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UFT comes out in favor of ‘fairer’ admissions process for specialized schools

Stephon Johnson | 6/12/2014, 12:39 p.m.

Add the United Federation of Teachers to the list of advocates for a different admissions process for New York City’s specialized high schools.

Joined by New York state Sen. Adriano Espaillat, Assembly Members Karim Camara and Ron Kim, UFT President Michael Mulgrew, announced the introduction of what they call a “bipartisan legislation” that would mandate the use of multiple academic measures to evaluate student applicants rather than the single multiple-choice test that determines admittance to specialized schools such as Stuyvesant, Bronx Science and Brooklyn Tech. The legislation also called for the revival of a summer program that offers help to students who scored just short of the cutoff point for admissions.

The prime Senate sponsor for the bill (S7738/A9979) is state Sen. Simcha Felder.

“The nation’s elite colleges—from Harvard and Princeton to Columbia and New York University—use multiple measures to evaluate students as part of their admissions process,” said Mulgrew in a statement. “But New York City continues to rely on a single, outmoded multiple-choice test for admission to its top academic high schools. Under the current admission system, Black and Hispanic students who represent 70 percent of our student body make up a tiny and declining proportion of the students in the three traditional ‘exam’ schools.”

“No one with real experience in New York City schools believes that out of roughly 52,000 Black and Hispanic eighth-graders, only 28 are worthy this year of a Stuyvesant education,” Mulgrew concluded.

Three years ago, the AmNews—in a joint effort with West Side Spirit and Our Town newspapers—reported on the dwindling numbers of Black and Hispanic students at the top three specialized high schools (Science, Stuyvesant and Tech). In the aftermath of that story, former Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg defended the single-test admissions standard, with the latter saying there’s “nothing subjective about it.” It also compelled other local daily publications, like The New York Times, to also report on the low numbers of Blacks and Hispanics in specialized high schools.

“One of the best things about going to public school in New York City is the great diversity in the classroom,” said Camara. “Not only do students get to learn the three Rs, but they learn about other cultures in an egalitarian way. That should be the case in our specialized highs schools as well. Unfortunately, students at those schools see very little diversity while they earn their top-notch education.

“With the passage of this bill, specialized high schools will be more available to students who demonstrate academic promise without lowering the level of academic excellence at these fine institutions,” concluded Camara.

According to InsideSchools.org, the Bronx High School of Science’s current ethnicity breakdown is 62 percent Asian, 23 percent white, 6 percent Hispanic and 3 percent Black. Stuyvesant High School’s breakdown is 73 percent Asian, 22 percent white, 2 percent Hispanic and 1 percent Black, while Brooklyn Technical High School’s is 61 percent Asian, 20 percent white, 8 percent Black and 8 percent Hispanic.

“As a parent and chair of the New York City education subcommittee, I share the concerns of other New York City parents about the current admission policies in place in our city’s top high schools,” said Felder. “While the SHSAT provides some measure of assessing a student’s academic strength, it does not speak to the talents and abilities of the whole child. This legislation is the first step in correcting this disparity,.”

“New York’s top high schools need an admissions policy based on intelligence, hard work and achievement—not an arbitrary, high stakes test that penalizes young people of color,” said Espaillat. “What does a single multiple-choice test prove, other than some students knew the testing strategies better than others? It is time to make a change, and we have an opportunity to create a system that is fair and accessible to all students. We owe our children nothing less.”