By Patrick Donachie
Diversity remains elusive at New York City’s eight specialized high schools, according to data released by the Department of Education earlier this month. Though some believe that the make-or-break entry test for these schools must be discontinued, state Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) believes that broader test preparation is the best way to close the gap.
“The solution is not to dilute the test,” Avella said. ““We want to make sure the students get the best education possible.””
Entry into New York City’s eight specialized high schools is determined by a student’s scores on the Specialized High School Admission Test. Admission is based solely on the highest scores with no consideration to race, gender or any other factors.
An analysis of DOE data released by the state Senate’s Independent Democratic Conference found that from 2005 to 2013, only 7.4 percent of students admitted to a specialized school were black, despite the fact that approximately 32 percent of eighth graders in public schools were black. Latino students made up approximately 40 percent of the eighth grade public school population, but only 8.7 percent of students admitted to specialized high schools were Latino, according to the analysis.
Avella, who is a member of the IDC, said he was first alerted to the issue by alumni of the specialized schools who wanted greater diversity but did not want to deprive students of a robust education. He said that solely relying on factors besides the test could have unforeseen consequences, such as increasing the diversity gap.
“The studies have shown that changing or eliminating the tests will do nothing to solve the lack of diversity. If you make it subjective, what are you going to include? After-school activities?” Avella said. “Not all districts have the same resources at the lower level.”
Avella and other representatives, including state Sen. Jeff Klein (D-Bronx), Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz (D-Bronx) and Assemblyman Walter Mosley (D-Brooklyn), want the Legislature to designate $1 million to establish test preparation in every school district and to allocate $2.55 million to increase the number of Gifted and Talented programs in elementary and middle schools located in New York City’s low-income neighborhoods.
DOE Deputy Press Secretary Harry Hartfield agreed that the diversity gap needed to close.
“We look forward to working closely with our partners in Albany as we move forward,” he said. “We plan to expand existing strategies and implement new tools to work towards the critical goal of greater diversity at these schools.”
Avella said he hopes the Legislature will include the funds for increased test preparation and new Gifted and Talented programs in this year’s budget. Without necessary changes, he said, the story will continue to be the same at the specialized high schools.
“The situation is not going to go away,” he said. “There is a problem, but we have a solution.”
Reach reporter Patrick Donachie by e-mail at pdona