NYCDOE Never Validated Test; Blacks and Latinos Excluded from Elite Schools

 (New York, NY) Today, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund (LDF), LatinoJustice PRLDEF and The Center for Law and Social Justice at Medgar Evers College filed a federal civil rights complaint on behalf of a broad coalition of New York education, civil rights and social justice organizations challenging the admissions process at New York City’s elite public “Specialized High Schools”.  The complainant organizations include the NYC Coalition for Educational Justice, La Fuente, Make the Road New York, Alliance for Quality Education, New York Communities for Change, Black New Yorkers for Educational Excellence, Community Service Society of New York, Garifuna Coalition, USA Inc., DRUM- Desis Rising Up and Moving, the Brooklyn Movement Center and UPROSE.

Admission to these eight schools is based solely on students’ rank-ordered scores on a 2.5 hour multiple choice test called the Specialized High Schools Admissions Test (SHSAT).  No other indicators of academic merit are considered in admissions decisions. Students who have stellar grades and other academic achievements may often be denied admission, including several thousand African-American and Latino students. The impact is particularly severe at Stuyvesant and Bronx Science—two of the Specialized High Schools that serve the largest numbers of students, have the longest track records of educational excellence, and are the among the most popular among test-takers.  For example, of the 967 eighth-grade students offered admission to Stuyvesant for the 2012-13 school year, just 19 (2%) of the students are African American and 32 (3.3%) are Latino.

The complaint, filed with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights—the agency’s civil rights enforcement arm—alleges that the New York City Department of Education and New York State Department of Education have never conducted a study to determine whether the test is a valid tool; in other words, it cannot ensure that there is any relationship between students’ test results and learning standards in the Specialized High Schools.

“Without a predictive validity study, there is no way that the NYCDOE can know whether the test provides useful information,” said Damon Hewitt, Director of the Education Practice Group at the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc.  “And education experts agree that using a test as the only factor to make a high stakes decision is bad educational policy.  It also defies common sense.  Even elite institutions like Harvard do not misuse tests in this way.”

Jose L. Perez, Associate General Counsel of LatinoJustice PRLDEF added, “The New York City and State Departments of Education should follow the trend of other elite high school and colleges throughout the nation that consider multiple factors, including grades, and even geography. At the very least, the Specialized High Schools admissions policy should give all students of a fair chance to demonstrate their academic merit.”

In addition to the impact on African-American and Latino students, the current policy harms many Asian students, as well.  Monami Maulik, Executive Director of DRUM, said “Low-income South Asian students are also excluded from access to the NYC Specialized Schools.  In particular, thousands of Bangladeshi, Pakistani, and Nepali students are grossly under-represented due to solely test score based admissions that marginalize young people from often under-resourced NYC public schools. Although these students fall under the ‘Asian-American’ category, they are one of many low-income Asian student groups who are not being admitted in any adequate numbers.”

“Diversity of backgrounds and perspectives has always been New York City’s and the United State’s strength, added Lucía Gómez-Jiminéz, Executive Director of LaFuente.  “The key pathways to opportunity in our society, such as those provided by the Specialized High Schools, must be open and accessible to good students from all communities.  Ensuring all young people a fair shot to succeed is in everyone’s interest.”

Although state law requires a test-only admissions policy for three of the high schools, the current NYCDOE administration decided to designate an additional five schools as test-only schools.  The text of the complaint, appendices and statements of support from other organizations, experts and notable individuals are available here.