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NAACP files complaint over specialized high school exam

STEPHON JOHNSON Amsterdam News Staff | 4/11/2013, 4:21 p.m.
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Last week, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, Latino Justice PRLDEF and the Center for Law and Social Justice at Medgar Evers College filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education challenging the admissions process at New York City's specialized high schools. The organizations believe that the admissions test doesn't properly measure merit or predict success, ignores industry standards and has a discriminatory impact.

"Regardless of whether a student has achieved straight A's from kindergarten through eighth grade or whether she demonstrates other signs of high academic potential, the only factor that matters for admission is the student's score on a single test," read the NAACP's summary. "Basing admissions decisions solely on a high-stakes test has been roundly criticized by educational experts and social scientists. It also defies common sense."

But to New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the admissions test makes perfect sense. When asked to comment on the complaint last week, the mayor responded by saying, "Life isn't always fair.

"Look, an awful lot of kids were a lot smarter than me in school," said Bloomberg. "That's just the way it was. There's nothing you can do about that. It's strictly on merit, and it's one of the bright lights in our school system. There's nothing subjective about this. You pass the test with the higher score; you get into the school, no matter what your ethnicity, no matter what your economic background.

"I don't know how you would take away the right to get tutoring or how the public could pay tutoring," continued Bloomberg. "We have tutoring for all our kids. It's called the public school system. We do it five hours a day, roughly five days a week."

The mayor's comments didn't sit well with Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr.

"Is it possible Mayor Bloomberg neither appreciates nor comprehends the inequities at play when it comes to equal access to test preparation for the Specialized High School Admissions Test and educational opportunity as a whole in New York City?" said Diaz in a statement. "Moreover, the DOE has failed to understand what every major university in the country has recognized--that standardized test scores alone do not indicate the merit of a student or measure their academic abilities.

"Relying solely on test scores for entry into our specialized high schools is wrong and does an enormous disservice to the thousands of worthy economically disadvantaged students," Diaz said.

Back in January, Assemblyman Karim Camara told the AmNews that he'd introduce new legislation that would require New York City's specialized high schools to take into account more than just the entrance exam when accepting candidates. Camara is asking the city's elite educators to mirror private institutions like Fieldston, Horace Mann and Riverdale Country School and include grade point average and student interviews into the formula for picking students.

According to the DOE's stats from earlier this year, 730 Black and Latino students were admitted to top high schools like Stuyvesant and Bronx Science--14 percent more than in 2011 and 12 percent more than in 2010. Blacks got 6 percent of admissions offers, while Latinos got 8 percent. Fifty-one Blacks and Latinos got into Stuyvesant, which was 42 percent higher than in 2009.

But that won't curb the pressure brought on by organizations like the NAACP to include more criteria for admittance than just one exam.

"Diversity of backgrounds and perspectives has always been New York City's and America's strength. It helps drive innovation, new ideas and our national prosperity," read the NAACP's summary. "Thus, the key pathways to opportunity in our society, such as those provided by the specialized high schools, must be open and accessible to good students with bright educational futures from all communities. Ensuring all young people a fair shot to succeed is in everyone's interest."