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Meng Calls on State Assembly to Protect Specialized High School Exam

Stuyvesant High School, one of the city’s eight specialized high schools. (Wikimedia)

May 10, 2019 By Laura Hanrahan

Congresswoman Grace Meng submitted written testimony earlier today to the the New York State Assembly’s Standing Committee on Education, strongly rebuking Mayor Bill de Blasio’s plan to eliminate the Specialized High School Admission Test (SHSAT).

Meng, who represents central Queens, called the exam a “clear, level playing field”—a stark contrast to de Blasio’s claims that the exam is biased against black and latino students who comprise only 10 percent of the SHS population but 70 percent of the public school population citywide.

“The SHSAT was not designed with specific community groups in mind, nor is it biased toward certain students,” Meng said. “Over half the students in these schools are from working families and are eligible for free or reduced lunch on account of their economic background. Ultimately, the SHSAT measures academic readiness without personal opinions, connections, and biases from influencing the admissions process.”

Elimination of the test would require Albany to pass new law.

The SHSAT is currently used to determine admission to the city’s eight specialized high schools. Rather than admitting the top test scorers overall, de Balsio wants the top students from each of the city’s middle schools to be selected. The mayor said it will providing more opportunities to traditionally disadvantaged youth.

Currently, the specialized schools’ population is approximately 29 percent white and 51 percent Asian. Under de Blasio’s new plan 45 percent of SHS offers would go to black and Latino students. Students residing in the Bronx would receive four times more offers than they have in the past.

De Blasio’s plan has spurred outrage in Asian-American communities who feel that the new criteria is discriminatory against Asian students.

Grace Meng

“I was further struck by Chancellor Carranza’s lack of engagement with the Asian American community prior to the proposal’s unveiling and his continuous disparaging statements,” Meng said. “His comments about one ethnic group owning admission to specialized high schools are false and insulting, and the Asian American community should not be treated as if they are gaming the system.”

Rather than eliminate the test, Meng called for more investments to be made in the city’s elementary and middle schools, including strengthening the curriculum, so that students can be better prepared to take the SHSAT.

“The focus should be on how to lift students from all backgrounds to succeed,” Meng said. “Lowering the criteria and broadening the admissions process does not guarantee student success. The goal is not only to diversify admissions into these schools, but to ensure the continued success at all schools in New York City.”

In her testimony, Meng also called for access to free SHSAT tutoring and test prep for all students.

“More resources must be devoted to increasing the number of students from all communities to access the free test-prep programs,” Meng said. “If a greater percentage of SHSAT are currently Asian Americans, we should work collaboratively to increase participation across all demographics and devote money and resources to the communities we want to lift up.”

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15 Comments

Rich Get Richer

One test, with opportunity to retake the exam, is not a fair way to admit a 13 year old NYC students to some of the greatest schools.

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Roy

No other state determines admission via one exam! Why should NY be any different?

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stan chaz

Thank you Congresswomen Meng,
It’s shameful what’s going on in this discussion & debate.
Just this weekend the New York Times had an article trying to equate our top-notch specialized high schools with deliberate segregation, including a photo of a several Caucasian Stuyvesant students (who are a minotrity in that school) juxtaposed with a old photo of Southern Civil Rights era segregation.
Some advocates of he dismantling of the SCSAT test wrongly think that selection by rigorous testing is somehow equivalent to discrimination, prejudice and exclusion by race. It’s not. In fact it’s the opposite.
 For there is no latter-day Bull Connor or racist civil-rights era Southern Governor standing in the doorway of these schools, barring people from entering. Instead, only the hurdles of mathematics, of vocabulary, of logic, and reading & writing skills are “standing” in the doorways of these specialized schools, saying to ALL: “come, compete and try your best to make the cut.” What’s more American than that? What’s more fair than that?
Should skin color be the determining factor instead? I thought that we were trying to get beyond that in our society. Of course, the admission test can be improved and expanded, but the test itself is color-blind, as it should be.
 Should it be a matter of percentages in the population perhaps? Not according to the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King. To paraphrase Dr. King: we should judge a person by their character, their content, their capabilities –not by the color of their skin, nor by their gender nor by their differences. He wisely understood that to do otherwise would itself be a form of discrimination and prejudice.
If we throw away academic achievement standards, and let in students who are unprepared and unable to take advantage of the rigorous environment in these schools then their admission will not do them any good, nor the schools themselves. Much better to prepare them properly and bring out the best in them beforehand, instead of having them suffer the humiliation of defeat and dismay if they are admitted under watered-down standards and can’t make the grade afterwards. The schools should mold the students – not the other way around.
The label “elite” high schools is misleading. These schools are not for the “elite” – they are for everyone who wants be the best, do the best and achieve the best in a public school context. Most students are poor, and many are first generation “dreamers”- with big American dreams and little else. This is not an “us versus them” narrative. Everyone wins, all New Yorkers win, when we preserve some of the best and most successful schools in our public educational system – for all to apply & compete – instead of watering down their admission standards.

