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Parenting in the Age of High-Stakes Testing: Gifted and Talented Admissions and the Meaning of Parenthood


by Allison Roda - 2017

Background/Context: This work contributes to the growing body of scholarly and popular literature on middle-class parental anxiety and competition to ensure their children’s academic success. Specifically, this study provides a better understanding of the measures parents will take to obtain high status gifted and talented (G&T) placements that advantage their own children at the expense of others, which is somewhat contradictory given the growing uneasiness they feel about putting their children through the testing process—and paying for test prep—that the system ultimately rewards. By analyzing the different ways in which White parents and parents of color conceive of good parenting in the era of high-stakes testing, I demonstrate the processes in our current educational system that help to produce inequities related to race, class, and G&T identification.

Purpose/Objective/Research Question/Focus of Study: This paper examines White parents’ beliefs about parenting as it relates to their school choice preferences in the segregated and stratified New York City school system. It also compares the parenting styles and school choices of lower income general education (Gen Ed) parents of color. It explores how parents’ social constructions of where their children belong in school are tied to their beliefs about parenting and doing what is best for their children in a highly competitive society and city.

Research Design: A qualitative case study was utilized to examine how a diverse group of 52 New York City parents make sense of and interact with an elementary school that offers both a segregated G&T and a Gen Ed program. The semistructured parent interview data was triangulated with school observations, a professional school-choice consultant interview, and an observation of a public school choice workshop for incoming kindergarten parents led by the consultant.

Findings/Results: The data show that White parents believe that paying for test prep, going through the “hassle of getting your child tested for G&T,” and receiving a high test score are symbolic of being a good parent in the system. In comparison, parents of color had different conceptions of good parenting that did not include prepping for the G&T test or getting into the G&T program, where their children would be in the minority. White parents had social networks of like-minded parents pressuring them to get into the G&T program. Black and Latino parents did not have the same G&T pressure from friends or family, nor did they view a G&T placement as giving their children extra advantages in terms of test scores or future schooling opportunities.

Conclusions/Recommendations: The findings suggest that the pressure for children to succeed on a single test feeds into parental anxiety and competition regarding getting their children into the high-status G&T program. Instead of trying to avoid an overly anxious parenting culture, the White advantaged parents in this setting get swept up in the test-prepping fad because everyone else is doing it and because of the competitive nature of obtaining a G&T seat. If policy officials want to attack the root of the G&T segregation problem, the city should consider phasing out district G&T programs altogether and instituting school-wide G&T magnets instead.



National and state policies over the last three decades have required public schools to adopt accountability systems that are defined by narrow measures of student achievement—namely, standardized tests. In the New York City school system, student scores on standardized tests have particularly high stakes because they are being used not only to measure student achievement levels, but also for grade promotion, selective middle school and high school placements, and enrollment in elementary school gifted and talented (G&T) programs. As Diane Ravitch (2010), a historian of the New York City school system, wrote, “Testing was always important in the New York City schools, but it assumed even more importance in the age of data-driven accountability” (p. 89). A vivid example of this is the New York City Department of Education’s (NYCDOE) centralized admissions process for elementary school G&T programs. It is determined by a single score on a standardized test taken when children are in preschool and tends to result in racial and socioeconomic-status (SES) segregation between the G&T and general education (Gen Ed) tracks (Borland, 2003, 2009; Sapon-Shevin, 1994, 2003).

Elementary schools typically use pull-out models for gifted students in which teachers are the key gatekeepers of G&T identification, and  students identified as “gifted” are given G&T curriculum outside the regular classroom for a set number of hours per week. Yet in New York City and other urban districts, full-time, school-within-school G&T models are used alongside Gen Ed programs. As a result, New York City parents are the gatekeepers, because they are given the choice to request that their preschool children be tested for G&T in kindergarten. The parent must fill out an online form by a certain deadline and then take the child to a designated testing location. If the child scores at or above the 90th percentile on the standardized test, he or she can apply to district G&T programs. The NYCDOE implements school-within-school G&T programs as a policy tool to attract White, middle-class families and their valuable resources into the public system, which improves student achievement levels (Gootman & Gebeloff, 2008).

In 2013, Black and Latino students made up the majority of the total student population in the New York City school system. White students, however, were three times more likely to be enrolled in G&T programs than Black students and seven times more likely than Latino students (Katch, 2013; Otterman, 2011). This trend of within-school segregation caused by G&T programming, or second-generation segregation, is not limited to New York (Mickelson, 2001). It has been reported that the Charleston, Memphis, and Atlanta school districts classify six times more White students than Black students as G&T. In Philadelphia and Los Angeles, White students are three times more likely to be labeled G&T than Black students (Holzman, 2012).

The mechanisms used to sort students into academic categories are, according to Bourdieu (1974), “concealed beneath the cloak of a perfectly democratic method of selection, which takes into account only merit and talent” (p. 60; see also Oakes, 2005). G&T placements based upon perceptions of student ability are often seen as merit-based, but in fact have many cultural biases that relate to race and class privilege (Wells & Serna, 1996). A growing number of New York City policymakers, citizens, scholars, and even parents are starting to question the use of a single test score for G&T admission, because it further advantages children from privileged backgrounds and results in disproportionate numbers of White and Asian students in gifted programs citywide. The G&T debate is particularly timely given the recent attention to the racial disparities associated with New York City’s Specialized High School admissions policy, which, like G&T, also relies on a single test score for admission (Corcoran & Baker-Smith, 2015).

Although they are critical of the fairness of the G&T policy, White parents still capitalize on their privilege in order to win coveted G&T spots in a high-status program for their children, thus assuring the passage of advantage from one generation to the next. As White parents in this study explained, the biggest benefit of getting into the G&T program is that it is perceived to be better than Gen Ed at preparing students for middle-school testing because classroom instruction is more challenging. Students must score well on standardized tests in order to get into the selective middle schools and high schools, including the Specialized High Schools,

White, socially and economically advantaged parents in the system realize that what is at stake is their children’s future in a highly unequal society. This realization causes anxiety and pressure to be considered “good parents” (Demerath, 2009; Cucchiara, 2013b) who prep and test their children for the G&T label. For this reason, when advantaged White parents do not get their children into the G&T program where other similarly advantaged families are concentrated, they feel out of place in the Gen Ed program. At the same time, these White, advantaged parents question the measures used to define “giftedness”—relating the gifted label more to students’ advantaged backgrounds and G&T test preparation than their true intelligence (Roda, 2015).

This paper examines White parents’ beliefs about parenting as it relates to their school-choice preferences in this segregated and stratified school system. It also compares the parenting styles and school choices of lower-income Gen Ed parents of color. It explores how parents’ social constructions of where their children belong in school are tied to their beliefs about parenting and doing what is best for their children in a highly competitive city and society. White parents, who are located on both sides of the G&T/Gen Ed boundary, explain and justify their reasons for prepping, testing, and retesting their children for G&T even when they say it is not who they are, they do not believe their children are truly gifted and talented, and/or they admit that tutoring for the G&T test is “cheating.” In this way, paying for test prep, going through the “hassle of getting your child tested for G&T,” and receiving a high test score is symbolic of being a good parent in the system. These same parents, however, question whether putting their children through the high-stakes testing is the “right” thing to do philosophically, particularly at age four, when students first take the G&T test.

In comparison, parents of color had different conceptions of good parenting that did not include prepping for the G&T test or getting into the G&T program, where their children would be in the minority. White parents had social networks of like-minded parents pressuring them to get into the G&T program. I found that Black and Latino parents did not have the same G&T pressure from friends or family, nor did they view a G&T placement as giving their children extra advantages in terms of test scores or future schooling opportunities. Their ideas of being a good parent included exposing their children to diversity in the school and classroom and not working the system to their advantage by test-prepping.

This work contributes to the growing body of scholarly and popular literature on middle-class parental anxiety about and competition to ensure their children’s academic success (Ball, 2003; Cucchiara, 2013b; Demerath, 2009; Nelson, 2010), including how Whites acquire private goods from public institutions (Lipsitz, 2006). As Demerath (2009) wrote, we need a better understanding of middle-class parents’ “abilities to manipulate policy” and secure educational advantages for their children (p. 176). This study fills that gap by exploring the measures parents will take to obtain high-status G&T placements that advantage their own children at the expense of others, which is somewhat contradictory given their growing uneasiness about putting their children through the testing process—and paying for test prep—that the system ultimately rewards (see also Nelson, 2010, regarding the contradictions in middle-class parenting styles).

LITERATURE REVIEW

This study extends the sociology of education literature on educational stratification within schools (Clotfelter, 2004; Lareau, 2003; Lucas, 1999; Oakes, 2005) and parental influence on track placements (Brantlinger, 2003; Useem, 1992). Much is known about how advantaged parents’ school choices relate to perceptions of public-school quality and the race and class composition of schools (see Cucchiara, 2008; Holme, 2002; Johnson & Shapiro, 2003; Kimelberg & Billingham, 2013; Lewis, 2003; Posey-Maddox, 2014). What has been studied less in urban, gentrifying, and gentrified neighborhoods is the presence of public schools that offer particular themed programs, such as G&T, that attract middle-class parents and help diversify schools.

The literature on neoliberalism and White, middle-class parental anxiety is helpful here because of the competition and hyperindividualism that is created among these parents as they vie for G&T seats (Ball, 2003; Cucchiara, 2013b). Neoliberalism was defined by Pauline Lipman (2011) as an “ensemble of economic and social policies . . . that promote individual self-interest,” free markets, choice, competition, and scarcity (p. 6). In the educational sphere, market-based school-choice policies, such as the G&T policy, are touted as benefiting and providing more access for low-income families of color. Yet in fact they do the opposite by giving even more advantage to the most privileged children in the system and leading to segregation (Lipman, 2011; Mickelson, Bottia, & Southworth, 2008; Roda & Wells, 2013). Advantaged parents are adept at converting “social hierarchies into academic hierarchies” (Bourdieu & Passeron, 1977, p. 496) through their exclusionary access to private preschools, test prepping, and insider information about the school-choice process from their social networks and private consulting services. In this context, social stratification and segregation occur within the public school system through gifted programming. Therefore, what is neoliberal are choice policies that provide an escape for middle-class families (Makris, 2015; Posey-Maddox, 2014; Scott, 2011) who, as I will show in this context, are more likely to be competing against one another for a G&T seat.

Prior work on middle-class parents’ interactions with urban schools has focused on the role of parent engagement in school-reform efforts (Cucchiara, 2013a; Kimelberg & Billingham, 2013; Posey-Maddox, 2014). As Linn Posey-Maddox (2014) argued in her study of middle-class parents’ motivations for choosing a Title I urban public school in Northern California, “relying upon middle-class parents as major drivers of school reform is bad practice, as their volunteerism and fundraising efforts may marginalize low-income and working-class families in a school community” (p. 29). This growing body of work has shown that when a critical mass of White parents organize and choose urban schools that enroll a majority of students of color, it can lead to school gentrification or increased competition for enrollment (Posey-Maddox, Kimelberg, & Cucchiara, 2012), as well as “inequalities in social and cultural capital among parents” (Sapon-Shevin, 2003, p. 33).

Research has also shown that economically advantaged White parents are more likely to advocate for their children’s educational placements, as opposed to low-income parents of color (Brantliner, 2003; Perry, 2002; see also Lareau, 2003, and her discussion of social-class differences in parenting styles). In Karolyn Tyson’s (2011) research on racialized tracking in schools, she provided examples of White parents “pushing and complaining” to get their children into G&T and other advanced courses, even if they do not meet the admission requirements. Black parents, on the other hand, do not engage with schools in this way (Tyson, 2011, p. 150). Tyson (2011) concluded that majority-White G&T programs can “send powerful messages to students about ability, race, status, and achievement” (p. 8). Racialized tracking can also send messages to parents about where their children belong within schools that offer segregated G&T and Gen Ed programs (Roda, 2015). Jeannie Oakes, in her study of 25 racially and socioeconomically diverse secondary schools, questions why tracking systems continue to reward more advantaged parents and their children with better educational opportunities through higher track placements. She also asks why we continue to blame lower-income families for “their own lack of ability and effort or on their failure to take advantage of schooling” opportunities (Oakes, 2005, p. 300).

