Hot HS admissions debate set for Sat. 1

Queens Chronicle freelance writer Laura A. Shepard will moderate Saturday’s debate on elite high school admissions, where the expected panelists include, clockwise from top left, Phil Gim, Ken Cohen, Leroy Gadsden and Dennis Saffran.

Testing, testing, one, two, three ...

That’s what students do when they want to get into one of the city’s eight elite high schools — Stuyvesant, Bronx Science and the like, including, in this borough, Queens High School for the Sciences at York College.

Acceptance to the schools is based solely upon one exam: the specialized high school admissions test.

Some, especially in the Asian-American community, want to keep it that way. Asian Americans make up a majority of the students enrolled in the elite eight.

Others, including many in the African-American community, want to broaden the admissions requirements to include factors such as essay writing and attendance. African Americans and Hispanics make up a relatively small percentage of the specialized schools’ student body compared to their portion of the city’s school-age population.

Caucasians are accepted into the schools at nearly the same proportion as they take the test, known as the SHSAT, according to figures from the United Federation of Teachers.

Should the admissions rules be changed or should the status quo, which is set by state law for some of the schools and tradition for the others, remain in place? That will be the subject of a public forum co-sponsored by the Queens Chronicle this Saturday in Flushing.

Set to start at 3 p.m., the debate is sure to be passionate, given the feelings on both sides.

On one side of the panel will be Phil Gim, a Republican running for state Assembly against Assemblyman Ron Kim (D-Flushing) in the 40th District; former Bronx Assemblyman Michael Benjamin; and Dennis Saffran, an attorney who ran for City Council in the 19th District last year, also on the Republican line, and who wrote a column supporting the single-test criteria last summer for City Journal.

On the other side will be Ken Cohen, the president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in Northeast Queens; and Leroy Gadsden, president of the NAACP’s Jamaica chapter.

Kim said he cannot attend the event.

Moderating will be Queens Chronicle contributing writer Laura A. Shepard of Forest Hills, a Bayside native and 2008 graduate of Bronx Science, who has been covering the issue for the paper. The event was primarily organized by David Lee of, a group formed to defend the admissions requirements from efforts to change them.

Those efforts have been led by state Assemblyman Karim Camara (D-Brooklyn), who proposed a bill to broaden the admissions process, with the support of the UFT and NAACP.

Saturday’s forum will be held in the auditorium of the Taiwan Center, located at 137-44 Northern Blvd. A capacity crowd is expected.

Lee says the success of the test is evidenced by the success of the schools’ graduates. And, he added in an email, “This issue brings to light more than a question of how to select students for admission to a school. It is a discussion about maintaining high educational standards to compete with the world, about improving K-8 inner-city education, and the use of diversity vs. merit to determine admission to educational institutions.”

Cohen said in an interview that the NAACP has had its issues with the SHSAT and he will relate them to the audience. “The acceptance rate in all the schools is very low, and with our information received, we feel that in many cases the tests aren’t well-rounded,” he said.

You may be looking forward to “Saturday Night Live.” But this week, you don’t want to miss Saturday Afternoon Live, in Flushing.

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