Together as a State and as a City, we can create change and fix the broken status quo.
The results of this year’s Specialized High School Admissions Test (SHSAT) are extremely disheartening, and make it crystal clear that this city has a long way to go before it can claim it provides parity in accelerated education to all communities. Although Black and Latino students make up nearly 70 percent of New York City’s public school system as a whole, just over 10 percent of students admitted into the city’s eight specialized high schools were Black or Latino, That percentage is unchanged from last year.
Once again, Black and Latino students are not accessing the specialized high schools at rates that are anywhere near representative of the city’s public school population. Existing inequities are only magnified by this result.
A path to true excellence in education begins at the earliest levels and must be fostered throughout a student’s career. All students, no matter where they live, must be provided equal access to accelerated education options at the earliest levels, and all students should be tested for the City’s gifted and talented programs in the earliest grades.
We must create a pipeline of rigorous education for students for whom accelerated learning is appropriate, from the earliest grades through middle school and into high school.
Further, a single test must not be the only source of admission to our best public high schools.
As you know, it is within New York City’s sole power to change the admissions process for five of the specialized high schools that rely on the SHSAT: Brooklyn Latin, the High School for Math, Science, and Engineering at City College; the High School of American Studies at Lehman College, Queens High School for the Sciences at York College and Staten Island Technical High School. The time for action on this issue is now.
I have put forward the following proposals in a series of two reports on this issue, one of which was released in partnership with Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams:
- The Department of Education (DOE) must move to using admissions methods that do not rely solely on the SHSAT. Access to a high-quality, high-level public high school education should not be based entirely on the results of a single test.
- The DOE should establish new procedures and standards for admission to the specialized high schools, including portfolios (such as those for math and science), grade point averages of applicants, application essays, and such other factors as the City shall determine to be necessary.
- As an additional alternative to applications based solely on the SHSAT, the Community Service Society’s proposal to switch the test for admission for the Specialized High Schools (NYCSHS) to the mandatory state test is worthy of consideration. That proposal also includes an opportunity for top middle school performers to receive admission provided their state tests are above a specified cutoff.
- The top five percent of each Bronx and Brooklyn middle school graduating class should be offered an automatic seat at newly created, borough-specific specialized high schools. This will serve as an explicit incentive to students and drive performance.
- All students who need it should have access to free or reduced-cost test prep for the SHSAT. Parents who cannot afford additional test prep services for the SHSAT should not see their children left behind for lack of funds. Programs that provide free test prep services for the SHSAT should be expanded dramatically to reach all students that would benefit from them.
- The DOE’s DREAM Program must be further expanded to capture additional students. The program’s website currently denotes a waiting list.
- The top 15 percent of each Bronx middle school’s 5th and 6th grades should be given automatic offers into DREAM-Specialized High School Institute programming.
These proposed alternate admissions criteria would result in changes to the socio-economic and racial makeup of the specialized high schools to be more representative of New York City’s public school population and are worth consideration. The demographic makeup of the specialized high schools tells a story of inequality, and it is incumbent upon us to provide opportunities for all of New York City’s students to excel.
As State Legislators, the prerogative is yours to reexamine Hecht-Calandra and change the admissions process at Bronx Science, Stuyvesant and Brooklyn Tech. The lack of diversity in these schools demonstrates the need for change.
The Hecht-Calandra Act was passed by the State Legislature in 1971 to help preserve the selective status of the Specialized High Schools, but at the time only the three schools were in existence. As a result, three of the NYCSHS — Brooklyn Tech, Bronx Science, and Stuyvesant—are required by State law to use the SHSAT as the sole determinant of admission. My office has advocated for a fleshed-out study of other methods of admission, in the interests of justice and educational equity.
We so venerate Harvard and Yale as selective institutions, and do they rely on a single test for admissions? No. We must not either.
We must make advanced and accelerated educational opportunities accessible to all New York City students at the elementary, middle and high school levels. The current specialized high school admissions process serves to magnify the existing problems with our educational system—effectively amplifying inequality.
To achieve diversity in admissions to some of the best schools in the City of New York, and for that matter in the country, we must do what is right to achieve equitable access: offer more comprehensive free test preparatory programs and create a multi-factorial admissions process.
One’s socio-economic background, race, neighborhood or borough must no longer determine the quality of a public education at any level. It is up to us, as elected officials, to do the necessary work to make that ideal a reality.