The G&T system in New York City is flawed because the NYCDOE continues to rely on a single standardized test for G&T placement decisions, based on the assumption that all parents have equal opportunity and information to sign their children up to get tested. The result is that students enrolled in G&T classrooms citywide are 73% White or Asian, and a majority of low-income students of color are tracked in Gen Ed classrooms in those same schools (Zimmer & Chiwaya, 2015). According to White, advantaged parents in the study, the G&T and Gen Ed curricula are the same. G&T is perceived to be better than Gen Ed because of peer effects, classroom environment, and G&T teachers’ ability to move faster and go more deeply into certain subjects (Roda, 2015). G&T classrooms are also, reportedly, better stocked because of G&T parent donations and have more parent volunteers than do Gen Ed classrooms.

Gifted-education scholar Donna Ford (2003) suggested that in order to desegregate G&T programs, we need to stop relying on tests to identify gifted learners. Schools must expand the definition of giftedness to include multiple intelligences. In addition, the National Association for Gifted Children recommends using multiple assessments—both objective and subjective measures—and providing various opportunities to exhibit giftedness over time. Ravitch (2010) wrote that “any education researcher could have predicted this result” of segregated G&T programs in New York City “because children from advantaged homes are far likelier to know the vocabulary on a standardized test than children who lack the same advantages” (p. 89). Therefore, what is also important in this context is the relationship between tracking and gifted education (Borland, 2003; Ford, 2003) and the strong relationship between academic achievement and a student’s demographic background (Phillips, 2013; Reardon, 2003). By analyzing the different ways in which White parents and parents of color conceive of good parenting in the era of high-stakes testing, I demonstrate the processes in our current educational system that help to produce inequities related to race, class, and G&T identification.

METHODS

This paper is part of a qualitative case study that examines how a diverse group of 52 New York City parents make sense of and interact with an elementary school, which I will be referring to by the pseudonym “The Community School” (TCS), that offers both a segregated G&T and a Gen Ed program. A case-study design was used to better understand the multiple ways in which parents perceive educational processes and the boundaries that divide and stratify students (Merriam, 2009; Yin, 1994). The main method of data collection was parent interviews, which were then triangulated with school observations, a professional school-choice consultant interview, and an observation of a public-school choice workshop for incoming kindergarten parents led by the consultant. I also analyzed census and school-level data and other archival sources to learn about changes to the G&T policy, school choice options, and demographic changes.

Each of the semistructured, face-to-face interviews lasted between 30 and 90 minutes and was held at a coffee shop or the respondent’s home. I asked questions about parents’ experiences with raising children in New York City, their school-choice process, educational expectations for their children, beliefs about G&T education and the G&T policy, and comparisons between the G&T and Gen Ed programs (see Appendix A for interview protocol). Data were collected in two waves. In 2011, initial interviews were conducted using a purposive and snowball sampling technique, which resulted in 41 White, advantaged parents—40 mothers and one father—who had all had their children tested for G&T in preschool and had four-year college degrees.

Like Maia Cucchiara (2013a), I define social class in this paper by incorporating Bourdieu’s various forms of social, cultural, and economic capital. In Cucchiara’s book Marketing Schools, Marketing Cities (2013a), she wrote that parents’ ability to secure educational advantage is not just about the financial aspects but is also based “upon whom they know and whether or not they possess the cultural capital (or various kinds of skills, habits, and knowledge) . . . that allows them to advance within schools” (p. 16). This advantage is also based on child-rearing practices that set them apart from working-class and lower-income families. Thus, when I label White parents as being “middle-class,” “upper middle-class,” or “advantaged,” I am referring to parents who possess social, cultural, and economic capital in the system. For example, White, advantaged parents generally had deep knowledge of the G&T admissions process, enrolled their children in private preschools, were college educated, and worked at professional careers.

In order to obtain the multiple perspectives that I was seeking, I interviewed parents with children in different grades, classrooms, and programs at TCS, as well as parents who were zoned1 for the school (N = 34) or lived outside the school’s catchment (N = 17), until data saturation was reached. By utilizing a variety of social entry points into the school, I was able to obtain a representative group of parents who were from different social networks and had different levels of involvement in the school. I selected participants based on contact information I received from the school’s website, the school-choice consultant, or parent referrals of other parents in their child’s elementary or preschool classroom, neighborhood, or apartment building. Four parents who were contacted declined to participate because of scheduling conflicts. One White father stated that he had reservations about saying anything negative about G&T because he had two daughters in the program. In contrast to using a more generalizable random sampling technique, purposive sampling enabled me to compile a sample that was more representative of the major subgroups (grade level, race/ethnicity, classroom, etc.) reflected across the parent population (See Table 1 for a profile of the parent sample).

Table 1. Profile of Parent Sample

Name

Race/ ethnicity

SES

No. of children

School program

Referral

Zoned school

I. G&T only

Jane

White (Jewish)

Stay-at-home mom; college educated

1

G&T

Rachael (classroom network)

Out of zone

Jennifer

White

PT professional job; college educated

2

G&T

Rosie’s email to whole class

Out of zone

II. Gen Ed only

Alyssa

White

Stay-at- home mom; college educated

1

Gen Ed

School choice consultant (email to her listserv)

Zoned school

Lauren

White (Jewish)

Stay-at-home mom; college educated

2

Gen Ed

Margaret (classroom network)

Zoned school

III. Both programs

Amy and Joe

(married couple interviewed together)

White (Amy is Portuguese American)

Amy = FT graduate student

Joe = PT professional job; college educated

2

G&T and Gen Ed

Elaine (email to whole class)

Out of zone

Melissa

White

Stay-at-home mom; college educated

2

G&T and Gen Ed

School’s website

Out of zone

IV. Gen Ed parents of color

Mercedes

Latina/

Dominican

PT; some college

2

Gen Ed

Jessica (classroom network)

Zoned school

Althea

African American

FT student

1

Gen Ed

Margaret (classroom network)

Zoned school

The final sample included 16 White parents who had children enrolled only in G&T, 16 White parents who had children only in Gen Ed, and nine White parents with children in both programs at the same time (N = 41). In 2014, follow-up interviews were conducted with the eight White parents in the original sample who had had children enrolled in the kindergarten or first-grade Gen Ed program in 2011 (See Appendix A for interview protocol), a new White Gen Ed parent, along with a comparison group of nine Black and Latino Gen Ed parents (see Table 2). After preliminary data analysis, I realized that it would be useful to include Gen Ed parents of color in the sample to hear their perspective on the G&T and Gen Ed families and programs at TCS. I was then able to triangulate the interview data with the White, advantaged parents.

Table 2. Interview Participant Categories

Data source

Number

Interviews

White parents

 G&T only

16

 Gen Ed only

17

 Both programs

9

Black parents

 Gen Ed only

2

 Both programs

2

Latino parents

 Gen Ed only

5

School-choice consultant

1

Total number of interviewees

52

  

Follow-up interviews

8

  

Zoned parents

34

Out-of-zone parents

17

  

Observations

 

 G&T school tour

2 hours

 PTA meeting

1 hour

 School-choice workshop

2 hours

The comparison group of four Black and five Latina mothers was selected using referrals from the interviewees. They were from lower middle-class or working-class backgrounds, with most living within the catchment in rent-stabilized apartments, in public housing, or with extended family members—reflective of the population of families of color at the school. The majority of the mothers worked part-time or full-time in jobs that did not require postsecondary degrees. The two African parents in the sample were originally from Eritrea and Ethiopia; they lived outside the school’s catchment and had moved to New York City for college. They used the G&T program for their oldest children to gain entry into TCS when schools used multiple measures for G&T admission (before 2008). In both families, the younger children did not make the 90th percentile on the G&T test. However, despite these test scores and the fact that they lived outside the catchment, TCS allowed them to enroll in the Gen Ed program because of sibling preference.

The research methodology is framed by an inquiry-based research paradigm with a constructivist worldview. Thus, themes and findings inductively emerged through the perspective of the individuals being studied and the researcher’s positionality related to the context (Carter, 2005; Corbin & Strauss, 2008; Lareau, 2003). My identity as a White, middle-class, public-school parent was important because I was aware of the larger school-choice context within which the parents were operating. Yet I was unknown to the respondents because my son was no longer enrolled in a New York City public school at the time of the study. To avoid leading or biased questions, I allowed respondents to frame issues in their own words, used open-ended questions, and repeated words or phrases that respondents used in their responses when probing for more information.

As the interviews were being transcribed and field notes were written up, I spent time combining and reorganizing categories and subcategories from the interview data, first by hand, and then by using ATLAS.ti to code the data. I looked for negative examples and for differences between the G&T, Gen Ed, and Both parent categories (Lareau, 2000). In order to provide a comparative analysis, each set of parents was analyzed both for the information that they gave about themselves and for the information that they gave about others (e.g., G&T parent vs. Gen Ed parent, or “parents who care about their child’s education” vs. “parents who just enroll their child in Gen Ed”). This process resulted in nine umbrella themes and 14 more specific dimensional codes within the larger themes (see Carter, 2005); see Appendix B for sample coding. I also consulted with colleagues about emerging themes to ensure validity and did member checks with four parents.

NEW YORK CITY G&T CONTEXT

In New York City, school segregation starts in elementary school. The majority of students attend their zoned public schools, which are linked to neighborhood segregation. Additionally, deregulated school-choice policies are implemented in such a way that they favor advantaged parents who are the most savvy in getting their children into the best (and Whitest) schools and programs. These mostly segregated options include (a) private schools (if the parents have the money for tuition or the child is awarded a scholarship, and the child gets accepted); (b) zoned schools, which are typically hypersegregated;2 (c) G&T or dual-language self-contained programs, which often attract White parents to separate programs within otherwise diverse public schools; (d) unzoned K–8 schools or charter schools3 with their own district-wide lottery applications. An additional option of last resort cited by parents is moving out to the suburbs.

Geographically, the New York City school system is broken up into 32 smaller community school districts (CSDs). Most CSDs have predominantly Black and Latino student populations. I chose to study the City Limits (pseudonym) CSD because of its racially and socioeconomically diverse student body overall. The City Limits student population stands out because it is roughly 30% Black, 30% Latino, 30% White, and 5% Asian; 50% qualify for free or reduced-price lunch (FRL) (NYCDOE, 2009/10). Yet the school options that City Limits parents have to choose among do not reflect the diverse student population within the district’s borders:13 out of the 19 elementary schools enroll a majority of low-income students of color, three schools offer majority-White G&T programs, and three schools enroll a disproportionate number of White, higher-income students.

“The Community School” (TCS) is the site of this study and is home to one of the three G&T programs in the City Limits District. It was chosen because its total student enrollment comprises a more even mix of different races/ethnicities and social-class backgrounds: roughly 55% White, 25% Latino, 15% Black, 10% Asian, and 30% FRL, compared to the other two schools with G&T programs that are popular with White parents (see Table 3). The catchment area surrounding TCS includes public housing in the northern section, as well as high-priced apartment buildings and brownstones that constitute the majority of homes in the area.

Table 3. Students’ Race, FRL Eligibility, and Percentage Passing State ELA and Math Tests at Schools with G&T Programs

  

Percentages

Public school

Total students

Black

Latino

White

Asian

FRL

ELA

Math

Schools with G&T programs

TCS

610

12

24

54

8

31

62

73

GT2

561

10

21

60

8

19

83

93

GT3

612

25

40

28

6

48

60

70

Note. All schools were given pseudonyms to protect confidentiality and are kindergarten to grade 5 schools. G&T = gifted and talented program; FRL = eligible for free or reduced-price lunch; percentage ELA = percentage of students who passed the yearly English Language Arts standardized test; percentage Math = percentage of students who passed the yearly mathematics standardized test. All 2009–10 statistics are taken from the New York City Department of Education website, http://schools.nyc.gov

As illustrated in Table 4, there has been a steady increase in the White student enrollment and a decrease in the Black and Latino student population at TCS. Starting in 2008, the Gen Ed program has enrolled White neighborhood children or younger siblings of older G&T students who do not initially make the G&T cutoff score—breaking down the racial and social class boundaries in the younger grades but not in the older grades because by then, most of the White students retest and switch to G&T. The G&T program remains 68% White and 14% Asian, largely because of the reliance of a standardized test as the sole criterion for admission. Parents reported that the presence of more White students in the Gen Ed program is due to the G&T policy change that shifted from using multiple measures to being a single score on a standardized test in 2008. The economic recession also caused many advantaged families to stay in the city and choose public school. Lastly, there was overcrowding in other City Limits schools with disproportionate numbers of White students that were popular choices initially.

