High stakes injustice: How the current specialized H.S. test fails minority students
SEN. ADRIANO ESPAILLAT and ASSEMBLYMAN KARIM CAMARA | 5/31/2013, 12:36 p.m.
New York City's specialized high schools are beacons of learning and opportunity. Their students face a rigorous academic curriculum, including Advanced Placement classes that range from chemistry to art history. Students are exposed to diverse extracurricular activities from athletics to theater, from fencing to speech and debate. The schools boast higher graduation rates than the New York City average; graduates routinely go on to elite colleges and even have earned Nobel prizes and other high honors. However, under the arbitrary and outdated admissions formula that consists of a single multiple-choice test, many students of merit are denied access.
These specialized high schools, including Bronx Science and Brooklyn Tech, offer students from all backgrounds a promising future, but under the current process, an appallingly small number of minority students are admitted each year. In 2013, only 2.4 percent and 5.4 percent of students admitted to Bronx Science were Black and Latino, respectfully, yet Black and Latino students make up nearly 70 percent of New York City's public school student body.
Considering the overwhelming percentage of Black and Latino students in the public school system, it is shameful that so few are admitted to the city's specialized schools, especially when we know there are so many bright, capable young people eager for a top-quality education within our community. In the long run, these denied opportunities impact the next generation's ability to secure good-paying jobs and provide for their families.
The cause for this injustice lies with the sole criterion for acceptance: a single test administered each year--the very definition of high stakes testing. Many parents, eager to avoid the escalating costs of private school by securing their son or daughter a spot in a specialized high school, enroll their kids in private prep test courses, such as those offered by Kaplan--the very definition of teaching to the test. But if some students have been taught to game the system, then what does a single multiple-choice test prove, other than some students knew the testing strategies better than others?
Parents engaged in their children's education are not to blame--after all, who wouldn't spend the money if it could increase their child's odds of earning a highly coveted spot at an elite public school?
But this rigid testing formula disadvantages intelligent, hardworking students from low-income families who may be unable to afford private testing seminars, as well as English-language learners who speak a different language at home. And it constrains principals and school administrators from accepting exceptional students whose impressive academic record and extracurricular activities are more then enough to override a single inconclusive test score.
The NAACP, along with LatinoJustice PRLDEF, Make the Road New York, the Alliance for Quality Education, New York Communities for Change and other organizations went to court last year to reform this type of admissions process nationwide. These organizations correctly believe that a sole criterion of one test is not an accurate barometer of how students will fare once accepted. The current standard is an injustice to thousands of students of merit.