In a reversal, New York City school officials on Wednesday said they would continue their sibling-preference policy for gifted and talented programs that have more eligible students than seats.
Amid an explosion in the number of students who qualify for the seats, the city in October said it would end the policy as part of a raft of new changes to the program?s admissions process. School officials at the time said their move would create a fairer system for its highest-performing pupils.
But the idea is being abandoned until it can be analyzed more deeply, officials said, a reflection of just how combustible such tweaks can be for programs that serve just a sliver of the system?s 1.1 million students but that are highly coveted by parents.
?Based on feedback that we received from schools and families, we are not implementing the changes this year,? Dennis M. Walcott, the schools chancellor, wrote in a letter e-mailed on Wednesday to the families that have applied for entry into gifted programs next fall.
The announcement came three weeks before the start of admissions testing for the programs. Students must score in the 90th percentile on an admissions test to qualify for a district-level gifted program, and in the 97th percentile for one of the citywide programs, like the Anderson School or the Brooklyn School of Inquiry.
If there are more students who qualify for a gifted program than there are seats, students with a sibling in the program will be admitted first, as long as they obtain a qualifying score. Any remaining seats go to students without siblings in the program, based on who scores highest. The policy aims to keep young siblings together and avoid making parents take children to separate schools. But it also irked the many parents of students who, for example, scored in the 99th percentile, but lost out to other students who scored in the 97th percentile but had a sibling in the program.
So in the fall, the Education Department did away with the sibling preference ?to make it fairer and more equitable for students scoring most high on these exams,? Robert Sanft, the chief executive of the department?s Office of Student Enrollment, said at the time.
The change drew equal parts praise and condemnation, as did the reversal on Wednesday.
Michael McCurdy, a co-founder of TestingMom.com, an online service that provides practice-test materials and advice for parents, predicted that parents with just one child seeking placement in a gifted program would suffer.
The Education Department, he said in an e-mail, ?has always emphasized that the G&T program is a ?privilege,? and not a ?right,? for children to attend.?
?Therefore, there should be no sibling preference on G.&T. placements,? he continued. ?This is the only fair way to do it and reverting back to the old policy gives the children with siblings in the G.&T. program huge advantage on two fronts.? But Rachel Fremmer, who has a 7-year-old daughter in the gifted program at Public School 163, in Manhattan, and a 4-year-old daughter in preschool hoping to enroll there next year, was relieved. ?It?s great for us,? she said. ?A lot of families were desperate to have their children in the same school.?