Table 4. Demographic Changes at The Community School, 2007–2015

 

2007–8

2011–12

2014–15

White

46%

56%

59%

Black

19%

10%

7%

Latino

29%

24%

18%

Asian

7%

10%

11%

FRL

37%

31%

28%

ELL

11%

5%

6%

Total enrollment

574

610

624

Note. FRL = free or reduced-price lunch; ELL = English language learners. All 2007–2015 statistics are taken from the New York City Department of Education website, http://schools.nyc.gov

CONCEPTIONS OF GOOD PARENTING, TEST PREP, AND G&T PLACEMENTS FOR EDUCATIONAL ADVANTAGE

My comparative analysis of conceptions of good parenting for White, advantaged G&T-seeking parents versus those for low-income Gen Ed parents of color in the New York City G&T system yielded one main finding—good parenting, test prep, and educational advantage—and three subthemes: (a) factors beyond test scores that determine G&T status, (b) conceptions of good parenting in the G&T system, and (c) the status quo of test-prepping for educational advantage. I describe the main finding and subthemes below.

The majority of parents in this study, regardless of their racial/ethnic or class background, said that they want school and classroom-level diversity for their children’s education. The problem, however, is that there are very few diverse schools—at the school and curricular level—in the City Limits district to choose from. Parents specifically point to the diversity—meaning more white students—in the Gen Ed classrooms in the younger grades (K–2) as a positive thing for TCS, because the segregation between programs is breaking down slowly over time.

Instead of keeping their children in Gen Ed if they fail to qualify for G&T, however, White parents have their children retested for G&T. They attempt to cross over the G&T/Gen Ed boundary, whereas Black and Latino parents do not. White parents retest for G&T even when they also say that they are satisfied with their child’s Gen Ed teacher, they appreciate the diversity in their child’s classroom, they downplay the differences between programs because the curriculum is the same, and/or they do not believe in the G&T program (Roda, 2015). In fact, when I revisited the school in 2014, I found that six out of the eight White parents whose children were initially enrolled in the Gen Ed program in 2011 had either switched their child to G&T or left the school.

For example, Betsy, a White G&T parent whose youngest son was in the kindergarten and first-grade Gen Ed program before switching to G&T in second grade, explained that retesting for G&T is a “problem that exists in the school” because “people do what I did and they’ll send their kids to the Gen Ed program for kindergarten, for first grade, for second grade, but we haven’t really had—and maybe this is changing, I hope so—those families stay through the upper grades. They tend to leave, either to switch over to the G&T or maybe leave the city or maybe go to a different school.”

G&T parents will rationalize that their children are being exposed to school-level diversity, even though there is little interaction between the G&T and Gen Ed students inside the school. In fact, parents explained that the only opportunities for students to socialize with those in the other track are during recess, lunchtime (where they sit with their own class), field trips (which typically include the entire grade, but Gen Ed is not always included), and afterschool activities and sports (if they participate, and which also tend to be segregated). White parents in the Gen Ed program explained that the separation contributes to the feeling that the G&T students are “getting something better” or special. This happens even though technically the G&T and Gen Ed students are receiving the same standardized NYCDOE curriculum, and they are supposed to have access to the same resources.

The parents living within the boundaries of TCS’s catchment could choose between the G&T and Gen Ed programs at TCS, if their children scored high enough. The parents living outside of TCS’s catchment, however, had only the G&T program as an option outside of their zoned school. In other words, these out-of-zone parents did not have the Gen Ed program as a fallback. Getting into a G&T program was sometimes perceived to be the only option other than their “failing,” hypersegregated, zoned school. This situation created stress and anxiety for out-of-zone parents to have their children score high enough on the G&T test to be surrounded by other families like their own.

FACTORS BESIDES TEST SCORES THAT DETERMINE G&T STATUS

The majority of White parents and parents of color realized that G&T test scores reflected more than just intelligence. They believed that their child’s score also had to do with outside factors, such as test-taking skills, how comfortable the child is with strangers, or whether the child was hungry or tired during the hour-long test. In other words, neither set of parents believed that the G&T tests adequately measured a child’s ability or intelligence. What was different, however, was that White parents paid for G&T test prep at home with private tutors or sent their child to a preschool that offered test prep. White parents decided to test and retest their children for the G&T label even when they acknowledged that the prepping was unfair. In comparison, none of the Black and Latino parents did any sort of G&T test-prepping with their children or retested their children for the G&T program if they had been initially tested in kindergarten and had not received a high enough score. Their children attended public or—if they received a scholarship—some private preschools, but the schools did not provide G&T test prep.

When parents were interviewed in 2011, the two standardized tests that preschool children took included the Otis-Lennon School Ability Test (OLSAT) and the Bracken School Readiness Assessment (BSRA).4 According to the NYCDOE’s website, the OLSAT measures “verbal comprehension, verbal reasoning, pictorial reasoning and figural reasoning” whereas the BSRA is a kindergarten-readiness assessment that asks questions about colors, letters, shapes, and numbers in a multiple-choice format. Parents described the BSRA as a test that children can easily pass if they attend preschool and learn their colors and shapes. The OLSAT, on the other hand, was described as a little more “tricky” and “confusing.” This was the test that parents were prepping their children to take, because they said it was more about test-taking skills than actual academic prowess. Many parents also thought that their child’s G&T test score was less about being a good student and more about being a really good test-taker or being able to sit still and focus.

Margaret, who is a White parent with a son in G&T and a daughter who started in the kindergarten Gen Ed program, thought it also had to do with how comfortable children are with strangers (i.e., the proctor for the test) when she explained her two children’s personalities: “[My son] is really, really outgoing and chats up anybody, and [my daughter] tends to really clam up around strangers and I think . . . that’s the reason” she did not pass the 90th percentile G&T cutoff score for siblings. Althea, an African American Gen Ed mother who had her son tested for G&T in kindergarten but subsequently stopped testing because of his very low test score, agreed: “Sometimes I just believe it depends on whether the child ate, whether he’s tired, what time you go get the child, and who’s actually administering the test. He didn’t have any luck.” Gen Ed parents of color, like Althea, said that if they hear about the G&T program in preschool and decide to test their children, the children tend to not get very high scores on the G&T test. A possible reason for this could be that they were not as prepared. Unlike the advantaged, White parents who can afford tutoring and choose to retest for G&T, Gen Ed parents of color decided not to prep or to retest their children in first grade. They explained that they did not believe in tutoring and that, even if they had the money, they would not spend it on G&T test prep. After they had their children enrolled in Gen Ed and saw the stark segregation in the G&T program, they also realized that they did not want to be one of the only families of color in the G&T program.

The majority of White, advantaged parents admitted to doing some kind of test-prep activities with their children at home, at preschool, and/or with a private tutor. Three G&T parents in the older grades did not do any test prep. They explained that there was no need to prep for the G&T program when schools used multiple measures for admission. Most parents who prepped said that they used the DOE’s website, which provides a practice OLSAT that parents can print out; parents also bought practice tests and workbooks online. Some even hired professional tutors (usually privately at their home) or signed their children up for classes at local tutoring centers, such as Kumon or Bright Kids—NYC. The growing test- prepping industry contributes to the uneven cultural capital exchange among parents, which serves to strengthen the boundary line between the G&T and Gen Ed programs and children. These differences all lead to the continuation of this stratified system (Winerip, 2010). Parents explained that, technically, you are not “supposed to” prep, and on all NYCDOE documents it says that if the proctor believes that a child was prepped, then the proctor can stop the test.

There is a lengthy process for kindergarten G&T admissions that starts the year before children enter kindergarten. First, parents are required to fill out an online “Request for G&T Testing” form in November. They then take their children to get tested at their assigned place and time in January, and they receive their children’s scores in April. The NYCDOE combines the student’s two test scores to come up with a percentile rank, weighting the OLSAT 75% and the BSRA 25%. The percentile rank shows a student’s score relative to other New York City students in that age group who also took the test. If the student scores above the 90th percentile, then the parents can attend G&T school tours and fill out the G&T application with their ranked school preferences by the end of April. Parents receive final placement decisions in late May.

Students get placed in G&T programs according to sibling priority, percentile rank, ranked school preferences, and available seats. Since TCS’s G&T program is popular, parents reported that students had to get a top score of 98 or 99 to get a seat there, except for younger siblings who are guaranteed a seat if they score 90 or above. They also explained that there are so many younger siblings that there are hardly any available seats for first-time incoming students, especially in the older grades. The sibling policy, along with the test-prepping and uneven cultural and social capital among parents, illustrates that there are factors beyond test scores that determine whether students get offered a G&T seat.

The Real Reasons for Passing the G&T Tests

Other reasons that parents gave for children passing the G&T tests, if they even take them, are related to cultural and socioeconomic differences in parenting. When Tara, a White, third-grade Gen Ed parent, was asked whether she felt the G&T tests adequately measured giftedness, thought it was “not a great gauge.” She explained that when she looked at the NYCDOE sample tests online, “there were things that they were asking—once you’re living in the city, if you can’t afford to go outside the city, are you really going to know what a garage is? Are you really going to know what a pond is? Are you really—there’s specific questions that ask you about certain areas, and if you’re not being taught it in preschool and it’s not in your everyday environment, you’re not going to know it, you’re not familiar with it.”

Even the few G&T parents in the sample who bought into their children’s G&T label because of their high scores on the G&T test questioned the NYCDOE’s definition of giftedness in this context. As Rachel, a first-grade G&T parent, explained, “You’re not really finding a gifted and talented—it’s, yes, the kids are smart, but it’s not because of anything other than their background probably, and what they’re exposed to.” Similarly, Lillian, a White, fourth-grade G&T parent, believed that it is “premature” to have children tested for G&T so young: “It is sort of imposed on us, the system that we have in New York. I guess people feel like they want the best for their child, so they should prep them [emphasis added).”

Kate, who is a White, incoming parent to G&T, said that she was really turned off by the segregation within TCS when she was choosing schools. She believes that schools in which “everyone in the grade is the same” (meaning all Gen Ed) are where children are going to learn “how to accept differences more, I think.” Kate attributed “some” of the G&T segregation to how much some children are prepared for the G&T test. She commented, “We did what the DOE sent us. But we didn’t prep them all along, we trusted that the education that they’re getting, the way we’re bringing them up was going to make them who they are, and that can be an honest testing of who they are. And to be frank, I do believe that that’s what they got when they got their scores. They’re both bright, they both tested into the G&T.”

On the other side, advantaged White parents assumed that Gen Ed parents of color just send their children to their assigned public schools instead of applying to G&T. They also attributed academic differences in the school and whether or not children are in the G&T program to children’s “home life.” Violet, a White parent with children in both programs, explained how some parents do not “bother” to get their children tested for G&T because the Gen Ed program is “adequate enough”: “At two years old, you think some parents have a tough enough time getting up in the morning—are they really going to sit there and work on learning stuff in a museum or being exposed to nature in a park and getting the four seasons explained to them? I don’t know. I think it starts at the home.” This illustrates the tendency to blame lower-income families for G&T inequality through a cultural-deficit framework (Oakes, 2005), instead of placing the blame on the G&T programs or admissions policies themselves.

During the interview with the school-choice consultant, whom many advantaged White parents hire to help them navigate the school-choice process, she said that she gets questions about the “parenting methods” of lower-income parents of color: “Some of it will be—Do their parents care enough about education as we do? Are they supporting their kids at home in the same way we are? Do we like their parenting methods of dealing with their children? Stuff like that.”

