Exam schools pushed on admissions

New York City’s elite high schools admit students who excel on a 2 1/2-hour exam. A majority are Asian-American. Only 12 percent are Hispanic or black. The teachers union and a group of Democratic legislators want to use multiple measures, including grade point averages, attendance and state tests in addition to the current admissions exam.

Advocates of the bill say using one test favors students whose parents can afford tutoring to prepare for the test.

However, at six of the schools, at least 45 percent of the students come from low-income families, according to the city.

Many of the high-scoring Asian-American students come from immigrant families.

The bill’s sponsor, state Sen. Simcha Felder, hopes to add subjective criteria such as essays, community service, interviews and extracurricular activities.

Michael Mulgrew, president of the United Federation of Teachers, also backed a holistic review. “If it’s good enough for Harvard and Yale it should be good enough for the students of New York City,” he said.

Political support is weak, reports the New York Times.

Mayor de Blasio, whose son, Dante, attends Brooklyn Tech, said last year that the test should not be the only way to qualify for the elite schools. But he hasn’t come out for the bill yet.

Alumni groups are opposed.

While expressing support for increasing minority enrollment, in ways like providing them with more test preparation, Larry Cary, president of the Brooklyn Tech Alumni Foundation, said that the existing system was simple and had “a number of benefits,” including “no favoritism, no bias, whether intentional or subconscious, no politics.”

There may be political support to revive the “Discovery” program, which gave intensive summer help to students who just missed the score cutoff to help them qualify by September. The program lost funding due to budget cuts.

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  1. cranberry says:

    ” “If it’s good enough for Harvard and Yale it should be good enough for the students of New York City,” he said.”

    That is funny. Admission by test score only is more fair than holistic admissions. I doubt the system would hire enough admissions counselors to do a good job of holistic admissions. And then there would be the legal costs, to defend such a system from lawsuits.

    See “The Chosen,” by Jerome Karabel, for a full history of holistic admission in the Ivy League.

  2. NY needs to open more seats for its accomplished students, statewide. Shameful that all those qualified can’t get the courses at the level they need.
    Yep, I”m paying for two courses from the regional talent search provider for my high schooler…courses that are offered at exam high schools, but my district refuses to offer…AP Science and Math beyond Calc . Many many qualified students need more, statewide.

  3. Stacy in NJ says:

    There’s been a constant low-grade threat to change the admission criteria at the test schools for decades. It never happens. Currently, Asians are “over represented” at the schools. In past generations the same complaint was made about Jews. Times change, disfavored minorities change, but the test schools don’t change, and that’s the way New Yorkers like it. New Yorkers are incredibly proud that Bronx Science and Stuyvesant have produced many Nobel winners.

  4. Roger Sweeny says:

    Here’s a wild and crazy idea. Give all students in all schools the chance to take more challenging courses based on demonstrated competence in previous courses. No special exams. No holistic admissions. No reservation for a small elite.

    • SC Math Teacher says:

      That already occurs in NYC…they’re called honors courses. The specialized HSs are places where the gifted — those whose talents go beyond the occasional honors course — can pursue their education unfettered. I suppose by definition we (yes, we…I’m a grad) are a small elite. But not in the sneering way in which you refer to us…it’s just statistics.

      • Roger Sweeny says:

        I’m afraid my comment had too much snark and too little explanation. Right now New York City has a system where a few students, due to passing a special exam, get to go to special schools and take all challenging courses. The vast majority go to regular high schools.

        I don’t know how many levels of classes individual schools have. From what you’ve said, I assume there are two, a regular “college prep” and an “honors.” In both there will be a large range of preparation, motivation, and intelligence. Teachers will have to (in the words of my former department head) “teach to the 25th percentile” or something like that. Some kids will be lost and some kids will be, how to put it, less than challenged.

        I’d like to see a finer “differentiation” by putting students in classes dependent on how they have performed previously, preferably each class a different level. Of course, that is an administrative nightmare but the alternative is a “two sizes fit all” which doesn’t fit, or an attempt to “differentiate instruction” within a single classroom, an attempt which almost always fails.

        • SC Math Teacher says:

          I agree that there should be a greater degree of stratification at all high schools (and not just in NYC). Differentiation as a central feature of teaching is a fools errand.

  5. Choosing people for high performance in any field will inevitably produce ethnic compositions that differ greatly from that of the general population. For example the average difference in height between black males and white males may not seem that great but in the NBA blacks are way over-represented compared to their proportion of the general population. So when selecting for high IQ you will get lots of East Asians and Ashkenazi Jews but reltively few blacks.

  6. I’d imagine that honors courses have been watered down in terms of content over the last 30 years or so, when I attended high school, we didn’t have honors courses, just the new I.B. program, which 20 of the best students in the school were enrolled in (and they worked their collective a**es off, I can tell you).

    The highest thing we got towards honors courses was when students had stanine scores of 7-9, which indicated placement in harder courses, but I wouldn’t have called it honors by any stretch of the imagination.

  7. Crimson Wife says:

    Identify the middle schools whose graduates are underrepresented at the exam high schools and implement a free tutoring program there. And not just a summer program but one spanning all 3 years.

    • They don’t need a tutoring program. They need to get off the slow boat for K-8 and have meaningful classes at their instructional level for those years, not thumb twiddle while waiting for the rest of the class.