Mayor de Blasio and Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza announced sweeping changes to the middle and high school admissions process last Friday, a decision they said goes beyond the racial impacts of the current health crisis to try to address longstanding inequities in the way schools are funded.
De Blasio announced that starting now, middle schools will implement a one-year pause on admissions screens. The Department of Education will also roll out several changes to the high schools admissions process over the next two years.
“I like to say very bluntly, our mission is to redistribute wealth. A lot of people bristle at that phrase – that is in fact the phrase we need to use. We have been doing this work for seven years to more equitably redistribute resources throughout our school system,” de Blasio said at a press event Monday.
The move represents the latest attempt to address New York City’s widespread de facto school segregation through the admissions process following mounting calls to do so in recent years. A 2019 report by The New School found that 58 percent of the students in academically screened high schools were black or Hispanic in 2017-18, compared to 65 percent of high school students citywide.
As part of the plan, de Blasio will notably leave in place the Specialized High Schools Admissions Test, a standardized test used by a number of the city’s elite high schools that became a lightning rod of controversy in recent years. He announced the test will be administered beginning Jan. 27 at students’ middle schools, after being delayed from its usual schedule in the fall.
Registration for the test will run from Dec. 21 to Jan. 15.
The announcement drew strong responses from both sides of the issue.
Jean Hahn Choko, the administrator for the Queens Parents United group, which had previously campaigned to keep screened admissions, encouraged members to write to their local representatives in protest of the move.
Teens Take Charge, an advocacy group that has called for the elimination of the SHSAT and other screens, called the middle school change a “baby step toward integration” in a statement.
At the press event, Carranza explained that it was the circumstances of the pandemic that drove the DOE to alter the admissions process immediately for middle schools. The screened admissions process often relies on state exams, which were canceled due to Covid, in addition to grades and attendance that do not compare to previous years.
According to the Mayor’s Office, 196 middle schools use screens, or categories by which applicants are sorted and selected. Those include grades, student interviews, assessments, standardized tests and attendance.
For the coming year, students will list ranked choices on their middle school application as they always have, and schools that have more applications than seats available for their sixth-grade class will use a lottery-based system to choose candidates.
The mayor said that the DOE will evaluate this pause on middle school screened admissions and will make a decision about what to do for the following year based on the outcomes of the new approach. The plan also includes a district priority for middle schools that currently have it, as the result of families indicating they want their young children to stay closer to their neighborhood.
“But the bottom line is we can never accept a broken status quo. We can never go back to a past that didn’t work,” de Blasio said Monday.
High schools will begin to see changes this year too. School district priorities for high school admissions will be permanently eliminated this year, and all other geographic priorities will be eliminated next year. According to the Mayor’s Office, around 250 high schools have some type of district or geographic priority in place such as borough-based priority.
But for high schools, academic screens may remain in place where they are currently in use. If a student lists a screened school on his or her high school application, it can use a combination of 2018-19 state tests, the previous years’ grades or other criteria of its choosing. Schools will be required to publicly publish their rubric criteria on MySchools and the ranking process will be centralized to ensure equity and transparency.
Teens Take Charge warned that allowing high schools to continue to screen applicants using their previous year would result in “more intense discrimination.”
The announcement also included support for five additional districts in securing a grant to develop a community-led District Diversity Plan. District 28 is the sole district in Queens that was set to develop such a plan but was only engaged in the early stages last school year before the pandemic delayed it.