Parents of color are also concerned about the differences in parent involvement and approaches to child-rearing inside and outside of school. Maria, who is a Latina, working-class mother who grew up in TCS’s neighborhood and has a son in the kindergarten Gen Ed program, said the one thing she is not very “happy” about is that the “children of color who are in the neighborhood, I don’t see a lot of parent involvement from the parents. That’s a little bit upsetting, and I think it affects the kids when they see that as well.” When I asked her why she thought that was the case, she answered:

I think on some level, it could be lack of education from the parents, to know that they should be more involved with their kids. I don’t want to say all, but I do know that a lot of the families of the children of color are from the projects right around the school, and I’ve known a lot of families from there because I grew up in the neighborhood, and there’s that thing again of this kind of mentality like—“Okay, my kid’s at school, bye,” instead of saying let’s see what they’re doing or wanting to get involved. I think it has gotten better, but I definitely would love to see that improve.>She also thought that some of the Gen Ed parents of color, particularly the families who live in public housing, may not want their children to be in an “all-white [G&T] classroom,” so they do not want to “bother their child” with the G&T testing process, if they even know about it in the first place.

Parents of color gave both academic and social reasons for not wanting their children in the G&T program. For example, Amara remembered how she walked her daughter into the G&T class on the first day of school and the teacher said to them, “You are in the wrong place.” She said other parents of color “care” about their children’s education but do not apply to G&T because of the segregation. She explained that until she and her husband “got used to it [the segregation between programs], it really bothered us . . . like when you are in the class and you are the only [Black parent] sitting in G&T and everybody’s looking at you--like that is so bad.” According to Margaret, a White mother with experience in both programs, one of the Black mothers in her daughter’s G&T class switched her child out of the first-grade G&T program into Gen Ed because “the family felt uncomfortable.”

CONCEPTIONS OF GOOD PARENTING IN THE G&T SYSTEM

White, advantaged parents, on the other hand, were torn between being considered good parents who get their children into the G&T program by test-prepping and working the system to their advantage, and the pressure they are placing on their children to perform. In fact, White parents explained that going through the “hassle” of applying to the G&T program, prepping for the G&T test, and receiving the “very top” score is conflated with being a good parent because “that’s what you do” to “give your kid every advantage” in the system. These same parents “feel bad” about test-prepping and question whether they should even be testing their children for giftedness in the first place.

Instead of a critical mass of White Gen Ed parents coming together to say that they do not believe in G&T or that they feel that the test-prepping is unfair, parents buy into the status of the G&T label and feel pressure to do what other similarly advantaged parents in their social networks are doing to secure the “best” education for their children. For example, Tara, a White, third-grade Gen Ed parent, explained that she retested her daughter for G&T every year because she felt pressure to do so, because the G&T students are perceived to be getting a better education—the children are smarter, better-behaved, and so forth. Although she was “really happy with Gen Ed” and felt her daughter was “getting a great education,” she explained her reason for testing and retesting: “Only because I had a few friends who were like, ‘You have to do this, you have to test for G&T.’ For me, I kind of did it reluctantly—I felt kind of bad that I did it because she was literally, she just turned four. She was learning to hold the pencil the correct way. . . . She was the first one called out of 45 people, never was away from me. Everything that could go wrong went wrong. So I did test her, she wasn’t ready but—she’s a very good student now, she’s actually really good, but not everybody’s a great test-taker.”

I also found that parents started to question whether hiring tutors for G&T placement, as well as fourth-grade and seventh-grade test prep for secondary school is the right thing to do “philosophically.” During the follow-up interview in 2014, Margaret, a White parent with children in both programs, explained what was happening with the fourth-grade standardized tests: “A lot of the families I know had tutors. Not all of them. It was sort of a dirty secret to have one—it feels unfair.” Parents, however, reconciled their contradictory attitudes by explaining that test-prepping is the “status quo these days” and, therefore, is the only way to get into the program because every other child is being prepped.

In other words, White, advantaged parents were torn between their philosophical views about test-prepping and ensuring their children’s academic success. When asked what kinds of things she did to prepare her children for kindergarten, Colleen, a White parent with two children in the Gen Ed program, replied, “I spent some time with my sons . . . on preparing them for the Bracken [BSRA] test because it was easier for them to understand which shape is bigger, smaller, etc., not a lot . . . simply because I didn’t really think . . . I guess philosophically, training your four-year-old to take a test. So I didn’t. Now if it was now, I can tell you I would have done more.”

Both of her children failed to make the 90th-percentile cutoff for the kindergarten G&T program. Colleen said that if she had to do it again, she would have prepped them more. But at the time, she did not realize that other parents were preparing their children to take the tests: “At the end of that [kindergarten] year I was at the playground one day with the boys and was talking with another mother who informed me that she and several of the other parents, their kids actually were tutored to take the G&T. And it was such a realization for me. And again I say, if I were to do things again I would know better. I was shocked. I hadn’t . . . y’know, at that age, kids being tutored? I then realized from that conversation, the likelihood that a large majority of the children who are in G&T are tutored to take the test.”

Colleen went on to say that there are not a lot of “minority children in the G&T because their parents cannot afford to have then tutored. Forty dollars per thirty minutes is what it costs.” She pointed out that the tutoring prepares children to take the test because the concept of a multiple- choice test for a four-year-old does not come “naturally.” Colleen concluded that if she were to have her sons take the G&T test all over again, “I have a totally different sense of what it involves and I don’t think the DOE can do much about that. That’s just the system. Y’know, parents learn how to work the system, and good for them.”

Parents of Color and Good Parenting

Parents of color in this study overwhelmingly believed that certain students got G&T seats because their parents paid for test prep, which they believed was unfair and not a true measurement of their ability. In their minds, good parenting was not equated with paying for test prep and getting their children into the G&T program because of that preparation. Instead, they believed that exposing their children to diversity and mixing students in the classroom was more advantageous. Unlike the White parents in the school, the Black and Latino parents who had their children tested for the kindergarten G&T program and received a low score chose not to have their children retested in the first grade. This is partly because they realized that most of the G&T students were prepped to take the test, and they did not want their children to be the only students of color in the classroom.

For example, Althea, an African American first-grade Gen Ed parent, said that her son “didn't have any luck on the G&T test” for kindergarten admission. Although she would rather have him in the G&T program because it is more “challenging,” and she thinks her son is “way above” the other students in math and reading, she chose not to retest him for G&T in first grade. Althea’s reason for keeping him in Gen Ed was that she knew G&T students “that really shouldn’t be there. Their parents prepped them good enough to get in, but they can’t keep up, and the parents are always complaining.” She told a story about a White student at TCS who got a 45 the first time he took the test. After he received tutoring, the child took the test again the following year and received a 91. Althea questioned how all of the White students are able to switch over to G&T that way: “To me, it’s all a status thing, and [White parents] want their kid to do well,” so they prep and retest for G&T.

Althea chose not to tutor, prep, or retest for the G&T program as the White parents did. She told her son, “Do whatever you do”—meaning that she wanted him to do his best. Another reason Althea gave for not retesting for G&T was that “most of the G&T are white children. It’s just hard for me to believe that there’s no Black or Spanish G&T. That’s weird to me. I think it’s insane, because I know some really smart kids. I don’t get it.”

When asked how she would define giftedness, Mercedes said, “People were so obsessed, paying $2,000–3,000 for a tutor. I’m not paying it. Even if I had it, I wouldn’t pay it. And that’s the thing; all of the G&T kids train. All of the kids in G&T, some of the parents can afford it. They have grandparents that can afford it. They pay for this. But that’s not G&T.”

Brianna, a lower middle-class African mother with one child in G&T and two children in Gen Ed, said that even though she does not believe in test prep and did not prepare her children to get into the G&T program, “one problem, of course, is some have money, you can make your child ready to pass the test . . . [and] I don’t think everybody can do that.” When asked what she did to prepare her children for the G&T test, Brianna replied, “I thought to myself, why should I make them ready? Why should I pay that much money to make my child ready, pay $100 per hour? So for me it’s okay to be in Gen Ed.”

Brianna said that she wished she could expose her children to cultural diversity like she experienced growing up in Eritrea. She would rather TCS provide “all the same education” in a mixed environment, because having her children in segregated programs creates an “emotional conflict” among them. For instance, her oldest son got into the G&T program, and her two younger daughters took the G&T test but did not pass the 90th-percentile cutoff. Brianna said that her son would say that he was “better” or “smarter” than his sisters in Gen Ed. Brianna had to explain to her children all the time that “you can achieve in your own way.” Still, her middle daughter in Gen Ed observes the differences between programs and feels “unhappy and insecure.”

Amara, an African mother who lived outside TCS’s catchment, also questioned why parents were prepping their children to take the G&T test: “From what I heard,” most G&T parents “pay a lot of money to prepare their kids” for the G&T test. She asked, “Why are they in G&T in the first place? I'm in G&T because I live way uptown and there's no school, so I had to test my daughter and I believe she passed and I'm in G&T. Luckily she's a good student, but if you needed tutors and you have to go to Kumon [a tutoring company], how are you in G&T? I'm like, when you take the same test and you are in the special group, but you need more time to finish your work? You are not a G&T.” Amara said that she thinks the G&T students might be “advanced,” but “none of them are gifted . . . [and] nobody gets advantaged of that, except they are together, they are by themselves, that’s what they want and that's how they do it.” In other words, White parents are prepping their children to take the G&T test because they want to be in a program with other parents like them.

Although Amara’s older daughter got a G&T seat without prepping and “was the only Black girl in the classroom,” her younger daughter missed the 90th-percentile cutoff by one point and was placed in the Gen Ed program. Amara said that her youngest daughter got an 89 and is a “very good student,” but “even if she passed, I know she isn’t gifted.” She said, “I really, really hate G&T because a four-year-old child has to sit for an hour and something with someone they don't know [to take the G&T test]. I mean I am impressed these kids pass.” Now her older daughter is asking for $1,000 to take a tutoring class that “all the kids are taking” for “the high school test.” She joked: “I always say to them, ‘Do you know how many shoes I can buy for $1,000 . . . for me that’s a lot of money, and why are we giving this money?”

In sum, parents of color had a different conception from White parents of what good parenting meant in the G&T system. They did not feel pressure from their social networks to get into the G&T program or sense that the G&T program would give their children extra advantages in the system. In fact, Black and Latino parents believed that the Gen Ed program was better because of its diversity.

THE STATUS QUO OF TEST-PREPPING FOR EDUCATIONAL ADVANTAGE

Because there is so much competition to get a G&T seat, I found that G&T-seeking White parents kept the tutoring a secret from other parents. This caused stress and anxiety for the White parents who did not realize the extent to which other kindergarten or first-grade parents were tutoring and found out later that their children were left behind in Gen Ed because they were not as prepared. For example, Domenica, a White first-grade Gen Ed parent, continued to retest her daughter for G&T every year to be with other similarly advantaged parents. Domenica explained that even though her daughter received a high enough G&T test score for first grade, she could not get a G&T seat for her child because of the sibling priority. The siblings in the school, who only needed to score a 90 to get into G&T, kept taking most of the available seats in grades 1–3. She said that because parents who have children in both programs are prepping their Gen Ed children to take the tests, she feels

stressed because of the parents. I feel that that's the root of the whole difference. After the [PTA] meeting I spoke with some parents who said for the whole year how they don't care nor believe in the G&T program, however they spent hundreds of dollars in tutoring and coaching for their younger kids. As a result the siblings got into the G&T program, and now they'll test their other kids from the Gen Ed and since they have to score much lower they'll put them both in G&T. It’s just very hypocritical, because they weren't honest up front about tutoring for the G&T test.

Domenica and other White parents’ experiences were very different from those of the Gen Ed parents of color such as Brianna. They were not as connected to social networks of White, advantaged parents and thus did not feel the same external peer pressure and competition to get their children into the G&T.

