NEW YORK — The Panel for Educational Policy voted against a proposed contract early Thursday morning that would have allowed the city to test four-year-olds for the gifted and talented program this April — upending Mayor Bill de Blasio’s plan to use the test for one final year before rethinking the program.

What You Need To Know

  • The Panel for Educational Policy voted against a proposed contract that would have allowed the city to test four-year-olds for the gifted and talented program this April

  • The mayor said the city would come up with a new way for families to apply to the program

  • The mayor had proposed using the exam for one more year before changing admissions to the program

It was not immediately clear how the city will move ahead in this year’s kindergarten admissions without the exam, which was to be purchased from test company Pearson.

But Mayor Bill de Blasio said Thursday the city would come up with a new process for families to apply for gifted and talented.

"You will have an opportunity to apply for those programs this year. We'll work on the right methodology," the mayor said. "We'll announce it soon."

The stunning vote came from a panel that typically does not make major news. The majority of its members are appointed by the mayor, and they do not get a vote on most policy issues. But they do have to approve Education Department contracts — and while they virtually always sign off on them, after a marathon meeting that stretched into Thursday morning, eight members voted against, sinking the contract.

"My vote today is for my conscience, because at the end of the day I've got to get to sleep, whenever that is," member Shannon Waite, who was appointed by the mayor and noted she could find herself replaced for her vote against the contract, said.

The vote comes just weeks after de Blasio himself said he no longer supported using a single test as the entry criteria for gifted and talented programs — but that he would use it for one more year, saying it was too late in the kindergarten application process to change it ahead of next September.

At the top of the meeting, Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza ripped into the exam, even as the administration was asking members to approve it for another year.

“As a pedagogue, as a principal, as a parent, I can say with certainty that there is a better way to serve our young learners than through the current test that is administered to four-year-olds,” he said. “There is no research, there is no pedagogical reason why one test to four-year-olds should be a sole determinant. That’s why we want this to be the last year this test will be administered —and it will be the last year.”

But dozens of parents, teachers and students who signed to comment at the meeting questioned why the city would continue to administer a test it felt was so flawed for even one more year, and particularly during a pandemic when the test must be given in person.

Most public school children in the city are Hispanic or Black; but most of the students in the gifted and talented programs are Asian or white, and critics argue the separate classes and schools have worsened segregation in the public school system. The city gives the tests to students at an earlier age than most other districts, and for years there have been calls to change the admissions criteria.

About 15,000 children apply to kindergarten each year, whose families must sign them up for the exam, take the test, and about 2,000 are awarded seats each year. But while the program is relatively tiny in such a large system, it has vocal defenders — many of whom also spoke at the meeting, arguing that families whose children need accelerated education were being unfairly maligned as racist or that the changes would take away opportunities from Asian American students, many of whom are poor.

For several days there were indications the contract may not pass. Mayor de Blasio abruptly filled two long-empty vacancies on the panel, and both of those members voted in favor of the testing contract.

And early in the meeting, Carranza rolled out new changes he said would go into effect this year -- including allocating some seats via a lottery, and prioritizing seats for students in temporary housing, from low-income homes, or who are learning English.

But it didn’t sway enough of the panel’s members. Several of the mayor’s own appointees voted against, some openly acknowledging that it was difficult to do so. Some members, appointed by borough presidents, hinted that they personally did not support the exam but ultimately voted in favor of the contract on behalf of their borough.

Panel chair Vanessa Leung said it would be her fourth sleepless night in a row.

“But really reflecting on the values and principles that guide me,” she said, “I need to share that I need to vote no on the Pearson contract.”

She read aloud a message she received from a parent in favor of the test who argued that “many Asian parents are academically focused” and will spend money on test prep for exams like the gifted and talented one. “This would not apply to black and Hispanic families who have different values,” the message continued.

“This is a clear example to me of the racist rhetoric we need to fight against,” Leung said.