Avella, Holden stand against mayor’s plan to abolish SHSAT

State Sen. Tony Avella was on the steps of City Hall rallying to save the Specialized High School Exam.
Courtesy of Avella’s office
By Naeisha Rose

Dozens of community groups stood in resistance on the steps of City Hall against Mayor Bill de Blasio’s proposal to change the method of admittance to eight specialized high schools Wednesday.

Standing in solidarity with them was state Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) and City Councilman Robert Holden (D-Middle Village).

“I will oppose any changes to the Specialized High School Admissions Test,” said Avella, who instead introduced bill S.9141, which if passed by the state Legislature would expand the gifted and talented program for all New York City elementary and junior high schools.

“We must expand our city’s successful gifted and talented programs to be available in every school to give students the opportunity to achieve academic excellence,” said Avella.

Supporting Avella was Wai Wah Chin, president of the Chinese American Citizens Alliance of Greater New York, and Assemblyman William Colton (D-Brooklyn).

“This bill introduced by Sen. Tony Avella creates an important way of nurturing and growing high academic achievement in every part of the city. It serves communities of every background. It’s a great thing for our students, family, and city,” said Chin.

Holden agrees.

“As an educator turned policymaker, I have seen over the last two decades the negative net effect that the decreasing of Gifted & Talented programs have contributed on our children citywide—especially in our disenfranchised communities. As policymakers, it is incumbent on us to assist in the development of our children’s full potential, not hinder it,” said Holden.

Eight out of the nine elite high schools across the city use a single test to determine which students can attend their institutions.

Fiorella LaGuardia High School, a performance arts school in Manhattan, is the only institution that has a more diverse process, which includes auditions and academic records. Unlike the other eight schools it has a student body that consists of 31 percent of black and Latino pupils, according to data from the U.S. News and World Report from 2015 to 2016.

The mayor wants to expand the criteria for students to be admitted to the single-test specialized high schools to give more opportunities to black and Latino students who are a few points shy of passing the test and are economically disadvantaged.

Statistics from the city’s Department of Education show that blacks and Latinos in total make up only 10 percent of the student body in these remaining eight institutions.

Of the eight schools, only one is in the borough: the Queens High School for the Sciences at York College located at 94-50 159 St. in Jamaica.

What seemed like a simple initiative by the mayor has actually sown division amongst Queens Democrats in the southern and northern portions of the borough.

In southern Queens, state Assemblywoman Alicia Hyndman (D-Springfield Gardens) and City Councilman Donovan Richards (D-Far Rockaway) have supported de Blasio. U.S. Rep Grace Meng (D-Flushing) and state Sen. Toby Stavisky (D-Flushing) have come out against de Blasio’s measure to drop the specialized test, and have suggested identifying students who are gifted and fostering their educational prowess in gifted programs and creating more specialized high schools.

State Sen. Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans) falls in the middle. He agrees that a single test should not determine the eligibility of a student’s educational career, since not every child is always a great test taker, but he also believes additional gifted programs in middle schools and new specialized high schools are necessary.

“In my district there are students of color that passed the specialized high school test, but don’t go because their parents don’t want to have to send them to Brooklyn, Bronx, and Manhattan,” Comrie said. “We need another specialized high school in Queens.”

Avella wants his bill to bring people together.

“We must not pit one group of people against another but rather expand educational opportunities for all,” said Avella.

Reach reporter Naeisha Rose by e-mail at nrose@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4573.

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