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by Nicole Mader, Bruce Cory, and Celeste Royo

The most recent Urban Matters ("Tough Test Ahead: Bringing Diversity to New York's Specialized High Schools") reported on patterns of racial and ethnic admission to some of the city's most prestigious secondary schools and how admissions might more closely mirror the overall composition of the city's public schools. As we showed, only about 16 percent of high-performing Black and Hispanic middle school students gain admission to these elite public high schools.

This week we're following up on comments and questions we received from you.

First, we show all 7th graders in 2012-13 by race, ethnicity and performance level at all 536 public middle schools (including charter schools). At the top of this chart, we see the handful of "feeder" middle schools that send high-performing students of all races to the eight high schools that rely on the specialized high school admissions tests (SHSAT). But we also see hundreds of schools that fail to prepare any students for these specialized schools. Click here to see the chart.

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By Bruce Cory, editorial advisor and Nicole Mader, data analyst at the Center for New York City Affairs.

There’s a longstanding debate about why so few Black and Hispanic students are admitted to New York City’s specialized high schools, including Stuyvesant, Bronx Science and Brooklyn Tech. They accounted for fewer than 9 percent of students offered admissions at eight specialized schools for the current school year; that’s down from 9.6 percent the year before. Some say the specialized high school admissions test (SHSAT) is discriminatory and should be scrapped; others say the test merely reflects the poor preparation most Black and Hispanic students, who make up some 68 percent of public school enrollment, get in the elementary and middle schools.

Now, new research by the Center for New York City Affairs shows that even Black and Hispanic students who do very well in middle school—that is, those who as 7th-graders earn the best possible scores on either math or English language arts (ELA) state standardized tests—are much less likely to attend specialized high schools than their similarly high-performing Asian or White classmates.

This suggests that the City’s Department of Education (DOE) may be able to increase Black and Hispanic specialized high school admissions without scrapping the SHSAT (a politically daunting task) or completely overhauling the elementary and middle schools. It offers hope that plans announced last week to increase the diversity of students taking and passing the SHSAT could produce progress.

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All 31 city school districts will offer gifted and talented (G&T) elementary school programs next fall—although in districts 7, 12, 16 and 23, G&T will begin in 3rd grade, not kindergarten. In response to the clamor around the city for more programs in poor and primarily Black and Latino neighborhoods, the Department of Education (DOE) announced today that it will open the 3rd grade G&T classes in the South Bronx and Central Brooklyn, areas which have not had G&T programs in recent years because too few students earned qualifying scores on citywide tests.

Current 2nd-graders in these districts who apply will be evaluated for G&T based on "multiple measures" such as academic performance, attendance, curiousity, motivation and being a fast learner. 

All 2nd-graders may apply, said DOE spokesperson Harry Hartfield, but "specific outreach will be done to families of students who are above grade level to encourage them to apply." 

"It's a fantastic idea," said Robin Aronow, a social worker and schools consultant in Manhattan. "The advantage of it, in particular in those districts, is that you have teacher recommendations rather than being dependent on a kid doing well on a test ... you're able to take into account what kids are demonstrating in school."

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Q: I am in 10th grade and starting to think about preparing for college admission. This year, some of my friends took the new SAT. But at this point I don’t know if I should prepare for the SAT or take the ACT. Which would look better for college?

A: To colleges, the SAT and the ACT “look” the same. Admissions offices do not care which test you take. It doesn’t matter. You should take the test with which you are more comfortable. Some students like the new SAT, while others do not. There is always going to be a difference of opinion.

The tests were created at two different times and by two different companies. And, these companies pretty much control the testing market. The tests are not perfect, and results are dependent on many factors including academic preparation, socioeconomics, and English fluency.

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High school acceptance letters arrived Friday for the more than 75,000 8th-graders who submitted applications in December. Ninety-three percent of them went home knowing they were accepted by a high school; the remaining 7 percent came up empty-handed and must apply again, choosing from a list of schools that still have room. (See our picks here.)

The number of Black and Hispanic students accepted at the highly competitive specialized exam high schools dropped, prompting Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña to once again call for "strategies to foster diversity at these schools."

The city touted gains made by students with disabilities who were accepted in higher numbers than ever before by some of the most selective schools, not including the specialized high schools. 

Here's a rundown of the results.

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If you’re thinking of applying to a gifted and talented program in New York City for your child currently in pre-k to 2nd grade, the time is now: The G&T application season is open and the sooner you sign up, the better your chances are of getting your preferred test date. 

The first step is submitting your RFT (request for testing) form either online or in person at your child’s current NYC public school or at a Family Welcome Center (if your child is a non-public school or charter student). All RFTs must be submitted by November 12. (The original deadline of November 9 was extended, the Department of Education announced on Nov. 5)

Here's an overview of gifted and talented programming, testing procedures and—as always—advice to help your family navigate the process.

