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Queens Chronicle

High school admissions test controversy grabs feds attention

Group says specialized admissions test discriminates against minorities

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Posted: Thursday, November 15, 2012 10:30 am | Updated: 11:35 am, Wed Nov 21, 2012.

The civil rights division of the U.S. Department of Education has decided to investigate claims that the city’s policies concerning admissions at its eight “specialized” high schools violate the civil rights of prospective Black and Hispanic students.

The eight high schools — Bronx High School of Science; Brooklyn Latin School; Brooklyn Technical High School; Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts; High School for Math, Science and Engineering at City College; High School of American Studies at Lehman College; Queens High School for the Sciences at York College and Stuyvesant High School — all require prospective students pass a 2.5 hour-long Specialized High School Admissions Test, called the SHSAT.

The complaint, filed by a coalition including the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. argues that the DOE has illegally weeded out Black and Latino students by mandating a test that schools in minority areas are not equipped to prepare students for.

“Year after year, thousands of academically talented African-American and Latino students who take the test are denied admission to the Specialized High Schools at rates far higher than those for other racial groups,” the NAACP said in its complaint, filed in September.

According to DOE statistics, 35 percent of students who score well on the SHSAT and are accepted into one of the city’s eight specialized high schools are Asian, while another 31 percent are white, but just under 7 percent are Hispanic and only 5 percent are black, well below the percentage of students citywide from those demographic groups.

The complaint asked the U.S. DOE to step in and investigate the testing procedure, which the agency agreed to do this week.

The city has vigorously defended its procedures, calling them fair and necessary.

At a press conference in September, Mayor Bloomberg defended the test policy, saying it was “as fair as fair can be.”

“There’s nothing subjective about this,” he said. “You pass the test, you get the highest score, you get into the school — no matter what your ethnicity, no matter what your economic background is.”

Nevertheless, city DOE spokesman said the agency has been pushing for more black and Hispanic students and has been successful.

“We want all of our students to have opportunities to prepare for the test no matter their ZIP code,” the DOE said in a statement released in September.

A spokesperson for the DOE pointed to statistics showing more black and Hispanic students were offered specialized high school seats in 2011 than in the previous two years.

A teacher, who declined to be identified due to DOE regulations, said the problem starts at a young age both in school and at home.

“Asian parents put a lot of emphasis on this specific test from a young age,” the teacher, who works at a middle school with a large Asian-American student population, said. “That gives them an advantage over perhaps poorer demographics who don’t have the resources to pour into this one test.”

If the federal government finds civil rights violations in its admission procedure for the eight high schools, it would require the city to change the test-only policy for admission.

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