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Office for Civil Rights in the U.S. Department of Education Launches Investigation Into the NYC Specialized High School Complaint

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Thursday, November 15, 2012

The Office for Civil Rights in the U.S. Department of Education has launched an investigation into the complaint that the NAACP Legal Defense Fund filed in September, along with co-counsel LatinoJustice-PRDEF and the Center for Law and Social Justice at Medgar Evers College, challenging the admissions process at eight specialized high schools in New York City.  In an editorial this week, The New York Times concluded: “The notice of investigation stands as an invitation to the city and the state to re-examine a discredited admissions process.”  The editorial explains:

The complaint, filed by a coalition of organizations including the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, charges the city with illegally screening out qualified black and Latino middle-school students by basing admissions on a single poorly designed test.  Supported by influential groups like the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, the complaint offers a devastating analysis of the two-and-a-half-hour multiple-choice test, which, among other flaws, fails to reflect the curriculum taught at many middle schools.  The test also heavily favors those who can afford extensive tutoring and has not been shown to be a good predictor of student performance in high school.

The complaint further argues that the city could easily adopt less discriminatory measurements, including some combination of tests, teacher recommendations, grades and other nonacademic factors like leadership and community service.  This approach is widely used at competitive high schools elsewhere in the country.  It would more accurately predict success at the high school level and bring in a more diverse body of students.

“Staking a young person’s future on a single test on a single day is unsound.  This is especially true when the test has never been shown to reflect what students learn in middle school or predict how they will perform in high school.  Our complaint makes a compelling case that the process is fundamentally flawed and discriminatory.  The investigation launched by the Office for Civil Rights is the first step in changing that policy for good,” said Damon Hewitt, Director of the Education Practice Group at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.

Link to and read the full editorial here. Read the legal complaint and other background information here.