To get into a gifted and talented elementary school program in New York City, children must ace a single, high-stakes exam — when they are 4 years old.

This admissions process is now a flash point in an escalating debate over how to desegregate the nation’s largest school district.

Although New York’s school district has mostly black and Hispanic students, the city’s gifted classes are made up of about three-quarters white and Asian students. Experts say the single-exam admissions process for such young children is an extremely unusual practice that may be the only one of its kind nationwide.

Every January, roughly 15,000 4-year-olds walk into testing centers across the city. On the exam, they are asked to finish patterns: For example, if children are shown a

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