Last weekend, Oct. 26-27, thousands of 8th graders buzzing with the pressure of months (sometimes years) of preparation sat for the two-hour long specialized high school admissions test (SHSAT). Could this be the last year that entrance to a specialized high school hinges on one incredibly high-stakes exam?
If Bill de Blasio is mayor, that's a real possibility.
De Blasio, whose son attends Brooklyn Tech, told the NY Daily News that the high-stakes SHSAT should not be the only factor determining specialized high school admissions. “These schools are the academies for the next generation of leadership in all sectors of the city, and they have to reflect the city better,” de Blasio told the newspaper.
A new report released yesterday by the NAACP and Community Service Society (CSS) draws attention to the the low—and dropping—rates of black and Latino students in the city's elite, specialized high schools. Even though blacks and Latinos make up a majority of New York City's public school students, just 12 percent of the students admitted to the eight exam high schools in 2013 are black and Latino. Of the more than 26,000 eighth graders who took the SHSAT last year, 12,000 were black and Latino, but, only 600 black and Latino students performed well enough on the exam to get an admissions offer.
The report suggests that the next mayor could increase diversity by diversifying the admissions process so schools consider additional factors, such as middle school grades and class ranking—similar suggestions to those de Blasio offered the Daily News earlier this month.
The mayor alone cannot change the one-test admissions policy for the three oldest specialized high schools—Stuyvesant, Bronx Science, and Brooklyn Tech—without approval at the state level but the report says that the mayor could, and should, change the one-test admissions policy for the five newer specialized high schools immediately without waiting for a policy change at the state level. Those high schools are Staten Island Tech, High School for American Studies at Lehman College, Brooklyn Latin, Queens High School for Science at York College, and High School for Math, Science and Engineering at City College.
The Bloomberg administration's response to the racial gap in admissions offers was to offer more test prep for high-achieving, low-income students. In 2012, the DOE revamped the Specialized High School Institute (SHSI) and relaunched it as the DREAM-SHSI, offering free SHSAT prep for eligible students. The report calls those efforts inadequate, pointing out that the number of offers to black and Latino students for the 2013 school year dropped two percentage points from 2012. "The consistently poor results demonstrate that additional test prep, or test prep for more students, cannot cure the fundamental flaw in the policy. Admissions should not be based upon a single test in the first place," the report says.
CSS and the NAACP filed a civil rights complaint against the city and state Education Departments with the US Ed Department a year ago. The complaint, which challenges the one-test admissions policy, is still under investigation.