A pilot for the city's new test prep program to help low-income students qualify for the elite specialized high schools has shown improved results.
About 30 percent of the students – from predominately black and Caribbean schools - who began the pilot DREAM, Specialized High School Institute as 6th graders got offers to a specialized school after taking the test in 2011. The rate of acceptances for black and Latino students in the previous program was about 20%.
The Department of Education, politicians and advocates have long been disturbed by the low number of black and Hispanic students enrolled at the city’s elite specialized high schools. Over the years they have looked at ways to increase the numbers without changing the exam that determines admission at one of the eight schools.
In the DREAM pilot, instruction focused more on test-taking skills, critical thinking and time-saving strategies than previous courses, according to the DOE. There was also "robust teacher professional development and coaching" and a reporting system that allowed teachers to tailor instruction to individual students, concentrating on areas of weaknesses. In other changes designed to improve the retention rate, more test prep sites have been set up. Now the 18 programs are district-based, making it easier for students to attend. Participants are provided with MetroCards and free lunches.
This year, DREAM will also include more students than the previous program (SHSI), enrolling 2,600 6th and 7th graders – up from 932 6th graders last year. The program may be expanded even further in the future, beginning in 5th grade.
Still, the higher success rate for black and Hispanic test-takers didn't allow them to catch up with Asian and white SHSI participants. In 2011, 62 percent of Asians who took the now-defunct SHSI prep course received a specialized offer as did 39 percent of white students.
The SHSI program, started in 1995, was primarily aimed at increasing the number of black and Hispanic students at specialized high schools. Since 2009, admission has been determined by income level, not race. As a result, a significantly higher percentage of Asian students and far fewer Hispanics enrolled. In 2011, the percentage of Asian students jumped to 45 percent from 16 percent in 2009 while Hispanics dropped to 24 percent from 42 percent over the same period.
In the first year of DREAM, which began on May 5, 40 percent students are Asian, 26 percent are Hispanic, 21 percent are black and 12 percent are white, according to the DOE.
(City high school students overall are 17 percent Asian, 39 percent Hispanic, 30 percent black and 13 percent white.)
This year 6,232 6th and 7th graders qualified for 2,600 slots. (There are about 5,800 freshmen seats in the specialized schools that base admissions on the exam.) Eligible students must meet academic and income guidelines. Because there are more qualified students than spaces available, students were chosen randomly in district-based lotteries. Students who didn’t get in were placed on a waitlist.
The $1.2 million program is paid for by Title 1 federal money.
2012 offers to specialized high schools by ethnicity (below) show that blacks and Hispanics trail Asian and white students in gaining acceptance. The chart does not indicate which students were enrolled in the SHSI or pilot DREAM program.