As for diversity, the majority of current students are actually of Asian background, far above their percentage in the City population. Should Caucasians therefore be also demanding that the entrance doors be broken down to let them in?
 This makes no sense. For rather than symbolizing closed doors for some, these unique schools offer doors of opportunity for all those who will try the hardest and perform the best, within a free public school context open to all.
 Don’t destroy that!
Of course every parent wants the best for their child. But they should realize that their children will be subjected to all sorts of legitimate testing and selection throughout their lives, and not just in school. They need to prepare them for the real world if they want them to compete and succeed in life.
 Therefore all parents should support such schools, their high standards and their rigorous admissions, instead of watering down some of the best parts of our public high school system in the name of a false, misunderstood, and ultimately destructive “diversity”.

Instead of lowering the admission standards of these top-ranking high schools we need to raise the capabilities of the test-takers. We need solutions not destruction: Create more specialized schools for more students, offer free or subsidized test preparation, improve and enrich pre-test education citywide, but don’t foolishly and short-sightedly weaken or destroy the high admission standards of these fine schools. We need to preserve, defend and expand some of the finest public secondary educational institutions that we have in this city, and their high standards of admission, instead of tearing them down.

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RoMa

The problem begins in the home. Without a stable home environment, with kids getting encouragement and support at home, no child regardless of color is going to succeed.
Fundamentals need to be addressed, and not a dumbing down of the entrance standards.

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Clay

Maybe we should eliminate entrance exams for Medical and law Schools too… just to be fair !! This is crazy – tests are designed to assure a level of intelligence and to limit numbers of entrants/ graduates…. If too many people are scoring too high to fill seats, you either make the test harder or you create more specialized schools and more chairs. the only thing not fair is eliminating people who got sufficient scores by not having enough “A” chairs…. SO either provide more openings or make the test even harder. Dumbing it down to be fair to kids who aren’t as bright is ridiculous and counterproductive.

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ralph

Diversity, is a wonderful thing. But implemented for the sake of diversity against the mission of the schools to educate is not a fair balance. But let’s cut to the chase. There are hardly any blacks in the SHS simply because they never prepared for it in large enough numbers to make an impact like Asians and whites. Asian parents especially tend to think about the SHS exam while their child is in utero. Blacks and Hispanics, perhaps not so early; more like a month before the exam when it’s in the headlines it seems. Asian excellence in that exam is reflective of years of nurture in private tutoring classes, almost always at personal expense. What I think the mayor, if he wants more black in NYC’s SHS, needs to provide is the same sort of educational basic training for all races. Here’s an idea that may actually work in the long run. Pay (with tax rebate) the parents of all NYC parents who have their child attending tutoring years before they need to stake a claim in the exam. That is, a tax rebate for ALL students, regardless of race, to attend city certified tutoring programs from K up through junior high schools. In that way, every race would stand an equal footing of being educationally prepared from elementary through JHS and it would be at taxpayer (not personal) expense. Blacks who claim disadvantage, would be given the same level playing field that Asians had, and any poor parents would be finally relieved of a crushing financial load that they willingly sacrificed towards their children’s future. But if one had to implement diversity in all NYC schools straight away? Ensure that all city high school sports teams have one third Asians roster, regardless if they can play well or not, so that they too, will have a shot at the NBA. That’s ridiculous of course, as much as putting unprepared students in the SHS, regardless of race and color.

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David

All the Specialized schools need to be closed. End the segregation of students. In the past 10 years the DOE is mainstreamed most students with IEPs. Why do these elite “special” schools even exist? Close them. All high schools should use the EdOpt model for admission. So-called “talented and gifted” designations should not be used to create schools or even tracked programs within schools. Teachers should use these designations to differentiate material for these students, as they do with other students’ individual educational needs. Close the specialized high schools!

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Protect the SHSAT

The specialized high schools are dominated by Asian and white kids because their parents teach them the value and importance of education.

It’s totally shameless for this mayor to take away a race-blind, merit-based approach to admittance.

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RoMa

The problem begins in the home. Without a stable home environment, with kids getting encouragement and support at home, no child regardless of color is going to succeed.
Fundamentals need to be addressed, and not a dumbing down of the entrance standards.

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