ve been drilled.
The thing is, children whose parents are willing and able to pay for gifted kindergarten test prep are likely to be advanced for their age anyway.
“I’ve been around gifted education for a very long time and the general consensus is that children are very much enriched by their parents and their experiences up until the third grade,” said Connie Isbell, the lead teacher for the Center School District’s PEGS program, which serves exceptionally gifted students from three Kansas City-area districts. About that age, she said, it becomes more clear which students would benefit from gifted instruction.
I get why parents want to enroll their students in gifted kindergarten. Because their neighbors are doing it. Because they don’t want their kids to be left out. Because they are certain their child is remarkable, and they are undoubtedly correct.
Because they don’t have enough confidence in their public schools to take their chances with ordinary classrooms.
What I don’t get is why a public school district would create a system that guarantees years of privileged opportunities for children fortunate enough to ace a test at age 4. In New York, students enrolled in the gifted program are in for the duration, whether they belong there or not.
“It’s very difficult for poor kids,” Schaeffer said. “It creates another barrier for them.”
Society will never erase all inequality from education. But ending gifted kindergarten and its admissions test is an easy place to start. That way, instead of putting money into test prep, parents could start a college fund for their remarkable 4-year-olds. Regular kindergarten will set them on that path just fine.
To reach Barb Shelly, call 816-234-4594 or send email to email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter at bshelly.