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De Blasio seeks to eliminate high-stakes test for NYC’s elite specialized high schools

Will benefit blacks and Hispanics; some Asians call move unfair

June 4, 2018 By Mary Frost Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Mayor Bill de Blasio on Sunday announced plans to change the admissions process at the city's elite specialized high schools to improve the odds of admission for disadvantaged black and Hispanic students. In Brooklyn last month, Asian students, who are the highest performers on the specialized school exam, protested any potential changes to the test. Eagle photo by Mary Frost

After years of claims of racial discrimination, Mayor Bill de Blasio on Sunday announced plans to change the admissions process at the city’s elite specialized high schools by getting rid of the grueling, high-stakes admission exam known as the Specialized High School Admissions Test (SHSAT).

Using one, high-stakes test as the sole criterion for admissions has been called unfair and discriminatory, especially to minority kids with access to fewer educational resources.

Traditionally, the majority of eighth-graders admitted to the city’s specialized high schools are Asians (52 percent), followed by white students (27 percent). Latinos make up roughly 6 percent, and blacks roughly 4 percent.

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At a press conference held at J.H.S. 292 in Brownsville, the mayor called the admissions test “a broken system.”

“The amount of talent that has gone missing because of that is unbelievable, because talent takes many forms,” de Blasio said. “A single standardized test could never, ever capture all that talent.”

The mayor singled out Brooklyn Tech as a case in point.

“Here we are in Central Brooklyn – this a shameful statistic, Brooklyn Tech one of the jewels in the crown of public education in this city, 3.4 percent of the students at Brooklyn Tech come from Central Brooklyn,” he said.

Brooklyn Tech is the largest specialized high school in the city. Of roughly 1,900 eighth-grade students receiving admittance offers there in 2018, 935 were Asian, 567 were white, 137 were Latino and 87 were black.


Mayor: A More Equitable System

Instead of one test, the mayor hopes to move toward a system that would open placement to the top students from every middle school in the city, based on grades and the seventh grade state math and English exams.

But getting rid of the SHSAT for three of the specialized schools — Stuyvesant, Bronx Science and Brooklyn Tech — requires legislative change in Albany, something has proven problematic for the mayor in the past. State Assemblymember Charles Barron has introduced a bill to get rid of SHSAT.

City to Expand Discovery Program

While waiting on Albany, the city plans to expand its Discovery program, which is designed to increase enrollment of low-income students at specialized high schools. The program will expand to include disadvantaged students who just miss the SHSAT score required to receive an offer, and will be limited to students attending low-income schools.

“We will immediately expand the program to 20 percent of seats at each [specialized high school] and adjust the eligibility criteria to target students attending high-poverty schools,” de Blasio said.

A number of Brooklyn officials applauded the plan, including the borough president.

“A year after the release of our task force’s report, Mayor de Blasio and Chancellor Carranza have recognized the most fundamental of truths about our specialized high schools,” BP Eric Adams said.

“Still, the city is far from doing all it can to expand diversity in gifted and talented education,” he added. “These reforms have opened those doors a bit wider, and we must continue to push them further.”

But U.S. Rep. Dan Donovan (R- South Brooklyn, S.I.) called the change “misguided.”

“Not even top-tier education is safe from de Blasio’s radical agenda,” he said in a statement on Monday. “The city needs to focus on reforms that increase opportunities for all children instead of creating a ‘race to the bottom’ environment. An exam is an objective way for students to prove their credentials to elite schools, but this misguided policy basically tells them that their skills and performance shouldn’t matter.”

Asians Top Test Takers

Last month, Asian families protested in Brooklyn’s Cadman Plaza Park to protest the mayor’s proposed changes to the specialized high school admission process.

Asian students are the highest performers on the specialized school exam, and get roughly 52 percent of admission offers.

“We feel you cannot punish the people who work hard and then they get in. Specialized high schools [are] trying to get the people who work harder and they can help the future of the country,” event volunteer Jerry Lo told the Brooklyn Eagle.

Surveys show that Asian children spend more hours doing schoolwork than members of other ethnic groups in New York City.

“Chinese students study very hard because we are all immigrants and we are looking for a better life here,” Lo said.

Former Stuyvesant student and Cobble Hill resident Lynn (she asked that her last name not be used) recalled a friend she had at school who was admitted despite just missing the cut off on the test. He had difficulty keeping up with the other students, she said.

“You can’t just say, ‘You’re in.’ [Discovery students] would need continued support until they catch up. At another school, my friend would have been at the top of his class. Here, he was flunking out. There has to be follow-up at the school’s end,” she said.

The specialized schools include Brooklyn Technical High School, Brooklyn Latin School, High School for Math, Science and Engineering at City College, Bronx High School of Science, Stuyvesant High School, High School for American Studies at Lehman College, Queens High School for Sciences at York College and Staten Island Technical High School.


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