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New York City students performed slightly better on state standardized tests in 2015 than they did in 2014, but about two-thirds of test-takers in grades 3–8 still failed to meet state standards on either the ELA (English language arts) or math tests, according to figures released by the state education department today. The so-called "opt-out" movement gained momentum this year with nearly 2 percent of eligible New York City students refusing to take the tests, the city said; statewide some 20 percent of 3rd–8th-graders sat them out. 

Math scores continue to be somewhat higher than ELA, with 35.2 percent of students meeting the standards—scoring a 3 or 4 on the Common Core–aligned exams, as compared to 34.2 percent last year. Only 30.4 percent of students passed the reading exam, up from 28.4 percent last year.

Parents can find their child's test scores on their NYC Schools parent account. If you don't yet have an account, you can contact your school, or local school district, to help you set it up. Scores for individual schools and districts are now posted on the Department of Education's website.

The gap in scores among ethnic groups remains large throughout the city and state. "Black and Hispanic students face a discouraging achievement gap," said State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia in a conference call with reporters. Similar to last year, more than 50 percent of white and Asian students in the city scored 3 or 4 on the English test, while only about 19 percent of black and Hispanic students did. In math, 67 percent of Asians passed, compared to 57 percent of whites, 24 percent of Hispanics and 19 percent of black students. [See the chart above].

Students with special needs and those learning to speak English fared the worst: Only 4 percent of English language learners passed the English test and 14 percent passed the math. Of the students with disabilities, nearly 7 percent scored a 3 or 4 on English and 11 percent on math, down slightly from last year.

For more coverage of the 2015 exams and the opt-out movement, see Chalkbeat New York. The DOE's press release about city scores is here.



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The New York City Department of Education (DOE) just wrapped up their summer-time series of high school admissions workshops, including several that focused on the city's nine specialized high schools. Bronx Science, Brooklyn Latin, Brooklyn Tech, High School for American Studies, High School for Math, Science and Engineering, LaGuardia, Queens High School for the Sciences, Staten Island Tech, and Stuyvesant. Didn’t make it to a workshop? Don’t worry. You can find a recap of the July high school information sessions here, and there will be plenty of opportunities to learn about the specialized high schools in the fall at open houses and at the city- and borough-wide high school fairs

Meanwhile here's a heads-up on what you can be doing this summer to prepare.

If you’re interested in attending one of the eight, test-in specialized high schools, you'll need to take the SHSAT (Specialized High School Admissions Test). You’ll also need to study for the SHSAT and if you haven’t done so already, summer is a great time to prep for the exam.

LaGuardia is the only specialized high school that does not require students to take the SHSAT. Instead, students are admitted based on an audition (and portfolio if applying to the art studio) as well as their middle school grades, state test scores and attendance records. Just like taking the SHSAT, students need to prepare for auditions. You can learn more about LaGuardia's audition process on the school's website. This year for the first time a dozen arts schools, including LaGuardia, have common audition components, so you don't have to prepare different auditions for each school. Check page 15 of the high school directory for the participating schools.

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Q: After we spent a lot of money on test prep and our daughter spent a lot of time studying for the SAT, the College Board messed up the June 6 SAT! So all of our effort is for nothing. What is going to happen? What do you suggest we do?

A: By now, everyone is aware of the problem with the administration of the June 6 SAT: A printing error on test booklets forced the College Board to discard two of the 10 sections. It's bad luck all around, and the College Board will do what it will do to make amends, in this case waiving the fee for students who want to retake the exam. It's not the first time something has happened, and I'm sure it will not be the last.

About nine years ago, the College Board erred in its scoring of hundreds of tests, and students received scores that were anywhere from 100 points or more lower than they actually achieved. And I remember when my daughter was applying to colleges about a dozen years ago, and she needed several SAT Subject Test scores. She took three tests, but only two scores arrived. When we inquired, we learned that the College Board had somehow "lost" her literature essay. "And it's really too bad," said the apologetic College Board service representative, "because she scored well on the short answers!" She had to re-take—at no cost, of course—the entire exam. It's almost inevitable that there will be problems from time to time, especially when dealing with huge amounts of data on a national basis.

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As our group of New York City public school teenagers lined up at the foot of a southern Catskill Forest, the guide for the trip I was chaperoning had a question.

“How many of you have never been on a hike before?’’ he shouted. At least nine hands shot up. One student asked if Central Park counted.

I laced my hiking boots in disbelief, glancing down at the footwear my son’s high school classmates sported. Mostly sneakers or inappropriate fashionable booties.

Very few sported footwear proper for a five-mile hike on muddy partially frozen ground with traces of ice and snow. Many hadn’t even bothered with socks.

Yet off we tromped into the woods, a bit unprepared but happy to be on an overnight field trip in the natural beauty of 5,000 acres surrounding the Frost Valley YMCA—all part of preparing for the Advanced Placement Environmental Science exam. Who says test prep has to be boring?

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