You have by now heard of the explosive college admissions scandal, the one in which federal prosecutors charged some 50 people with participating in schemes that would allow wealthy parents to ensure their children were accepted at elite schools through bribes and other corruptions of the process.
You may not, however, have heard of this one, an admissions scandal of a different sort. This one is in New York, where the nation’s largest school district just announced statistics for fall 2019 admissions to eight selective high schools.
Newly released data from the school district show that only seven of 895 students who received offers to attend Stuyvesant High School – the hardest of the selective schools to gain admittance to – were black. That’s down from 2018, when 10 received offers. For 2019, Stuyvesant offered admissions to 587 Asian students, 194 white students, 45 of unknown race or ethnicity, 33 Latino students, 20 multiracial students and nine Native Americans.
How do students get into these elite schools? They have to do well on a single standardized test, called the Specialized High School Admissions Test, which any student in seventh or eighth grade is eligible to take.
What does it test? Skills in math and English. What does it measure? Because there has been little to no formal independent evaluation, nobody can say with authority.
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio has promised to diversify admissions to these schools, but his proposal to eliminate the test has met with severe backlash from alumni, Asian groups that fear the percentage of Asians would drop, and other groups. It is such a divisive issue, the New York Times reported, that even the Democratic governor, Andrew Cuomo, won’t take a stand.
Let’s look at more numbers: According to the New York City Department of Education website, 40.5 percent of the city’s public school students are Hispanic, 26 percent are black, 16.1 percent are Asian and 15 percent are white.
Of the students who took the test as part of the application process, 30.7 percent were Asian, 19.9 percent were black, 24.1 percent were Latino, 18.2 percent were white, 4.8 percent were unknown ethnicity or race, 1.3 percent were multiracial and 1 percent were Native American.
Here are the percentages, by race or ethnicity, of the total number of offers to these eight schools: 51.1 percent were Asian, 28.5 percent were white, 7 percent were unknown, 6.6 percent were Latino, 4 percent were black, 2.3 percent were multiracial and 0.6 percent were Native American.
These are the actual numbers of black students who were just admitted for fall 2019 to New York’s selective public high schools:
– 7 of 895 at Stuyvesant High School
– 12 of 803 at Bronx High School of Science
– 95 of 1,825 at Brooklyn Technical High School
– 57 of 540 at Brooklyn Latin School
– 8 of 165 at High School for Mathematics, Science and Engineering at City College
– 1 of 304 at Staten Island Technical High School
– 4 of 142 at Queens High School for the Sciences at York College
– 6 of 124 at High School of American Studies at Lehman College
According to the school system’s website, this is what the admissions exam is said to measure:
“The SHSAT assesses knowledge and skills. These skills consist of the ability to comprehend English prose, to demonstrate understanding of revising and editing skills central to writing in English, and to use problem-solving skills in mathematics. The test measures knowledge and skills students have gained over the course of their education. Keeping up with schoolwork throughout the year is the best possible preparation.”
What we do know about standardized tests in general is the scores are most highly correlated with family income and the education levels of parents.
And what we do know about schoolwork, as mentioned on the website, is that the quality often depends on how well-resourced a school is – and those in poor neighborhoods are virtually always on the short end of the stick.
What may seem like an objective data point – a test score – really isn’t. And while that isn’t a new scandal in American education, it is one that never seems to quit.