Gotham Gazette https://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/2051 Sat, 19 Oct 2019 15:15:07 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) Ruben Diaz Jr. on the Bronx Jail Plan, Specialized High Schools and His Initial 2021 Pitch https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8405-ruben-diaz-jr-on-the-bronx-jail-plan-specialized-high-schools-and-his-initial-2021-pitch https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8405-ruben-diaz-jr-on-the-bronx-jail-plan-specialized-high-schools-and-his-initial-2021-pitch rdjr sotb

Ruben Diaz Jr. (photo: Victor Chu/Bronx BP)


Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. is in favor of closing the jails on Rikers Island but vehemently opposed to the joint de Blasio administration-City Council plan for a new jail site in the Bronx. Diaz Jr. isn’t against a new jail in his borough. Instead, he wants the city to use a different location, closer to the courthouse where defendants must appear, but that city officials say is less workable than their chosen site.

Diaz Jr. made his case during a recent appearance on the Max & Murphy show on WBAI radio just after the jail plan begin to move through the city’s official land use review process, known as ULURP, in which the borough president will have a formal but not binding say. In a unique twist, the city is also moving four jail projects -- one for each borough other than Staten Island -- through ULURP at the same time, which Diaz Jr. says “sets a bad precedent.”

[LISTEN: Max & Murphy Podcast: Ruben Diaz Jr.]

During the interview, Diaz Jr. also addressed admissions to the city’s specialized high schools and several other topics, while also giving, when asked, an early version of his 2021 mayoral pitch to voters. Diaz Jr. has said he plans to run for mayor in the next election, when Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration ends due to term-limits––part of what is likely to be a fairly crowded field of Democrats.

The city’s current plan to shutter Rikers Island jails includes building a new jail on an empty NYPD tow pound in Port Morris, a neighborhood in the South Bronx, but Diaz Jr. protests the lack of input from Bronx residents when the city decided on the plan. He said residents of Kew Gardens in Queens and Chinatown in Manhattan, where other jails are planned, have also protested the lack of community input. In both Brooklyn and Manhattan currently used jails will expand under the city’s plan.

As an alternative to the tow pound, Diaz Jr. pointed to lots on 161st Street in the Bronx, where the Bronx Supreme Court and family court are located. Criminal justice reformers advocate for close proximity between jails and courthouses and public transportation, which can alleviate detention time and ease access for families and defense attorneys. This level of access has posed a challenge on Rikers Island, which is considerably difficult to reach.

In response to Diaz Jr.’s plan, a de Blasio spokesperson said that a jail demands more space than is available on 161st Street, including some owned by the state. “What data do they have? They haven’t even examined the site,” Diaz Jr. countered. “Some of that space belongs to the state––and maybe they don’t want to get into it with the governor, because the mayor and the governor don’t get along,” he said, referring to the notoriously contentious relationship between Governor Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio. But, Diaz Jr. said he already secured a commitment from the state -- he’s close with Governor Andrew Cuomo -- to relinquish the state property at his preferred site.

Asked about the disconnect between his rhetoric and the views of City Council Member Diana Ayala––who represents parts of northern Manhattan and the South Bronx, including the neighborhood with the tow pound in question, and has voiced her support for the new plan––Diaz Jr. said, “Respectfully, she doesn’t live in the Bronx part of the district.”

As conversation switched gears to the broader role of a borough president, Diaz Jr. said his team was putting forth recommendations to bolster the office’s legislative, voting, and budgetary power to the 2019 Charter Revision Commission, particularly concerning land use. His comments came two days after the charter revision commission’s final “expert” hearing, which focused on the role of borough presidents, during which several experts agreed that a revised charter should strengthen borough presidents’ legislative authority (some of the panel’s experts were former borough presidents themselves) but not make drastic changes to the limited powers of the position.

Diaz Jr. said he and his appointee to the commission, James Vacca, a former City Council Member from the Bronx, are still brainstorming proposals, but promised to publicize suggested reforms once they have formalized them. During the commission hearing on borough president powers, Vacca did not pose any questions to the expert panels about the position. Time is running thin for Diaz Jr. to make his recommendations and preferences for charter reform known.

The hosts also asked Diaz Jr. about one of the other hot recent political issues, that of standardized testing for the city’s highly-segregated specialized public schools, two of which are located in the Bronx. Currently, admission to eight of the nine specialized schools is based on a single test: the SHSAT (Laguardia High School is a specialized performing arts school). Mayor de Blasio is seeking to scrap the test and move to multi-measures and a system whereby the top 7% of each middle school graduating class has a seat at a specialized school, but received significant blowback from the city’s Asian-American community, which is significantly overrepresented in the schools relative to broader city population, while black and Hispanic communities are severely underrepresented.

“I agree that the status quo is not working. When you have slightly less than 11 percent of all seats at the eight specialized high schools offered to black and Latino students this year, there’s something fundamentally wrong with what we’re doing,” said Diaz Jr.