Jane, a White parent in the Gen Ed program, explained that she was “naïve” about the G&T test-prepping: “I just didn’t grow up here or didn’t have any friends that went to [G&T] because they all left the city when they had their kids. And nobody—I thought this was kind of a competitive thing amongst the parents I knew at school. Nobody was talking, but they were all prepping their kids. I didn’t know that they were. I just thought, ‘Oh well, okay, I’ll do this practice test like they [NYCDOE] recommend.’”

Jane’s mentality for her son was that “either he can do it or he can’t do it, and I don’t want to falsely elevate where he’s at because once he gets into a program and then it’s not where he’s really at . . . I mean I felt very confident in his abilities [laughs) and stuff, but I just thought I don’t want that kind of pressure.” She concluded that because “everyone else was prepping their kids specifically to take these tests,” her son “suffered because he didn’t get the very top score. . . . And then of course, after the test, a lot of parents came forward and said to me, ‘Oh yeah, of course, I hired a tutor. Of course I did this and that.’ Nobody was talking before that, you know?”

Similarly, Jessica, a White parent with children in both programs, thought that when her oldest son went through the testing, she was being a little “naïve” about how many other parents were prepping their children. For her middle daughter, Jessica said that the first thing she did was get information about test-prepping from another pre-K parent who hired a private tutor for “an hour every week for months and months.” She said that learning that process was “such an eye-opener to me, that’s when I started thinking maybe I should do something too.” When asked how she found out about the tutors, she said a friend referred her to a private-school teacher who makes home visits. Jessica paid for “four lessons,” which consisted of coming in and playing “games with my daughter. That’s really what it was all about, just grouping things, asking questions so that she would think a certain way, and so that when she sat down and, y’know, these tests are long—I think it’s almost an hour—that you’re sitting in there and four-year-olds are—they don’t have very long attention spans.”

Jessica rationalized her choice to prepare her daughter by saying that if she did not prep her it would “put her at a disadvantage if she never had done it at all, and all these other kids I felt were doing it. So I did do it, and I feel a little bad about it, but it was a conscious decision and I feel like it was one I had to make” to get her into the G&T program, where she felt her children belonged.

Parents decide to prep and retest for G&T, not necessarily because they believe their children are “gifted,” but because of parental pressure to retest, the stigma of the Gen Ed label, and the perceived differences between the G&T and Gen Ed classrooms in terms of student behavior, particularly in the upper grades. White, advantaged parents have the means to pay for test prep, while lower-income Gen Ed parents of color do not. Ultimately, White, advantaged parents are torn between their “philosophical views” on whether prepping children to take a test when they are so young is the right thing to do and the pressure on them to ensure academic success now and in the future (see Nelson, 2010).

G&T: A Pathway for Maintaining Advantage

Parents described a clear pathway to ensuring their children got into the “best” schools and G&T programs, and it started in preschool. On one hand, because the G&T program is considered a high-status, highly-selective program, advantaged White parents will do whatever it takes to get their children enrolled there. Parents, particularly those who are in the upper class, compare getting a high G&T test score to saving “half a million dollars on private-school tuition.” On the other hand, these same parents question whether exposing their children to test-prepping and tutoring for the G&T test when they are so young is the right thing to do. They wonder if they are being “good mothers” by doing what other similarly advantaged parents are doing to get their children into G&T. At the same time, parents like Jessica reconcile their contradictory attitudes by explaining that test-prepping is the only way to get into the program because every other child is being prepped.

Trudie, a White, incoming parent in the Gen Ed program, and other advantaged parents said that there is a preschool in the TCS neighborhood that “sort of boasts all of the prepping they do for this [G&T] test. They also boast that 99% of their kids get a 99, and I’m thinking that there’s nothing so special about that school that makes those kids any smarter than any other kinds of kids, it’s that they’re being significantly prepped for this test.” Similarly, the school-choice consultant, when asked if there are certain preschools that do private-school and G&T test-prep with the students explained, “Most definitely. I just met with some parents who are talking about the ERB and the OLSAT, but I said, ‘Your school is known for prepping kids,’ and they said, ‘Yeah, you know what? I asked my kid the other day what a table was and they said a table is a piece of furniture that has four legs.’ Who would ever talk that way? But that’s the format of the tests. So yeah, there are definitely schools that are very specifically sitting kids down and doing it.” In fact, many parents implied that a lot of students in the G&T program come from this particular preschool that preps children for the test.

Dana, a White, first-grade G&T parent, told a story about waiting for her daughter to take the G&T test. She said she overheard other parents in the waiting room, and

frankly, sitting there with the other parents was a little freaky. Like there were a lot of really, they kept saying [laughs], “What about college?” This was kindergarten. So there was like this attitude, “What if my kid isn’t good enough?” “They will be canceled out.” “Is this good enough for my kid?” “Will they go to an Ivy League college?” And I just was like, “Whoa! This is kindergarten, people. We don’t know who these people are yet.”

Thus, it should come as no surprise that White, advantaged families are activating their uneven cultural capital exchange to sort their children into what is considered to be the best and highest-status educational option that matches their position in the larger system and society. This program is disproportionately White and higher-income and segregated from the rest of the school. Again, even if parents are concerned about the segregation or do not believe that the G&T application process is fair, they still prep and test their children to be in the program that is perceived to be the best.

Caitlyn, a White, fourth-grade G&T parent, reiterated this point when she said, “I just think the whole process ultimately won’t work because it’s just too controversial and . . . the application process is not really that fair. And I think even if everything’s equal, everything’s fine, everybody’s getting the same thing, the perception will always be there, whether right or wrong, that G&T is better. I don’t think that’s ever going to change. And so that’s always gonna be an inherent problem, I think, for the G&T.” In this way, G&T becomes the best option for White, advantaged families who want to provide their children with clear educational pathways to future schooling opportunities: from G&T in elementary school, to highly selective middle schools and high schools, all the way to Ivy League colleges.

Therefore, another reason advantaged White parents all strove to have their children in G&T was that it was perceived to be a pathway, or feeder, for the selective middle schools and high schools. Ashley, a White G&T parent, explained, “So in some ways, y’know, the piece of the G&T that’s social engineering, that it’s sorting out a pathway of children of college-educated parents. Maybe it would be a better distribution of resources to have a general classroom. But personally, if I still had the option for G&T, I would still choose it, because I do feel that, that piece of the conversation about what that means is more likely to happen with a teacher who is teaching kids who all fall at the upper end of the continuum. And I think it’s hard to get away with the idea that that is somehow elitist, but . . . does that make sense?” Melissa, a White parent with children in both programs, said that the reason parents want G&T is that “they think their kids are going to have the edge, y’know, if they have the best of everything . . . better middle school, high school, and, I mean, college, they’re already thinking about college. Wow, y’know, pathetic [laughs].”

“I feel like as a parent we are the ones doing this.”

Despite all of the prepping and testing that White, advantaged parents expose their children to in order to get them into the high-status G&T program, there is a growing uneasiness from a subset of parents, White, Black, and Latino, about the anxiety and pressure that they are placing on their children to perform well on the high-stakes standardized tests that the NYCDOE requires. In fact, the high-stakes nature of testing (and paying for test prep) does not stop at kindergarten for G&T admission, but is also used for high-stakes middle school (i.e., fourth-grade standardized tests) and high school (i.e., seventh-grade standardized tests) placement decisions—causing anxiety and stress for parents at multiple points during their child’s academic career.

Amara, an African, lower middle-class mother with experience in both programs at TCS, described the current testing situation for admission into the best New York City schools:

I don't understand the pressure we give to our kids these days. It’s getting worse, sometimes I feel like as a parent we are the ones doing this, we push our kids so hard, so much, sometimes I’m afraid we are going to push them down and they are going to fall off the cliff. These kids are with us 24/7, and then there has to be a limit, we push, we push, and we don’t do it for ourselves, we have to do what the kids want because they want to impress us so much.

Similarly, Jessica, a White, higher-income parent with experience in both programs, spoke about the fine line between wanting the best education and also wanting her children to be able to enjoy their childhood. Jessica explained, “I really want them to respect education, and I really want them to develop the skills to be really good learners, but I also don’t want them to not have a childhood. I think life is hard enough as it is, and I think we are growing up in a very high-achieving city and, y’know, I just don’t want to take that away from them yet.”

Some of these responses could be attributed to the fact that at the time of the initial interviews with TCS parents, the school had recently hosted a screening of the film Race to Nowhere. Many White, advantaged parents referred to it as being a “really good film.” Parents compared the message of the film to the pressure that they are placing on their children to succeed in school and perform well on the G&T tests. Margaret, a White parent with experience in both programs, explained the film’s message: “Race to Nowhere is much more about just this weird pressure for students to perform and to be in the accelerated AP classes, and everything faster, better. I hear parents say things like, ‘They’re doing third-grade level [in G&T].’ And I’m like, ‘Why? Why are they doing third-grade level? Why bother?’ It just seems silly, it seems so silly to me. And why is that a good thing? I think they should be doing kindergarten level, y’know?”

DISCUSSION

We know that relying on middle-class parents as drivers of school reform is bad practice (Cucchiara, 2014a; Posey-Maddox, 2014). We also know that using a single test score for school placement and tracking decisions is flawed (Oakes, 2005; Tyson, 2011). Each year, changes are made to the G&T tests to make them harder to prep for. Yet changing the actual tests does not address the narrow criteria being used in selecting students or the one criterion with a clear correlation to race and class: standardized tests. This high-stakes testing and G&T system is cloaked in the guise of meritocracy because White, advantaged parents are allowed to use their uneven cultural capital exchange to work the system to their advantage (Bourdieu, 1974). This pressure for children to succeed on a single test feeds into parental anxiety about and competition over getting their children into the high-status G&T placement, where they feel they belong. In this context, parents start to equate good parenting with test prep, even when they are concerned about the pressure they are placing on their children to succeed. The Gen Ed parents of color, on the other hand, are aware that White parents are prepping their children to get into the G&T program, yet they do not believe in prepping, nor do they have the resources to pay for the expensive tutoring.

This paper connects to the literature on the increased pressure parents face to push their children to succeed in a system where student success is defined by a narrow focus on scores on standardized tests (Cucchiara, 2013b; Demerath, 2009). Rather than trying to avoid an overly anxious parenting culture (Cucchiara, 2013b), the White, advantaged parents in this setting get swept up in the test-prepping fad because everyone else is doing it and because of the competitive nature of obtaining a G&T seat (and getting a top score if you are not a sibling). At the same time, they “feel bad” about how their actions perpetuate the status quo and lead to the social reproduction of the system (Ball, 2003).

There is evidence beyond this research that illustrates that parents are increasingly concerned about test preparation and good parenting. For instance, the film Getting In . . . Kindergarten (PamelaFrenchFilms, 2008) highlighted a White mother who was applying to public and private New York City schools. At one point in the film, she wondered if she should be “doing more” in order for her son to receive a high enough test score to be competitive with other children, yet questioned whether she was being a “good mother”:

The fact that I hear a lot of people getting really high test scores and thinking, oh well, what if Jack doesn’t? Is he not going to be the chosen one? If this is the bar and the bar’s really high, then you want him to be up there…up to par. So then it makes it, should I be doing more…? But then it taps into the whole, am I a good mother? [emphasis added]5

This growing concern about standardized testing is sweeping the nation in the form of “thousands of parents” opting out of the Common Core tests (Ravitch, 2015). Recent studies have also shown that urban parents are reportedly looking “beyond test scores” and taking a “risk” by actively choosing diverse public schools with lower average test scores (Cucchiara, 2013b; Kimelberg, 2014; Reay et al., 2007). Nevertheless, when it comes to high-stakes, high-status G&T placement decisions, White, advantaged parents will do what other similarly advantaged parents are doing to give their own children the “best of everything” in the form of academic credentials and future opportunities.

