New report challenges merit of single-test admission for specialized high schools

Stephon Johnson | 10/31/2013, 1:15 p.m.

Other top schools have achieved much better diversity and used various methods of admitting students. Twenty-seven percent of the students at Millennium High School in Manhattan are Black and Latino, 38 percent of students at Beacon High School in Manhattan are Black and Latino, 52 percent of students at the California Academy of Math and Science in Carson, Calif., are Black and Latino and 76 percent of students at School of Science and Engineering in Dallas, Texas, are Black and Latino.

Many of those schools are ranked on the same U.S. News & World Report as Bronx Science, Brooklyn Tech and Stuyvesant as some of the best in the country. Some of those schools are ranked higher on the list. These schools, according to the report, use any combination of grades, interviews, standardized test scores, recommendations, entrance exams (with an essay portion) and even class attendance.

Errol Cockfield, a Brooklyn Tech graduate (class of 1991) and former press secretary to former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer and his successor David Paterson, spoke with the AmNews about his experiences prepping for the exam.

I think when I was young I knew that there was a test I needed to take, and I needed to do well in order to get into one of the specialized schools,” Cockfield said. “At the time, I felt pressure to do well on that exam. But I think there’s a very well-documented disconnect between standardized testing and a true assessment of the talent of students, especially in communities of color, and I think it’s worthwhile to re-examine whether not a single test makes sense for entry.”

Education has found its way into the current New York City mayoral race, but much of the discussion focused on charter schools. However, Democratic nominee Bill de Blasio told the New York Daily News’ editorial board that tests shouldn’t be the only unit of measurement for admitting a student into a specialized high school.

“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 their editorial board. While the AmNews was unsuccessful in contacting Republican nominee Joe Lhota for comment on the study, he has already gone on record as saying that factoring more than just the test into admission would lower the quality of students in the school.

Cockfield told the AmNews that resources play a vital tool in who does well on the SHSAT and that de Blasio—the favorite to be elected for mayor on Nov. 5—holds the key to some of the progress on the issue.

Often, children of color don’t benefit from the kind of resources that are available to prepare for these tests that other communities have to prepare for these tests,” said Cockfield. “And that puts them at an unfair disadvantage when it’s the only measurement tool to get into these schools.”

“I think there’s gonna be a new mayor who’s gonna be coming in with a head of steam and has some political capital to spend, and that’s gonna have an impact,” continued Cockfield. “He’ll have the ability to spend some of that capital on the education issue specifically. That’s gonna have an impact in the dialogue.”

Jones agreed with Cockfield regarding access and resources.

“What this has done is give upper middle class and parents a distinct advantage when you look at other factors in admissions,” Jones said. “Look around the country. You can find schools—some of them are higher ranked than our schools—that factor grades, teachers, recommendation, class rank. This is not only for Blacks and Latinos. If I’m a poor immigrant kid of any race, how are they gonna come up with $2,500 to take a test prep? This is a public school system. You can’t have this type of inequality buildup.”