Middle school applications will open online Thursday afternoon, the city Department of Education announced, under a new system that will eliminate all selective screening criteria such as state test scores, grades and attendance for next year’s applicants.

There are about 196 middle schools that currently use admissions screening, according to the DOE, or about 40% of all middle schools.

Now all middle school applicants will submit their choices according to ranked preference, and will be placed at their top-ranked choice if possible. If more students apply to a school than seats, a lottery will take place with all the applicants who still need to be placed at a school. District or zoned priorities will still apply, with a separate lottery system in place if local demand exceeds seats available.

The priority groups are zoned students, in-district students, or continuing students, the DOE said. There will also be a system-wide elimination of the informal sibling priority that some screened schools had employed, the DOE said. The deadline is February 9th.

The new model is similar to Brooklyn’s District 15, which switched from screens to a lottery in 2018 and led to more diverse student bodies at some of the district’s most popular middle schools. But the DOE said it’s not applying District 15’s priority for disadvantaged students citywide.

The changes come after the pandemic made it impossible to use typical screening criteria—including test scores, attendance, and grades—to determine admission for middle schools. All state tests have been cancelled. Because many students had trouble getting online after schools closed, the DOE said attendance could not be factored into admissions. And grading has changed: There are no Fs this year, and students have the option to drop their lowest grades from their GPAs.

Opponents have argued for years to stop using selective screens and district priority altogether, in the fight against segregation in the city’s public school system.

“We can see this middle school admissions process for this year as a way to start to open up our understanding of what are good schools,” said Amy Stuart Wells, a professor of Sociology and Education at Teachers College and the executive director of the school’s Reimagining Education Summer Institute.

Wells said the screens divided and segregated students according to “very narrow measures.”

“There's just so much more to education than that, and we need to broaden our understanding,” she said.

Supporters of selective screens have said changing the process doesn’t address the underlying problems of improving education for struggling students.

With Jessica Gould