Measures Would Reform the Specialized High School Admissions Processand Replace a Single Test with Multiple Measures of Merit

(New York, NY) Today, the New York City Council introduced three measures to increase diversity in City schools and programs, including a resolution asking the State to expand access to the City’s Specialized High Schools to all New Yorkers by replacing the law which now mandates a single-test admissions policy.  The NAACP Legal Defense Fund, along with LatinoJustice and the Center for Law and Social Justice at Medgar Evers College, first called for a change in State law in our 2012 federal civil rights complaint challenging the current single-test admissions process. Since 1971, the Specialized High Schools Admissions Test (SHSAT) has been the sole criteria for admission to New York City’s specialized high schools at the exclusion of multiple measures of academic merit.

“The State should change the law to expand access to our city’s Specialized High Schools to all New Yorkers. Relying on a single test for admission while excluding other measures of student knowledge and potential is a distortion of the meaning of merit,” said Sherrilyn Ifill, President and Director-Counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, the nation’s leading civil rights legal organization and a separate entity from the NAACP. “New York City public schools are among the most racially isolated schools in this nation. That’s unacceptable.”

 “The proposed resolution urges the State expand the measures of merit in the admissions process. For far too long, a student’s ability to get admitted was based on, at worst, access to test prep services, and at best, a student’s ability to excel on a single multiple choice exam,” said Rachel Kleinman, Assistant Counsel at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.

The 2012 complaint was filed by LDF and others 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 Schoolswhich is currently mandated for at least three of the schools by New York State Law.  The complaint alleges thatin addition to being bad education policy, the single-test admissions policy has an unlawful racially disparate impact.

The complaint is currently being investigated by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights. Because of the pending complaint and investigation, passing legislation that addresses the current test-only admissions policy could help prevent a finding that the City and State violated Federal Civil Rights law.

This year’s 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.

We also applaud two other measures introduced today; one that calls for incorporation of diversity goals in a variety of decisions made impacting New York City public schools, including admissions policies and practices, decisions to create new schools, and school zoning decisions, and a second that calls for collection of data to help inform and document interventions to address the persistent racial and socio-economic segregation of New York City’s public schools

The urgency of addressing and remedying the racial isolation in New York City public schools is long overdue.  The resolutions and bill introduced by the New York City Council Members are promising first steps towards ensuring racial diversity in New York City public schools, remedying the harms of racial isolation, and expanding educational opportunity.  Diverse learning environments benefit students of all races and ethnicities, promote cultural understanding and critical thinking skills, and enrich learning. 

A year ago, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF) and the Community Service Society of New York (CSS) released a report, “The Meaning of Merit: Alternatives for Determining Admission to New York City’s Specialized High Schools,” which explains how the current admissions policy ignores academic merit. It urges the mayor of New York City to use his authority to immediately change the admissions policy for the five newest Specialized High Schools and join community advocates in calling upon state lawmakers to help change the admissions policy at the three oldest schools—Stuyvesant, Bronx Science and Brooklyn Tech.


Founded in 1940 by Thurgood Marshall, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc., the nation’s oldest civil rights law firm, has worked for decades to advance educational opportunity and equality.  Central to that mission is promoting diversity in our nation’s public schools.  Sixty years after the United States Supreme Court recognized the harm of racially isolated learning environments and invalidated legal apartheid in our nation’s schools in the Brown v. Board of Education ruling, many schools and districts are still starkly racially isolated and inferior in quality.  LDF has been a separate organization from the NAACP since 1957. If our name needs to be shortened, please refer to us as NAACP Legal Defense Fund” or “Legal Defense Fund,” not “NAACP.”