He suggested a more holistic admissions process, akin to Ivy League universities, that considers students’ GPA and extracurricular activities. “We should not be putting one community against the other. And this is where I disagree with the mayor and his rollout,” Diaz Jr. said. Last summer, when de Blasio announced his plan, Diaz Jr. released a statement calling it a “welcome step forward for fairness and equity in the public education system.” He has since changed his tune.

“What we need is to increase the amount of seats,” he said on Max & Murphy. “Only three of the high schools are codified by state law. The other five were created and we need to just create more if we have to.” He also called for more access to gifted and talented programs for students in every community.

Diaz Jr. also discussed the Jerome Avenue rezoning in the Bronx. The project, launched last March, promised to create new retail opportunities and thousands of new affordable housing units while protecting the tenants who were already there along the way, and making investments in the surrounding community as new population density was welcomed in.

Asked for his assessment of the initial year after the rezoning passed, Diaz Jr. said he was working with tenants rights organizations like CASA to prevent displacement (CASA leader Carmen Vega-Rivera recently told the charter revision commission she felt that the city’s outreach has been insufficient), but on the project’s overall effectiveness and the city’s ability to keep its promises, Diaz Jr. said, “The jury’s still out.”

Lastly, in light of Diaz Jr.’s less than covert plans to run for mayor, he spoke about his vision for New York City, when asked for his initial pitch to voters ahead of the 2021 election, which is expected to feature Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, Comptroller Scott Stringer, City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, Diaz Jr., and perhaps others.

“We’re the best city on the planet. And yet, you have so many different communities in all the different boroughs who don’t feel they’re benefitting from the progress they see throughout the city,” Diaz Jr. said, in part, highlighting his efforts to bring jobs and housing to the Bronx, which he called “one of, if not the most, challenged borough in the city.”

Earlier this month, Diaz Jr. released his 2018 Bronx Annual Development Report, boasting high levels of investment and development in the borough, which he highlighted during his ninth State of the Borough address.

“As we speak of equity, that’s going to be the message here," Diaz Jr. said on Max & Murphy. "This is a city where we can provide a better future not just for some, but for all. And we can do this in a practical, pragmatic, progressive way.”

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Ruben Diaz Jr. on the Bronx Jail Plan, Specialized High Schools and His Initial 2021 Pitch Wed, 03 Apr 2019 04:00:00 +0000
Where Top Officials Stand on the SHSAT and Specialized High School Admissions https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8406-where-top-city-officials-stand-on-the-shsat-and-specialized-high-school-admissions https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8406-where-top-city-officials-stand-on-the-shsat-and-specialized-high-school-admissions de Blasio SHSAT

Mayor de Blasio announces specialized high schools plan (photo: Benjamin Kanter/Mayor's Office)


In June of 2018, Mayor Bill de Blasio rolled out a plan to eliminate the Specialized High School Admissions Test (SHSAT) for New York City’s specialized public high schools, in an effort to increase diversity, especially for black and Latino youth, at the city’s eight elite test-based institutions. Joined for a press conference in Brooklyn’s JHS 292 school by a Hunter College student, Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza, and a number of City Council members and State Assembly members, he hosted a rally-like announcement, where he initiated a call-and-response: “Time for change?” de Blasio asked three times. “Yes!” the audience yelled back.

“For thousands and thousands of students and neighborhoods all over New York City, the message has been these specialized schools aren’t for you,” de Blasio said in June. “So, the solution is simple: the test has to go.”

But it’s not simple. He received swift backlash from the city’s Asian-American community––especially those of low income, who comprise a significant portion of the specialized public high school student body. Though his plan was celebrated by some local politicians, as months passed, some began to shy away from their support for de Blasio’s plan and insisted on a more broadly palatable path.

De Blasio had not gotten much of the necessary buy-in to move his plan in the state Legislature -- state law dictates that the SHSAT is the sole criteria for entry into the three largest specialized high schools, Stuyvesant, Bronx Science, and Brooklyn Tech -- the mayor did little else to push his plan, and the discussion fizzled.

Then came the news earlier this month that of the 895 students offered admission to Stuyvesant High School, the city’s most rigorous and exclusive public school, only seven of those students were black. The controversy reenergized the debate around school admissions, the SHSAT, the city’s larger school system, and other key issues, embroiling not only city politicians, but also those who work in Albany.

The latest data for admissions to Stuyvesant and the other specialized schools set off a new round of questioning the use of the SHSAT (few if any other learning institutions at any level across the country use a single test to determine admissions) and reinvigorated interest in plans put forth by de Blasio and others to ensure more racial and ethnic diversity at the schools. While those who prefer the current system dug in.

Governor Andrew Cuomo agreed the lack of diversity at the schools is a problem and said the city should change admissions at the five schools it controls and then put pressure on state legislators to follow suit for the other three. He did not offer any specifics on what he believes to be the right admissions criteria.

Neither Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie nor Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins has taken a concrete position on the SHSAT and specialized high school admissions. Heastie did say on March 8 that he wants to see “more specialized slots” and the schools "more reflective of the city's population," but he did not go further. He said the Assembly majority would take the issue up at some point.

