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Report demands increased diversity in specialized high schools

Stephon Johnson | 11/5/2015, 10:13 a.m.
A new report authored by the Community Service Society outlines a proposal that may improve diversity at New York City’s ...

A new report authored by the Community Service Society outlines a proposal that the organization feels would improve diversity at New York City’s specialized high schools.

Titled “The Specialized High School Admissions Debate: Moving From Rhetoric to a Research-Based Solution,” CSS wants to address the alleged unfairness of the selection process for institutions such as Stuyvesant, Brooklyn Technical High School and the Bronx High School of Science.

“Amid extraordinary inequality in New York City, it’s incumbent on the mayor to level the playing field and reform the admissions process immediately,” said CSS President and CEO David Jones in a statement. “This leadership will demonstrate that the mayor is serious about fulfilling the city’s obligation to its students in helping to equalize opportunity instead of perpetuating inequality.”

Currently, the only way New York City’s public school students can get into one of these institutions is via the Specialized High School Exam, in which student’s score determines which specialized school the school is eligible for.

The CSS report recommends that the New York City Department of Education replace the exam with the existing state English and Language Arts exam and math exam becaue they’re taken and prepared for by all students. The AmNews has chronicled the lack of access or awareness of the Specialized High School exam among the city’s Black and Latino students.

Another recommendation includes offering admission to students whose combined state ELA and math exam scores fall within the top 3 percent of their middle school, assuming the students also met the citywide standards. The system would mirror the University of Texas system, in which state high school students in the top 10 percent of their school automatically gain admittance to one of their institutions. The proposal would change close to 9 percent of the offer pool, replacing students who score well on the Specialized High School Exam despite having lower state exam scores with high achievers from all over the city.

“There is no clearer ‘Tale of Two Cities’ than the one told by admissions results at the specialized high schools,” said Lazar Treschan, the author of the report and the director of youth policy at CSS, in a statement. “Over 200 middle schools located in the city’s poorest communities receive no offers to specialized high schools; it is inconceivable that they are home to no worthy students.

“Our proposal increases representation at the specialized high schools without lowering standards,” Treschan concluded.

But not everyone is on the bandwagon of changing the current exam’s position as the sole criterion for admittance to specialized high schools. Earlier this year, a new report from the Research Alliance for New York City Schools suggested that admissions rules based on criteria other than the exam would only moderately alter the demographic makeup of specialized high schools without lowering the academic achievement levels of students and would actually decrease the number of Black students.

The CSS report says that their recommended changes to the process would increase Black enrollment from 4.6 percent to 8.8 percent and Latino enrollment from 7.2 percent to 13 percent. It would also increase the geographic diversity of students with an increased representation of Bronx students along with a slight increase in students from Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island.