How can the NYCDOE create more equitable G&T initiatives in New York City to prevent the negative consequences of segregation that the current system exacerbates? Research has shown that it is very hard to identify gifted Black and Latino students using test scores alone (Mickelson, 2003; Ford, 2003). Low-income children start kindergarten with fewer academic skills compared to their high-SES peers (Reardon, 2003). In addition, there are multiple intelligences, besides intellectual ability, that tests alone cannot pick up on. Therefore, the NYCDOE should consider using multiple measures for G&T identification, including objective and subjective assessments and recommendations, testing children after they have received some formal schooling, and continuing to screen students for giftedness over time.

 A more inclusive approach to gifted education is the Schoolwide Enrichment Model (SEM), devised by Joseph Renzulli and Sally Reis.6 SEM has already been adopted in several Brooklyn, New York schools. Instead of taking gifted opportunities away, SEM provides gifted education to all students in an inclusive environment by “identifying students’ talents, enhancing curricula, differentiating assignments to ability, and providing enrichment opportunities” (Potter, 2014). The goal of SEM is to improve the whole school. If policy officials want to attack the root of the problem, the city should consider phasing out district G&T programs altogether and instituting school-wide G&T magnets instead.

It is somewhat ironic that the research findings from the larger study strongly support phasing out G&T programs across the district, with 73%, or 30 out of 41, White parents saying they would support a G&T phase-out (Roda, 2015). In this and similar studies, White, advantaged parents say they prefer schools where there are “like-minded” families of similar race and class backgrounds (Ball, 2003; Holme, 2002; Johnson & Shapiro, 2005; Makris, 2015; Posey-Maddox, 2014). At the same time, there is also a group of White parents who say they want their children to be exposed to diversity and multiculturalism in detracked settings. These parents want their children to acquire what Diane Reay et al. (2007) called “multicultural capital” to prepare them for the “real world.”

There appears to be a belief that in order to attract advantaged families to the public schools, the NYCDOE needs to create special, elite programs for those children. The majority of parents in the study, however, said they would prefer to enroll their children in what they perceive to be diverse schools with strong academic programs. The problem is that there are very few diverse schools available. As our society and schools become more diverse, particularly in gentrified urban areas, policy and school officials must make an effort to create not only more and better educational options, but also different school options that are integrated at the school and curricular level and would be attractive choices to a growing number of families from diverse backgrounds.

Notes

1. The terms zone, catchment, and neighborhood are used interchangeably to mean the same thing. For instance, students are automatically assigned to their zoned or neighborhood school, which is determined by their home address. Although neighborhoods do not usually line up with school catchment areas, these words are often used synonymously.

2. Hypersegregated schools are defined as schools with more than 90% students of color. In the City Limits school district, 9 out of 19 schools fit into this category. For some parents in the sample who live outside of the school’s catchment, these are the zoned schools that they are using the G&T program to escape.

3. Charter schools in this district also tend to be hypersegregated. An exception is one charter school that attracts some White, higher-income families.

 4. The NYCDOE changes the G&T tests every year so they are harder to prep for.

5. Parent quote taken from the Getting In . . . Kindergarten movie (PamelaFrenchFilms, 2008), which chronicles four parents’ experiences with the New York City kindergarten school-choice process.

6. http://gifted.uconn.edu/schoolwide-enrichment-model/sem3rd/


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Appendix A

INTERVIEW PROTOCOL #1

G&T and Gen Ed parents, Spring/Summer 2011 & Fall 2014

1.

Introduction

1.

Which program and grade level is your child enrolled in?

2.

How would you describe your child’s elementary school and program (G&T versus Gen Ed) to someone who isn’t familiar with the schools or programs in this district?

II. Raising a child in NYC

1.

What kinds of things did you do to prepare your child for kindergarten? How often did you do these activities?

Probe: For parents whose child took G&T standardized tests, did you do anyprepping for the tests for G&T admission?

Probe: Did you enroll your child in preschool (which one), take your child to the library, read to your child, museums, art galleries, travel, play groups, art, sports, music lessons, etc.?

1.

Did your friends/neighbors do the same kinds of activities with their children?

Probe: What would you have done differently if you had to do it again?

1.

Do you believe the activities/experiences that you just described prepared your child for kindergarten and the G&T tests (if applicable)? Why or why not?

Probe: What were other parents doing to prepare their children?

III. School Choice Process

1.

Briefly describe your school choice process and how you decided to apply to this particular G&T or Gen Ed program. What would you say was the biggest thing about this school (or program within the school) that influenced your decision?

Probe: zoned school, G&T program, proximity to home, school’s reputation, test scores, friends sending their children to this school, etc.

1.

Did you hear about the G&T or Gen Ed program before you applied? What did you hear and who did you hear it from? What other options did you have? Are you satisfied with your choice? Why or why not?

2.

Did your preschool teacher or director recommend that your child (or other children in the preschool) get tested for the gifted program? Did the preschool do G&T test prep?


IV. Educational expectations for your child

1.

What kinds of things do you think the G&T/Gen Ed program will provide for your child now and in the future?

Probe: How are those advantages different for G&T versus Gen Ed students?

V. Beliefs about G&T education

1.

Why did you choose (or not choose) to get your child tested for G&T?

2.

How would you define giftedness? Do you feel that the G&T tests adequately measure giftedness? For G&T parents, in what ways do you feel that your child is gifted and talented?

VI. Comparisons between the Gifted and Gen Ed Programs

1.

How would you compare your child’s classroom to the G&T/Gen Ed classroom?

Probe: on students (motivation, behavior, achievement), parents, teachers, academics

Probe: What is the biggest thing that stands out to you between the two classrooms/programs?

 Probe: Did the student composition in either program play a part in your school choice decision?

1.

Can you describe the parents/families in the G&T/Gen Ed program in more detail? How are they the same and/or different?

Probe: on parent involvement, where they live, educational background, occupational status, family dynamics, PTA membership, racial/ethnic/SES backgrounds, etc.

1.

Are there activities that G&T and Gen Ed students do together during the day? If so, what activities, and how often?

Probe: When they are together, do the G&T and Gen Ed students socialize with each other or do they remain separated?

Probe: Do they ever see each other after school-- at the playground, play dates or birthday parties?

VII. G&T Policy

1.

What are the advantages or disadvantages of having a G&T program at your school compared to schools in your district that do not have a G&T program? Do you believe that the G&T program benefits the whole school? If so, in what ways?

2.

If you had the chance, what things would you change about the G&T and/or Gen Ed program in terms of the admissions policy, curriculum, etc.?

3.

Are there any questions that I should have asked that I didn’t ask? Is there anything else you want to add?


4.

INTERVIEW PROTOCOL #2

Follow-up Interviews, Fall 2014

For parents who had children in the Gen Ed program in 2011

I. Introduction

1.

Which program and grade level is your child currently enrolled in? Do you have other children enrolled at this school? If yes, what grade level/program are they in?

2.

Why did you choose (or not choose) to get your child tested for G&T? How many years did you have your child take the test? Did they eventually get into the G&T? Why or Why not?

Probe: Academic reasons, Social Networks, expectations of other parents, teacher recommendation, etc.

1.

What is the biggest issue or concern facing your school today and how is that different than when I interviewed you three years ago? Explain. How has the school responded (or not responded) to this issue or concern?

II. Beliefs about G&T education

1.

Think back to your child’s kindergarten or 1st grade Gen Ed classroom, how many other parents applied to G&T, and how many got a G&T seat? Describe those parents who applied and did not apply for G&T?

2.

Did you do any prepping for the G&T tests for G&T admission? If so, what kinds of things did you do?

Probe: Private tutoring, workbooks, etc.

Probe: What were other parents doing to prepare for the G&T test?

Probe: Do you think the prepping helped? Why or why not?

1.

Are there certain advantages to having your child in the G&T classrooms now and in the future? Why or Why not?

Probe: Middle school/High School placement?

1.

In our last interview, I asked how you would define giftedness? Is your definition the same or different and why? Do you feel that the G&T tests adequately measure giftedness? In what ways do you feel that your child is gifted and talented?

III. Comparisons between the Gifted and General Education Programs

1.

How would you compare your child’s classroom to other G&T/Gen Ed classrooms?

Probe: on students (motivation, behavior, achievement), parents, teachers, academics

Probe: What is the biggest thing that stands out to you between the two classrooms/programs?

1.

Do you feel that your child was placed in the appropriate program (G&T versus general education)?

Probe: Did the student composition in either program play a part in your school choice decision?

1.

Can you describe the parents/families in the G&T/Gen Ed program in more detail? How are they the same and/or different?

Probe: on parent involvement, where they live, educational background, occupational status, family dynamics, PTA membership, racial/ethnic/SES backgrounds, etc.

1.

Are there activities that G&T and general education students do together during the day? If so, what activities, and how often?

Probe: When they are together, do the G&T and general education students socialize with each other or do they remain separated?

Probe: Do the Gen Ed students ever switch to G&T for certain subjects?

Probe: Do they ever see each other after school-- at the playground, play dates or birthday parties?

IV. Changing Perceptions

1.

How have your perceptions of the G&T and Gen Ed program changed over time—if at all?

2.

Thinking back, what was your biggest misconception about the G&T/general education programs?

3.

Did the new principal change anything in regards to the two programs?

Probe: Switch teachers around, Curriculum, Providing more opportunities for interaction between programs?

1.

Has your child ever commented on the “other” students across the hall—in terms of behavior, achievement, race, class, etc.?

2.

Do parents or other school personnel ever talk about the racial and economic divisions between the two programs? If so, what has been discussed and have there been any changes made?

V. G&T Policy

1.

What are the advantages or disadvantages of having a G&T program at your school compared to schools in your district that do not have a G&T program? Do you believe that the G&T program benefits the whole school? If so, in what ways?

Probe: Do you think your school will ever phase out the G&T program? Why or why not?

1.

How important is the racial, socio-economic or academic diversity in your child’s classroom? Explain.

2.

If you had the chance, what things would you change about the G&T and/or general education program in terms of the admissions policy, curriculum, etc.?


Are there any questions that I should have asked that I didn’t ask? Is there anything else you want to add?



Appendix B

SAMPLE CODING

Excerpts from G&T-only parents (Kate and Lillian); Gen Ed-only parents (Tara, Lauren, Denise, Alyssa); Both parents (Lindsay and Margaret); Gen Ed parents of color (Althea, Mercedes, Amara); 2014 follow-up interview (Jessica)

Codes: G&T Critique_question G&T label (GTCrit_ql); G&T Critique_test prep (GTCrit_mpp); G&T Critique_culturally biased test (GTCrit_cbt); G&T Critique_outside factors effect test performance (GTCrit_of); G&T Critique_silence about prep/competition (GTCrit_spc); G&T Critique_perception of child’s intelligence (GTCrit_pci); G&T vs Gen Ed_parenting styles (GTvGEN_ps)

Research question: How do parents make sense of the G&T admissions process? How do those understandings relate to the families who enroll their children in the different programs, their own social status, and the construction of their children’s intelligence and ability?

KATE_INCOMING G&T PARENT_7_6_11.DOC

I: How would you define giftedness?

K: At this age? Luck. [laughter]

I: Luck?

K: No, I guess some kids are quicker. I can really only put it as being a little quicker, I just - maybe just developmentally the next phase. I feel like that’s what they’re calling gifted. Yeah, there are some kids reading at the age of 4. I wonder if, because they’re reading at 4, are they not doing something else because that part of their brain is working that hard? I don’t know. I do know one family where they’re reading and they’re not as great socially. A lot of kids are just like that in general. (GTCrit_pci) I hate to label it because that’s who you become the rest of your life. Unfortunately, I’m labeled as a cancer survivor, which the survivor part is great but I have some people that still look at me like ‘How are you?’ and I’m like ‘It was thirteen years ago, I’m fine’. And they look at you like, ‘Oh, you look great!’ and I say thanks. Why shouldn’t I? And even I have a nephew that’s in the spectrum, I have another nephew who was in a severe car accident and has a physical handicap. It’s frustrating - I understand why people say that you’re not looked at the same. That part of it, I don’t like. The label that unfortunately, with the G&T program, is you keep it whether you deserve it or not. And there are these other kids in the Gen Ed that are fabulous and they happen to have a bad day, or they just - maybe it was 2 months later when they caught up or even a year later. (GTCrit_ql) And they’re in the Gen Ed, and they make this delineation between the two even though they claim they don’t. (GTCrit_of) So gifted—I guess, really, at this age, it’s luck. It’s luck and yeah, maybe you’re a little ahead of the developmental curve at this point. Will you still be there in 2 years? I don’t know. Will you still be in the G&T program? Yes.

