An audit by city Comptroller John Liu's office has found that the city's placement process for several high schools in the city, including a program at Townsend Harris, is unfair.
But the issue seems to be more apparent in the other boroughs than it is at the Flushing school.
Liu, a Democratic candidate for mayor, said the process denied students who meet eligibility requirements from being matched with seats while students who did not meet with criteria were accepted into some highly competitive programs because of separate screening processes by the DOE and the school.
“Our audit confirmed what many frustrated parents and students have long suspected: The city's high-school placement process is often unfair and deeply flawed,” he said. “Applying to high school is an important and stressful enough experience for students and parents, and it must not be left to a sloppy and random system like the one our audit found.”
The audit, which was released June 13, examined student placement for the 2011-12 school year at five schools considered among the most competitive for entrance in their respective boroughs. For Queens, Liu's office chose to audit the admissions process of Townsend Harris' Intensive Academic Humanities program. The other schools are Hostos-Lincoln Academy of Science in the Bronx, Baruch College Campus High School in Manhattan, Midwood High School Medical Science Institute in Brooklyn and Tottenville High School Science Institute in Staten Island.
Under the DOE's process, students can apply for up to 12 schools, which they rank in their order of preference. The agency then enters the students' choices into its Student Enrollment Management System. Students who apply to a screened school, like those the audit examined, must meet certain selection criteria in order to be ranked for possible enrollment by the schools.
But screened schools also use their own criteria in accepting pupils, such as seventh-grade report cards, standardized tests, and attendance records. Students who meet the criteria are ranked on a list for possible enrollment. However, the DOE does not require screened schools to rank every single student who qualifies because of the overwhelming number of applicants. Finally, SEMS matches students’ preferences against the schools ranking. When a student's top pick school ranks them high, there can be a match and the student would be offered a seat at the school.
According to the audit, there were 21,315 applications for 828 seats in the five schools. Of them, 5,702 met the screening criteria and 4,075 students were ranked. But Liu's audit found that 8 percent of the ranked students, or 319 pupils, did not meet the screen criteri — 92 of them were offered seats at the school and 60 were given them.
The majority of those 319 students were found in the Midwood audit. Townsend Harris made out the best of the five schools; four students who met the criteria were not ranked, but none of the 319 students who were ranked and didn't meet the criteria were enrolled in school. Townsend Harris was the only school to provide Liu's office with a record of its decisions, the audit said.
The DOE did not dispute the audit's results, claiming much of the issue stems from the department satisfying federal requirements. The department promised to take a number of steps to remedy the issue including: Reviewing the ranking practices at the four schools — each one audited except Townsend Harris — that the audit determined had questionable rankings in order to ensure that the schools are following their own published screens and DOE policy for student selection; require high schools with screened programs to document their ranking formula and processes; review screened schools' ranking criteria, especially for those schools in high demand, in order to ensure that they are ranking students fairly and consistently; and ensure schools keep records of their ranking of the students applying to their programs, as required by the State Education Department.
“We are pleased that the DOE has agreed to adopt our recommendations to ensure a fairer and sensible system,” Liu said in a statement.