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Latest Specialized High School Acceptance Rates Still Don't Reflect NYC's Diversity

Stuyvesant High School
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Stuyvesant High School Mary Altaffer/AP/Shutterstock

Despite efforts to boost access to test preparation and other supports to increase diversity, the number of students of color accepted to one of New York City’s specialized high schools stayed flat this year. According to results released Monday, acceptance rates among the different demographic groups hardly changed.

At Stuyvesant High School, one of eight schools that base admissions solely on a single standardized test, only 7 black students were offered admissions to the incoming freshman class this year, compared to 10 students last year. The number of Latino students accepted increased slightly this year, to 33 from 27. The number of white students went up to 194 students from 151 students. And the number of Asian students admitted to Stuyvesant declined: 587 this year compared to 613 last year.

“We’re also once again confronted by an unacceptable status quo at our specialized high schools,” said Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza. “We need to eliminate the single test for specialized high schools immediately.”

Overall, for all the specialized high schools, 51.1 percent of offers went to Asian students, compared to 51.7 percent last year; 4.0 percent went to black students, compared to 4.1 percent last year; 6.6 percent went to Latino students, compared to 6.3 percent last year; and 28.5 percent went to white students compared to 26.5 percent last year.

The results bolstered the position of Mayor Bill de Blasio who is pressing for changes that would improve the racial and ethnic diversity at the schools, including removal of the Specialized High School Admissions Test (SHSAT). The mayor has called the test a “roadblock to justice.”

The public school system’s match day is always highly anticipated by eighth graders eager to figure out where they’ll be spending the next four years. This spring, it was even more so, as the de Blasio Administration moved forward with controversial plans to tweak admissions at the city’s elite specialized high schools and a lawsuit challenging them delayed the offers by two weeks.

As a first step, the DOE reduced the number of offers based solely on students’ SHSAT scores and increased the number of slots for those who score just below the cut-off and participate in a summer prep course called Discovery. The DOE added 300 seats for students in the Discovery program, to bring the total to 500. This reduced the total offers from the SHSAT alone by 269, to a total of 4,798 seats. (1,432 students received one or more offers to programs at LaGuardia High School, the performing-arts specialized school which also requires an audition.)

Offers to the Discovery Program students will go out later this spring, after the April 5 deadline to accept Round 1 offers.

Some groups representing Asian families have been fighting the administration’s plans to change the admissions process, including filing the lawsuit the DOE said delayed the entire process. Chris Kwok, national director for the Chinese American Citizen Alliance of New York, said the results showed the administration’s previous efforts to increase diversity were misguided, noting that more white students received offers than last year.

“The social engineering didn’t work out the way they wanted,” Kwok said. “They want to turn around and blame the test but the test is not failing in creating excellent schools. These schools are excellent by almost any measure.”

A DOE spokesperson pointed out that neither the Discovery program expansion nor the mayor’s plan to eliminate the test has gone into effect yet. Still, groups pushing for increased integration were also disappointed in the numbers.

Groups pushing for increased integration were also disappointed in the numbers.

“Mayor Bill de Blasio promised reform back in 2014, but things have only gotten worse,” said Lennox Thomas, a junior at Brooklyn College Academy and a member of the advocacy group Teens Take Charge. Thomas said he was also deeply disappointed when he opened his acceptance letter three years ago. “To all my fellow Black and Latino students who did not get in, do not feel as if you aren’t smart enough. My hope is that you will learn quicker than I did not to let an unfair system define your intelligence or potential.”

De Blasio said he would like to replace the SHSAT with multiple criteria; eliminating the test would require approval from lawmakers in Albany.

Citywide, 78,326 public school students received offer letters on this “match day.” Of that group, 45 percent got into their first choice schools, and 73 percent got into one of their top three. If they didn’t apply, students were still matched with a school close to their home, a change from previous years.

Jessica Gould is a reporter in the newsroom at WNYC. You can follow her on Twitter at @ByJessicaGould.

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