- Associated Press - Thursday, March 5, 2015

NEW YORK (AP) - New York City’s elite specialized high schools have long been praised as bastions of excellence while facing criticism for their lack of diversity.

Critics have focused on the aptitude test that is the sole criterion used to admit students to those schools, but a report released Thursday by researchers at New York University suggests that broadening the admission criteria to include measures such as classroom grades might increase the number of white students at the schools while leaving the proportion of black students unchanged.

“We’re urging some caution when it comes to switching from one set of criteria to another,” said Sean Corcoran of NYU’s Institute for Education and Social Policy, the lead author of the report.

Eighth graders who took the Specialized High Schools Admissions Test last fall will learn this month whether they scored high enough to earn a spot at one of the eight public high schools that use the test, including Stuyvesant High School, the Bronx High School of Science and Brooklyn Technical High School.

Although New York City’s public schools are about 70 percent black and Hispanic, black students were offered just 5 percent of the specialized high school seats last year and Hispanic students were offered 7 percent.

State lawmakers hoping to increase diversity at the schools introduced legislation last year that would allow the schools to use other measures such as grades, attendance and scores on statewide standardized tests to select students.

City Schools Chancellor Carmen Farina indicated last year that she supported the idea. “A student is more than the result of one exam,” she said through a spokeswoman.

But the NYU study titled “Pathways to an Elite Education: Exploring Strategies to Diversify NYC’s Specialized Schools” found that many of the same students who are admitted based on the SHSAT also would be admitted based on “multiple measures” such as grades.

The report examined all the eighth graders who took part in the city’s high school choice process from 2005 to 2013 and compared the students who qualified for a specialized high school seat under the existing system with the ones who would have qualified if different criteria had been used.

It found that offers based on test scores, grades and attendance would increase the share of white and Hispanic students in the schools while slightly decreasing the number of Asian students.

The rule change would not appreciably increase the number of black students attending the schools, the report found.

“Black students are not as represented among the highest achieving on state tests and course grades,” Corcoran said.

Larry Cary, chairman of the Coalition of Specialized High School Alumni Organizations, which opposes changing the admission criteria, said the study vindicates the group’s position that the reason more black and Hispanic students aren’t gaining admission to the specialized schools is the failure of their elementary and middle schools to prepare them. “The test is not the problem,” he said.

New York City schools spokeswoman Devora Kaye said, the report “highlights some significant challenges, but we remain committed to achieving our goal of having specialized high schools reflect the great diversity of our city.”

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