LILLIAN_4TH GR GT PARENT_7_27_11

I: And did you do any kind of test prep for G&T or private school?

L: My kids? I didn’t prep them. Oh, did the preschool do it? No, they just play with Play-Doh and jump around. They didn’t do test prep. I know they do that at some private preschools but this one, no. Plus I don’t really believe in that. It’s so bollixed up I think because if everybody’s doing it, then your kid is sort of behind the 8-ball if they don’t. But I feel like if you have to prep your kids for the test then they probably should not be going into that program. I never did it and I never really believed in it. They just wound up lucking out and getting into the program. (GTCrit_mpp)

I: Do you feel that the G&T tests adequately measure giftedness?

L: I don’t think they should be taking a test. So it’s hard to answer that question. I feel like the test as far as I know, through what I’ve read, the test is not a good prognosticator of the kids academic ability and how successful they’re going to be in the future. So I feel like it’s—this is all a big charade that we’re playing, giving these kids tests and making them prepare for the test is not even—no, I don’t think it’s even right to have a four-year-old sit down and learn how to fill in the bubbles. I think it’s all premature and sort of artificial. I think they should just go to school, and then when they get to an age where they should be evaluated by a test, the tests really do show something. That’s when they should start. (GTCrit_ql) It is sort of imposed on us, the system that we have in New York. I guess people feel like they want the best for their child, so they should prep them. I never did it. We sort of slipped in under the wires without having done that. (GTCrit_of) But I don’t know, now for the SATs everybody preps. If you don’t prep—and the scores are actually improved by that.

TARA_3RD GR GEN ED PARENT_4_27_11.DOC

I: Do you believe the G&T tests adequately measure giftedness?

T: It’s not a great gauge. When I looked at the sample tests online there were things that they were asking—once you’re living in the city, if you can’t afford to go outside the city, are you really going to know what a garage is? Are you really going to know what a pond is? Are you really - there’s specific questions that ask you about certain areas and if you’re not being taught it in preschool and it’s not in your everyday environment, you’re not going to know it, you’re not familiar with it . . . (GTCrit_cbt) The label is . . . yeah. It’s horrible. [laughter] I don’t know how they would change it, but—it’s like, these are gifted and talented and these are not. Or excelled, it could be called, or something different. (GTCrit_ql)

LAUREN_K GEN ED PARENT_3_16_11.DOC

I: How would you define giftedness?

L: Oh dear! Probably a kid who’s got like an I.Q. off the charts and could probably be like a kindergartener who could probably do like third grade stuff. That to me is gifted. The Gifted and Talented test that they give them, it’s, y’know—you probably have to be bright to—you have to be bright to, to do it, but you also have to be a good test-taker. Like my one son who scored a ninety-four on it-both of my kids are really bright and I’m not just saying-you know, they’re both bright kids. They don’t have any learning issues. He could have done fine, he did well—to me, ninety-four, he did really well on the test, but he’s reading at the normal level, he’s doing everything at the normal or a little bit better level. So is he gifted? No, he’s not gifted. He’s bright. I would never in a million years tell anyone my kids were gifted. (GTCrit_pci) So I think a gifted child, I think they have it named improperly. It should be like “accelerated” classes or something, but gifted to me, like I said, is somebody whose I.Q. is off the charts and who’s like playing piano without looking at music and that type of thing. That’s gifted to me. [pause] And I think a lot of parents feel that way. (GTCrit_ql)

DENISE_1ST GR GEN ED PARENT_4_27_11.DOC

I: So how would you define giftedness then?

D: I think maybe just kids who are a little quicker, a little accelerated learning. I don’t know that kids are—I don’t know if you can say that a four or five year old is gifted. Certainly there are very intelligent kids out there, but I don’t think that—I wouldn’t say anybody who pulled a bunch of kids out of the G&T program at [TCS] are like, gonna be the next Bill Gates or a rocket scientist, y’know? (GTCrit_pci) I think at [TCS] I think probably the majority were prepped for it, and are probably at the higher level or the same as the kids in G&T. I think maybe there are some that are at a little higher reading level, but I don’t think— (GTCrit_mpp)

I: The same as the Gen Ed?

D: Yeah. I don’t think that—I don’t think a kid can be truly gifted. I think a kid can be a faster learner. (GTCrit_ql)

ALYSSA_INCOMING GEN ED PARENT_6_22_11.DOC

I: How would you define giftedness?

A: You mean in terms of the class?

I: Well, I guess in general. I mean, the second part of that question is do you think the G&T tests adequately measure giftedness

A: No, of course not. Not at four, not at nothing. I mean, I think there are some children who will go into a room with another adult and be asked questions—that’s all it’s showing, I think. But there’s probably something consistent among the children that do that, but probably from birth—you knew they were going to do whatever that test is asking. I guess it’s teaching that. (GTCrit_of) If anything, I’d say the tests test for sort of corporateness. Are you going to be a good corporate worker? I think a lot of what they’re teaching kids now go along with that. . . . I find that most—they should just call it something else. I don’t know what. If they called it something else, got rid of it—I’d like to see the teachers say ‘What is consistent about these kids?’ It seems like high stakes to call them gifted. There’s a lot to lose for both groups. The fear of failing, the laziness—there are things that they’re not already good at. That’s fine, it’s a different personality type. When you—there’s just a particular way of viewing it, it’s just one way I guess is what I would say. It’s assumed you’re in Gen Ed because you didn’t do well on the test, not that you actively chose it because if you actively chose it, then you’re rejecting G&T and no one does that. Giftedness in terms of some amazing composer at age 40, I’m still a little sketchy about that because I feel like they worked at that. It’s not like they came in and composed on one day. It’s a body of work over time, having to deal with the compositions that sucked. That’s a different thing in adults versus a child. (GTCrit_ql)

LINDSAY_-_BOTH PROGRAMS_-_3-30-11.DOC

I: Do you believe the G&T tests adequately measure giftedness?

L: Although [my daughter in Gen Ed] is incredibly verbal, she is also painfully shy like her brother. I’m not sure. That probably played into it. You know what? Not everyone tests well. So that’s -one thing that I really hate about it, one, you’re asking someone, a child that young to sit down in a very uncomfortable setting, spout out what they know and what they don’t know, or at least verbalize what they know and don’t know, and getting a child that young in a strange—to a strange person in a strange place to verbalize is incredibly difficult. Most adults don’t like to be put in that position, why would a child? (GTCrit_of) And (b) that you’re, you’re starting to categorize what a child’s potential is there and then. Oh! you know, that’s frustrating as well. (GTCrit_ql) You know, [my daughter’s] Gen Ed. Well, it doesn’t mean she’s not smart? I mean she’s very intelligent and very verbal and I know that she can handle whatever comes to her. (GTCrit_pci) But if I didn’t retest her, would she just continue that path and how different would her education be from [her two older siblings in G&T]? I mean, she’s going to be in our family, so she’s going to be shown all that extra outside stuff that we’ll expose them all to, and how would that be different-her experience be different than [her siblings]? (GTvGEN_ps) I think that’s what bothers me the most, that, you know, this is at age four, slotting them already. (GTCrit_ql)

MARGARET_3RD GR GT AND K GEN ED_3_7_11.DOC

I: How would you describe the school and program to parents who are not familiar with the district?

M: We love the community, the families are great, we have great friends there. So I mean, it’s been a really good experience [for our son in G&T]. But when we had to revisit it with [our younger daughter] and do the testing, I just assumed that [she] would get into the G&T. I mean, in terms of the skills, [she] was a lot more advanced as a five-year-old than [her brother] was. So I just assumed that that’s—and she, on the other tests that she did in the city, she did very well. (GTCrit_pci) But I think that the way that test is set up is I think it’s a seriously ridiculous test, and I think it actually has to do more with a child’s personality than their academic prowess. I mean, [my son] is really, really outgoing and chats up anybody, and [my daughter] tends to really clam up around strangers and I think that that, I think that that’s the reason.

I: Because of the tester?

M: Because of the tester (GTCrit_of) and—so it was sort of ironic that with [my daughter], because I don’t—now that we’re in this program and she has a brother who’s in the G&T, I don’t want her to have the stigma of being in [the Gen Ed] program-even the label of it is just, you know, Gifted and Talented. I mean, any child at any age, at five years old, understands those words. And Gen Ed, you know, that’s like—I don’t know, Gifted and Talented definitely has the ring of being the special class. Like [my son] at one time said something like, “Well”-he asked if [his sister] was in Special Ed. He just didn’t know, he didn’t know what the difference was. And I don’t think [my daughter] has an awareness yet that she’s in a different program. But that it just bugs me so much that she, that she is, and-well. (GTCrit_ql)

ALTHEA_1ST GR GEN ED_9_5_14.DOC

I: So why would you say you didn’t get your son tested for G&T?

A: No, I did.

I: Oh, you did?

A: Yeah.

I: Oh, I didn’t know you did.

A: No, I did. He didn’t get in or pass it. He didn’t pass it. I don’t know.

I: Did you do the test booklet with him?

A: I did. He always does well. I’ll go back and check it and he’ll do it. But like I said, that—the test booklet doesn’t—well, I guess it does. I did the test booklet, then I got other stuff that might be similar to the test booklet. I guess once he did the test—I don’t know. Sometimes I just believe it depends on whether the child ate, whether he’s tired, what time you go get the child and who’s actually administering the test. He didn’t have any luck. (GTCrit_of)

I: But you’re okay with the Gen Ed program? That was fine too?

A: Oh yeah, I’m all right with it. It’s good. It’s the same; I have no problem with it. I’d rather him be in the G&T rather than the Gen Ed because why be Gen Ed if you’re above grade level in math and reading and all of that stuff? That’s silly to me. Why don’t you just get something that’s a little more challenging? He’s above in all of that stuff; way above. You’re above in this, but you can’t get in that—but it’s very similar. (GTCrit_pci) The work and everything I see the kids do. I know he can keep up with them, it’s just getting into the program.

I: He has to take that test again.

A: He has to take the test. I don’t think I’m going to get him tested again. I’m just going to leave it alone. He’s fine.

I: It’s the same curriculum?

A: Just a little bit faster. And I know some kids that are in the G&T that really shouldn’t be there. Their parents prepped them good enough to get in, but they can’t keep up and the parents are always complaining. (GTCrit_mpp)

I: And they don’t move them down?

A: No. But they—you know your kids shouldn’t be there. Maybe it’s just something to talk about, like, “Oh, both of my kids are in, but this one can’t do the work.” I mean, it’s none of my business, but they told me. She can’t do the work, she shouldn’t be in there. (GTCrit_ql)

AMARA_BOTH PARENT_11_14_14.DOC

I: How would you describe the school to someone who isn't familiar with the schools here and the programs?

A: So the school is a very good school I think. It depends on what kind of kid you have. For my older one, she was in the G&T. At the time, she was the only black girl in the classroom. I remember in kindergarten, the teacher, the assistant teacher, 20-something student, she was the first student, “We are in the wrong place because”—but she came from a Montessori program. But that was paid, so I understand. But here, in public school, you’re like, and then there's this two class next to each other. Both are G&T. Then comes another two class who are General Ed. It's like totally Hispanic and you know black kids, and then—it was—until we got used to it, it was really bothering us. I think my daughter, she did just fine. She got no problem. When she started, she was reading. The teacher, she first told me . . . She looked at me and said, “She reads?” as if that's a big deal. Everybody in that class—not everybody, but a few kids could read. But she didn't say that to anybody. And I was like, whoa. My daughter reads—not like, you know, but... yeah. It was difficult at first, especially for me and my husband. My daughter, we never showed her—but it's fine. She was fine. And she did great. She did great. She was an outstanding student and she did great and now she’s in [a gifted middle school program]. . . . (GTCrit_pci) I was afraid to put my [younger] daughter in the Gen Ed because every time there's a good teacher, they move them from the Gen Ed to the . . .

