New York City Schools Chancellor David Banks announced sweeping changes to the city’s public high school and middle school admissions process on Thursday.

The new guidelines give the highest-performing students a better shot at their first-choice high school and allow middle schools to restore grade requirements and other selective criteria for admission – a controversial process that was eliminated in December 2020 under then-Mayor Bill de Blasio.

The application process for high school in New York City is notoriously stressful for children and families, who have been required to list their top 12 picks from more than 700 programs across the city.

The system has been criticized by advocates, who say that the rules favor children from families with the resources to navigate the complicated system. The New York City school system is one of the most segregated in the country.

Banks said the changes aim to make the admissions processes “more family-friendly, transparent, and fair.”

The eight specialized high schools, which include Stuyvesant and the Bronx High School of Science, will continue to rely on the SHSAT exam.

One key reform impacts the city’s roughly 100 screened high schools, which use admissions criteria to admit students. For the 2023-2024 school year, students will be grouped into five newly defined tiers, ranked according to their academic performance in seventh grade.

Group One, which will receive priority, includes students whose core course grade averages land them in the highest 15% of their school or citywide.

Last year, the city used a similar tiered system, but the groups were not as narrowly defined.

Being in the first tier was essentially a “glorified lottery,” said Alina Adams, an education consultant and the author of "Getting Into NYC High-School." She estimated that the previous year’s criteria included 60% of students. The new rules, she predicted, will limit that top group to around 15% to 25% of students.

She said the new rules show that Mayor Eric Adams’ administration is “listening to parents” who “have been pushing for accelerated education.”

Nyah Berg, executive director of New York Appleseed, a nonprofit that advocates school integration, praised the chancellor for making the high school admissions process more transparent and standardized, but said she was “disappointed” that the city was opening the door to screening children as young as 9 for middle school.

“They've been proven to exacerbate the segregation in the city,” she said.

The education department opted to leave the decision of whether to screen students at middle schools up to individual district superintendents.

Berg worried that the new system would be implemented with “almost no guardrails” and instead left to “communities that already have enough on their plate.”

“Without middle school screens, the processes become way less burdensome and stressful for families at the high school level,” she added. “Ultimately it's still a more exclusive process and ultimately it's going to lead to less diversity,” she said. “It'll be more diverse than it was two years ago, but less diverse than it was last year.”

It’s “step forward, two steps back,” she added.

An earlier version of this story used the wrong acronym for the test required for admission to the specialized high schools. It is the SHSAT.