When the city Department of Education announced its new grading policy that does away with failing grades for the rest of the school year, it raised a number of questions about how the changes will affect screened high school admissions
But just as parents and advocates are clamoring for more information on what is to come, the DOE is also taking suggestions on what to tell “screened” schools, where admission is based on student grades, test scores, attendance and interviews.
To inform its decision, the agency said that it plans on having conversations with community education councils, parent and school leaders, students, community-based organizations and borough-based parent groups, though a spokesperson said that no public meetings had been finalized yet.
Among education advocates, some welcome sweeping reforms, while others are already sounding alarms.
Many parents’ concerns stem from a perception that the DOE has not adequately listened to them. At a virtual town hall that state Sen. John Liu (D-Bayside) hosted on city schools on Tuesday evening, several parents called on the DOE to be more transparent about how it is deciding on its major policy shifts in response to the pandemic.
“To me the lack of communication is what really hurts us because we don’t know what’s going on,” said CEC District 26 President Adriana Aviles.
Advocacy group PLACE NYC, Parent Leaders for Accelerated Curriculum and Education, which advocates for maintaining the specialized high school admissions test for the eight schools that use it, released a survey of 1,000 parents within its network that found 98 percent of them want report card grades to remain part of the process.
The DOE shot back that it has no insight into what measures were taken to ensure the integrity of those survey results.
Many of the groups resistant to Carranza’s critique of screened admissions took a recent comment of his — “Never waste a good crisis to transform a system,” which he delivered in front of a national group of Latino school leaders — as an indication of how he wanted to radically change screened high school admissions.
He has since clarified that he does not intend to make permanent changes to the admissions system based on recent policy alterations.
Carranza’s clarification has not helped abate the concerns of Jason Fink, an organizer for Queens Parents United, a group that has mobilized in opposition to the District 28 Diversity Plan in central and Southeast Queens. Fink interpreted the DOE’s new grading policy as the beginning of an attempt to change admissions criteria for good.
“Once you drop the screen once, it becomes much easier to make the case for why it should be dropped twice,” Fink said.
On the other hand, Zakiyah Ansari, advocacy director for the Alliance for Quality Education, said that the attachment to screened admissions disproportionately hurts students of color.
“That is a scarcity mindset that has left a lot black and brown, immigrant and poor children to fend for themselves. I say that’s not a system that’s just,” said Ansari.
She said that she welcomed the opportunity for schools to take a more holistic approach to admissions criteria, and struggled to see why screens should not be eliminated.
The parents who said they have lost trust in the agency fear that the DOE might implement a lottery system, which would accept students randomly. The department has not indicated whether that is a plan it is considering.
Another member of Queens Parents United, Jean Hahn, believes that schools should be able to set their own admissions standards, which she would ideally want to consider both a student’s pre-virus report cards and a more holistic recommendation that teachers should give for each child.
In the normal screened admissions process, schools set their own admissions criteria. That information is published for each school in the city in a directory that gets released every summer.
“That book is coming out in three weeks, four weeks at most,” said Stanley Ng, an advocate with FACE, Families for Accelerated Curriculum and Education. “So whatever they do, they’re going to have to make up their minds soon.”
A DOE spokesperson said that the agency is aiming for a June publish date for the directory.