Queens residents and lawmakers unhappy with city’s plan to eliminate admissions tests for specialized schools

Photo via Flickr/Kevin Case

Parents, students and elected officials across Queens disapprove of Mayor Bill de Blasio and Department of Education Chancellor Richard Carranza’s decision to eliminate admissions testing to New York City’s specialized public high schools.

On June 3, de Blasio announced plans to eliminate Specialized High School Admission Test (SHSAT). Currently, prospective students for the eight specialized public high schools must take the SHSAT, which is the sole exam required for entry.

The mayor said that the current system prevents black and Hispanic students from getting into these elite schools. In an op-ed for Chalkbeat, he said that the demographics in the eight elite high schools are not reflective of the demographics in the public school system as a whole. Currently 70 percent of students in public school are black and Hispanic, while only 10 percent of students in specialized schools are black and Hispanic.

De Blasio’s plan would eliminate the test entirely, while saving 45 percent of the 5,000 available seats for black and Hispanic students. The plan would be implemented throughout the eight official specialized high schools in New York City: Bronx High School of Science, Brooklyn Latin School, Brooklyn Technical High School, High School for Math, Science and Engineering at City College, High School for American Studies at Lehman College, Queens High School for Sciences at York College, Staten Island Technical High School and Stuyvesant High School.

Councilman Peter Koo from Queens District 20 expressed his dissatisfaction with the mayor’s plan

 “Weakening the admissions criteria for schools that are selectively designed for academically gifted students is counterintuitive and works against the original intent of specialized high schools. A test that focuses on such empirically unbiased subjects like math, logic and reading comprehension cannot be blamed for failing at diversity. If the city were truly concerned about diversifying these schools, it would do more to provide opportunities for robust testing prep in underrepresented schools,” Koo said.

Other officials shared Koo’s sentiment. Councilman Robert F. Holden from Queens District 30 said that he “wholeheartedly disagreed” with the mayor’s decision.

“The mayor is taking a system that is race-blind and turning it into a discrimination issue. Right now, students are selected based solely on test results. I think that’s how the system should work,” Holden said.

Adam Gawronski of Ridgewood has two children in specialized public high schools. His son Philip goes to Brooklyn Tech and his daughter Camilla goes to Stuyvesant. Gawronski and his son said that eliminating the test will lower the standards of the prestigious schools while allowing students to be admitted based on qualities like charm, instead of hard work and dedication.

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