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Photo via Facebook/Council Member Robert F. Holden
Councilman Holden speaks alongside Senator Tony Avella at the steps of City Hall on July 31 to call for more Gifted and Talented programs in city schools.

Elected officials from Queens stood on the steps of City Hall this week to rally in support of the Specialized High School Admissions Test and offer a possible solution for more students to succeed on the controversial exam.

State Senator Tony Avella was joined by Councilman Robert Holden, Assemblyman William Colton of Brooklyn and community advocacy groups on July 31 at the rally where the lawmakers announced new state legislation and a City Council resolution aimed at saving the SHSAT, the test taken by students hoping to get into one of the city’s eight specialized high schools. Mayor Bill de Blasio proposed in June that the SHSAT should be removed as part of reforms that would help more black and Hispanic students get accepted to the schools.

Both the bill introduced by Avella and the resolution introduced by Holden would require the Department of Education to create more Gifted and Talented programs in schools to give more children the opportunity to participate in them.

“We must expand our city’s successful Gifted and Talented programs to be available in every school to give students the opportunity to achieve academic excellence,” Avella said in a press release. “We must not pit one group of people against another but rather expand educational opportunities for all. That’s why I am proud to have introduced this bill, S.9141, in Albany requiring an expansion of the city’s gifted and talented program for all students, and I will oppose any changes to the Specialized High School Admissions Test.”

More specifically, Avella’s bill requires that all city schools with kindergarten through fifth grade and four or more classes per grade to have at least one Gifted and Talented class per grade in which students will gain admission through academic merit rather than an admissions test, according to the bill text. It would also provide for automatic admission into Gifted and Talented programs in sixth through eighth grade and allows academic merit to be part of the entry process in those grades as well.

“A real cause of the serious lack of diversity in NYC schools is the failure of the DOE to offer Gifted and Talented classes in lower grades and middle schools in under-served school districts to challenge and enrich their brightest students,” Colton said. “Students who study hard in Gifted and Talented programs and do well on the SHSAT should not be penalized for the failure of the DOE to provide such programs to other districts.”

Holden’s resolution, co-sponsored by Councilman Eric Ulrich, largely echoes what Avella’s bill says, but it additionally states that the DOE should create at least one Gifted and Talented class per grade for intermediate sixth- through eighth-grade schools with four or more classes per grade.

“As an educator turned policymaker, I have seen over the last two decades the negative net effect that the decreasing of Gifted & Talented programs have contributed on our children citywide — especially in our disenfranchised communities,” Holden said. “As policymakers, it is incumbent on us to assist in the development of our children’s full potential, not hinder it … If we truly care about a progressive education for our children, then lawmakers need to pass these bills now!”

In Holden’s district, the Community Education Council 24 also passed a resolution in June opposed to removing the SHSAT, and the mayor’s proposal has been met with criticism and other protests throughout the borough.

The elected officials were also joined at City Hall by members of CoalitionEDU and the Chinese American Citizens Alliance of Greater New York to show their support for the legislation.

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