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Admissions Figures at NYC's Specialized High Schools Show Persistence of Acute Racial Disparities

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3/11/14

Admissions offers issued for New York City's Specialized High Schools demonstrate that a trend of unfairness and acute racial disparities in admissions has persisted.

Out of the 952 eighth grade students who received offers to matriculate into Stuyvesant High School this year, 7 are Black and 21 are Hispanic. Of the 968 eighth graders who have been admitted to Bronx High School of Science, 18 are Black and 50 are Hispanic. These figures are worse than last year’s admissions statistics. Last year, Stuyvesant admitted only 9 Black students and 24 Hispanic students, while Bronx Science admitted 25 Black students and 54 Hispanic students.

These dismal numbers are representative of trends at other Specialized High Schools across the city, as we elaborated on in a report co-authored with the Community Service Society of New York released last fall entitled “The Meaning of Merit: Alternatives for Determining Admission to New York City’s Specialized High Schools.”

"Relying on a single test for admission while excluding multiple measures of student knowledge and potential -- middle school grades, class rank, scores on state-mandated exams, and other factors -- is a distortion and subversion of the meaning of merit," said Sherrilyn Ifill, President and Director-Counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. a separate entity from the NAACP.

Furthermore, the New York City Department of Education has admitted that it has never studied the SHSAT to determine whether it predicts future success in the Specialized High Schools and it has yet to produce any evidence at all on predictive validity.

The NAACP Legal Defense Fund, along with co-counsel LatinoJustice PRLDEF and The Center for Law and Social Justice at Medgar Evers College, has filed a federal civil rights complaint with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights alleging that the sole use of test scores for entrance to specialized high schools in New York City disproportionately excludes African-American and Latino students. That complaint is still pending. The DOE opened an investigation of the complaint in November 2012 and we eagerly await the results of its inquiry. 

“The continued decreasing number of Latino students being admitted to NYC’s elite specialized high schools given the large percentage of Latino students enrolled in our public schools is evidence that much remains to be done to level the playing field,” said Jose Perez, Deputy General Counsel of LatinoJustice PRLDEF.

Currently, admission into Specialized High Schools is based exclusively on the results of a single test, known as the Specialized High Schools Admissions Test (SHSAT). Education experts agree that basing admissions decisions on a single factor is arbitrary, inaccurate, and an unfair measure of merit. This is the only such policy in the country for admission to top selective public high schools.

“We are encouraged that Mayor de Blasio has expressed an interest in changing the status quo at these schools and increasing diversity. We’re also pleased that Assemblyman Karim Camara is redrafting a bill he introduced in 2011 and pushing forth legislation to change admissions policies at the high schools,” said Monique Lin-Luse, Special Counsel in the Education Group at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.