I: G&T.

A: G&T. They have a reason why: because they are so advanced, they need a good teacher. How come this kid doesn't need—why is it when you start to be in the G&T? Why are they in G&T in the first place? I'm in G&T because I live way uptown and there's no school so I had to test my daughter and I believe she passed and I'm in G&T. (GTCrit_ql) Luckily she's a good student, but if you needed free tutors, you have to go to Kumon. How are you in G&T? I'm like, when you take the same test, you are in the special group so you need more time to finish your work. You are not a G&T. I really, really hate G&T because at 4-year-old child has to sit for an hour and something with someone they don't know. I mean, I am impressed these kids pass. And then from what I heard, they prepare their kids. They pay a lot of money to prepare their kids. (GTCrit_mpp)

MERCEDES_K AND 4TH GR GEN ED_10_9_14.DOC

I: Did you get any of your children tested for the G&T?

M: No. I got my little one—I did my—no, I had one screened. I had . . . I did my oldest. She got a 74, which I thought was because she is the youngest of the class. She was reading when she was 4 years old. She knew back and forth. (GTCrit_pci) I said, whatever. When she goes to school, I'm not doing anything with her. When I went to school, my mother never took care of me. I'm not working with her. I'm not doing anything with her. She's going to go to school and learn what she gets there like everybody else did in the 70s and 80s and early 90s. (GTvGEN_ps)

People were so obsessed, paying $2–3,000 for a tutor. I'm not paying it. Even if I had it, I wouldn't pay it. And that's the thing: all of the G&T kids train. All of the kids in G&T—some of the parents can afford it. They have grandparents that can afford it. They pay for this. But that's not G&T. (GTCrit_mpp)

JESSICA_BOTH PARENT_F/U INTERVIEW_9_18_14

J: If you grow up in the projects and you feel badly about that and you feel as though the reason you were there was because of the way you grew up in your life and then you see these kids that do seem very privileged and entitled, I understand that. I think that's—if you were going to quote me, I really do think that a lot of our—especially G&T—parents act really entitled and act as though there are certain things that they really should have. Not necessarily that other people shouldn't have them, but definitely that their child should have. (GTvGEN_ps)

I: Can you think of an example of that?

J: Yes, as a matter of fact. This happened—I think it was last year. It was last year. Last year for the first time, our school, the PTA paid for what we call 4th-Grade Test Bootcamp. We paid for kids to get test prep once a week every day for 8 weeks, and everybody could go but the teachers—I'm not really sure how they chose the teachers but in 4th grade in particular in our school—it doesn't exist right now because the teachers have moved around, but that year in 4th grade there was a huge division between—I don't even want to say “teacher ability.” There was this one teacher that was so stand-out, and she was a G&T teacher. Her kids just did amazingly well and she was such a Type A, fabulous teacher. So understandably everyone wanted her for test prep, and if a kid was in her class the parents thought that they should have her and if somebody wasn't in her class, they thought they should have her. (GTCrit_mpp) A parent came up to me. I was PTA president at the time so it wasn't last year, it was the year before, actually. A parent came up to me and said that she was really upset at the way that the teachers were chosen, and I said, “We didn't have anything to do with that, that was administration, we just gave them the program.” (GTvGEN_ps) She said to me, “Well, my son is really smart and he's with all of these dummies in Gen Ed.” I just looked at her and said, “You realize my son's in Gen Ed?” And she goes, “Oh, I'm sorry, that's terrible, I didn't mean it that way.” I'm just like, whatever. Honestly, it didn't upset me but I was slightly appalled that someone would make that comment. I didn't take it personally, but I just thought, really? Do you walk around with this cloud of thinking that your son is really that much smarter? (GTCrit_pci) That's why I kind of really—I don't like the sibling policy, but I love what it's done for our school. I love that there are more 98s and 97s in our Gen Ed class than there is in the G&T class because you only need to score a 90 to get into the G&T. (GTCrit_of)



 

School Choice Consultant Interview and Field Notes_4_29_11

Jane_1st Gr Gen Ed_3_30_11

G&T Critique_question G&T label (GTCrit_ql)

I: I’m getting the sense that [parents] are not really buying into the gifted label. They don’t believe the G&T tests are really measuring true giftedness. Are you hearing that kind of stuff too?

R: I believe that. I believe the measures they’re using presently just don’t make any sense to me. I understand why they’re using them – the thing I like best about them is that kids that are foreign born can do well on the test, which they can’t on the Stanford-Binet or the ERB.

I: Because of the language?

R: Because there’s no language component. But I don’t see how you could have a G&T program that doesn’t take verbal expressive skills into account because that’s one of the hallmarks of being gifted. When you squelch that, I think it sort of skews who you’re getting… So to me, the BSRA is a school readiness test. What does it have to do to be gifted that you can identify letters and colors—whatever. The OLSAT—the analogies are interesting.

I: How would you define giftedness?

J: That’s a great question. (laughs) Well, I will tell you, I don’t think the tests that they use assess intelligence or giftedness in a meaningful, accurate way, and I hope I’m not just saying that because my kid’s not a natural tester. He does very well. However, the year he was going to kindergarten and he took the Stanford-Binet for Hunter, he took the ERBs for private school, and he took the OLSAT for G&T, and I felt like, My poor kid! You know, it’s a lot, it’s a lot for a four-year-old, you know, and for a young four-year-old, you know what I mean?

G&T Critique_most parents test prep (GTCrit_mpp)

SCC: …We have 1,000 kids who are in the 99th percentile—is that all prepping or what?

I: Do you think most parents prep?

SCC: Yeah. I don’t know that everyone’s tutoring. I think more and more parents are doing it, and it’s very hard. I’m against doing that but I actually—what I wanted to do this year was to put out a survey or something to find out—something anonymous where people could tell whether they prepped or not and what their kids got because there’s lots of word on the street that that’s made a difference.

 

J: I didn’t realize how much everyone else was prepping their kids specifically to take these tests, and I do think that he suffered because he didn’t get the very top score… So it was very competitive amongst the parents, you know, and I think that that makes a big difference on the test, and obviously the city’s onto it and they—I’ve actually read all the articles and I think they’re changing the test next year because they think that the scores are falsely elevated because everybody’s prepping their kids for the test, although they say you’re not supposed to, and I kind of took that to be my—yeah, okay, that makes sense. You just shouldn’t, you know? But—

I: Right.

J: Everyone else is doing it, and a lot of these people, it wasn’t their first kid, it was their second or third, and a lot of people grew up in the city, and I don’t know, they just seemed to know the drill, and I just was kind of like finding my way and educating myself the best I could as I was doing it. And so…

G&T Critique_outside factors effect test performance (GTCrit_of)

SCC Notes—G&T testing is criticized because no verbal component, can only ask question once. She thinks they are being tested on focus, pictures not appealing, more girls score higher, seeing burnout—can’t do another one of these tests, therefore, she doesn’t recommend that they tutor. Biggest issue is siblings.

J: …You know, so you just kind of felt your options narrowing and then there’s the pressure to do—get a ninety-nine on the test, which also I didn’t realize that, you know, that it had to be that or nothing in terms of getting in if you have a first child or an only child who’s entering the system.

J: I think that you know, I know it’s probably really hard to—how do you say who’s gifted? And I think that our culture also values a certain kind of talent or giftedness above others, you know? I don’t know. I think it tests creativity. I don’t think it, you know, tests other things, emotional intelligence or even (laughs) there are many kinds of intelligence, and I think it tests a very narrow subset of certain kinds of methodical linear thinkers. Kids who probably do really well also feel like—from my observation of the kind of kids I knew that did really well on the test, it was the kids who were really, at four, very comfortable going off with a stranger into a room away from their parent, and not afraid to like show what they know, you know? And I think my kid is a little bit of a—more of an observer, more of a—

I: Waits a little bit.

J: Wait a minute. Let me see how I feel about this. Who is this person?

G&T Critique_silence about prep/competition (GTCrit_spc)

I: And if everyone else is doing it, then if you need to be competitive like that then you have to do it.

SCC: Right. It’s really hard. When my kids went through the process 15–20 years ago, we didn’t prep. You never even heard of doing anything like that. Now it’s sort of par for the course.

I: For the testing, did you practice?

J: I did the practice test that they give you, but I’ve got to tell you, I was so naïve again, maybe because I just didn’t grow up here or didn’t have any friends that went to it because they all left the city when they had their kids. And nobody—I thought this was kind of a competitive thing amongst the parents I knew at school. Nobody was talking, but they were all prepping their kids. I didn’t know that they were. I just thought, oh well, okay, I’ll do this practice test like they recommend… It was so competitive, and I just didn’t—because I was just naïve about it. And then of course, after the test, a lot of parents came forward and said to me, “Oh yeah, of course, I hired a tutor. Of course I did this and that.” Nobody was talking before that, you know?

I: After the fact.

J: After the fact. Oh yeah, I have a tutor. Oh yeah, I did this, I did that, I bought this, I bought that. You know how I felt?

G&T Critique_perception of child’s intelligence (GTCrit_pci)

I: So some parents in [particular zoned schools] sometimes, they’re looking for other options.

SCC: Right. What G&T has become at this point—I think there are some G&T parents who really believe their child needs a G&T program. I think the majority of them want to get out of the local public school.

J: …You know, I knew he knew the basic stuff. I didn’t know what the test was other than what the practice test was. I just also kind of thought, well, you know, either he can do it or he can’t do it, and I don’t want to falsely elevate where he’s at because once he gets into a program and then it’s not where he’s really at, I mean I felt very confident in his abilities (laughs) and stuff, but I just thought I don’t want that kind of pressure, and I felt like, you know, he obviously had some abilities…

G&T vs Gen Ed_parenting styles (GTvGEN_ps)

I: What have parents said to you? What kind of concerns do they have about the Gen Ed?

SCC: They’re concerned about the diversity in the Gen Ed. They’re concerned about how their kids will feel if they figure out that someone is and someone isn’t—pretty much what I’ve said to parents, what my experience has been, is that in the lower grades kids understand that they’re always in the same class with certain kids and not with other kids that they might play with on the playground. Starting around 3rd grade, they hear G&T banter around. I don’t know whether that becomes an issue or not. Parents are talking about it and they hear that kind of thing. So that’s an issue for them…

I: And you said diversity in Gen Ed?

SCC: Well, I think that the concern is that at least starting primarily it has been African-American and Hispanic students with one or two white children in the mix. But now that’s beginning to shift, but it still looks different than the G&T.

I: So they don’t want their children to be the minority almost.

SCC: Correct.

I: Does it have to do with anything else?

SCC: Sometimes the issue of behavior will come up in the equation. Some of it will be – do their parents care enough about education as we do? Are they supporting their kids at home in the same way we are? Do we like their parenting methods of dealing with their children? Stuff like that.

J: …I think what happens, it’s unfortunate is the situations where there’s that really big contrast between like, all right, there’s all these kids that are coming to school from the nearby projects in the Gen Ed and maybe kids who didn’t go to nursery school or didn’t have like a leg up for whatever reason, by the time they entered, so they don’t even understand that they have to sit still in the classroom or aren’t prepared with the basics. Like the kids that went to preschool for three years have the basics already. They didn’t get the pre-reading and the math and the pre-writing. So I think that’s a rougher situation and when there’s a really stark contrast between you’ve got these kids where it’s like you see—you don’t see—I mean, it sounds bad, but you don’t see many White kids in that.





Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 119 Number 8, 2017, p. 1-53
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 21930, Date Accessed: 12/13/2019 7:25:40 PM

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About the Author
  • Allison Roda
    Molloy College
    E-mail Author
    ALLISON RODA is an assistant professor of education at Molloy College, Rockville Centre, NY. She specializes in the sociology of education and urban education reform, with a particular focus on the ways in which race/ethnicity, social class, and perceived academic ability intersect with education policy. Her work has been published in the American Journal of Education.
 
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