A group of state senators called for “open dialogue and consensus-building on school diversity and admissions.” Queens Senator John Liu, who chairs the Senate’s New York City schools subcommittee, said de Blasio’s plan exacerbates racial tension, but brought together colleagues to announce a plan to hold hearings later this year.

“What we need is open-mindedness and open dialogue in order to build a consensus for a plan going forward,” Liu said. Other senators echoed Liu, decrying the city’s diversity statistics and calling for a series of community forums, but neglecting to offer any other concrete solutions.

De Blasio said he looked forward to future dialogue. A couple of weeks later, on Thursday, he acknowledged that he did not roll out his plan well, and pledged more engagement with the city’s Asian communities.

City Council Speaker Corey Johnson wrote an op-ed in Chalkbeat NY on Thursday in which he called for the eventual elimination of the use of the SHSAT for admissions to the city’s specialized high schools and for “additional City-designated elite high schools, separate from the eight test-based high schools governed by state law.” Johnson wrote that this process “would allow the [Department of Education] to pilot new admissions criteria that will promote diversity without needing state approval.”

Johnson also wrote that City Council will soon consider new legislation addressing diversity in specialized high schools and beyond, including a task force to determine new admissions criteria, codification of the School Diversity Advisory Group, establishing District Diversity Working Groups in each school district, and the creation of an oversight role housed in the city Human Rights Commission called a School Diversity Monitor.

"The problem with the specialized high schools’ admissions process runs much deeper than one test," said Council Member Mark Treyger, chair of the education committee, in a statement, noting that he will hold a hearing on school segregation next month. Treyger also cited an op-ed published in the New York Daily News on Wednesday by Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, who argued against eliminating the test and pushed for expanding gifted-and-talented programs citywide.

"I won’t support a plan that solely abolishes an exam, which was essentially the Mayor’s plan," Treyger said. "I’m open to a plan that includes revamping and expanding enrichment programs, adding more crucial seats, across all districts, particularly in communities of color. We must engage with all marginalized communities as we examine how to better integrate schools, from pre-k to high school. We need full integration, which means examining evidence-based multiple measures to enter specialized schools, and the pipeline of schools that populate them and the rest of our school system."

Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams initially backed de Blasio’s plan to eliminate the use of the SHSAT and move to multiple measures for admissions to the specialized schools, even appearing at the announcement to lend his support, but he then backtracked.

Adams penned an op-ed in the Amsterdam News last July voicing his support for the SHSAT––with caveats. He called for “free preparatory services for every student who wants to take the SHSAT but faces economic hardship,” funded by the city, in addition to expanding middle school gifted and talented programs. Additionally, he advocated creating five new specialized high schools, one per borough, and incorporating other academic metrics like class performance into the admissions process. This week, Adams’ office told the Gotham Gazette that his position remains the same.

After de Blasio announced his plan, Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr. also voiced his support, calling it a “welcome step forward” and a “validation of the diligent work of so many elected officials, educators, activists and parents whose efforts have focused on this issue for years, if not decades.” Like Adams, he has since walked back his support, telling the Max & Murphy podcast this week that he favors a more holistic admissions approach that includes the SHSAT in addition to a number of other academic criteria.

Asked for her position by Gotham Gazette, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer advocated for methods of improving diversity beyond eliminating the entrance exam and also called for community forums. The city should engage in “a back and forth with students and parents about the many options to reform the admissions at these specific high schools,” she said.

City Comptroller Scott Stringer has not responded to a request for comment.

Ben Max contributed to this article.

Note - This article has been updated with comment from Council Member Mark Treyger, who chairs the Committee on Education.

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Where Top Officials Stand on the SHSAT and Specialized High School Admissions Thu, 28 Mar 2019 04:00:00 +0000
The Answer to More Diversity at Specialized High Schools is Tutoring Programs Like Ours https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8383-more-diversity-at-specialized-high-schools-is-tutoring-programs-shsat https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8383-more-diversity-at-specialized-high-schools-is-tutoring-programs-shsat student tutor reading

(photo: Ed Reed/Mayor's Office)


Last week, 27,000 eighth-graders and their parents opened exam results, hoping they had won a coveted seat at one of New York City’s eight specialized high schools. Unsurprisingly, this year’s offers followed trends of past years, with only 10.5 percent of offers going to black and Hispanic students, who comprise 68 percent of the overall public school system. At Stuyvesant High School, a mere seven black students and 33 Hispanic students were offered one of the 895 seats.

These disparities have long prompted debate about how to create more racial and ethnic equity in the specialized high schools while maintaining their quality. Although the test is open to all, few students in lower-income areas are able to afford test preparation, or even know about the exam. Those who do sit for it often can’t compete due to subpar educations in their poor neighborhoods.

Mayor de Blasio wants to abandon the test in favor of holistic assessments based on student grades, test scores, and class rankings. Over the course of a three-year phase-out of the test, his plan would have the number of students admitted based on class rank increase incrementally until 90 percent of offers go to the top 7 percent of students at each middle school. The remaining 10 percent of seats would be subject to a lottery open only to those with a minimum grade average of 93 percent. During the transition period, the Discovery Program, which offers admittance to low-income students who just missed the cutoff score on completion of a summer enrichment program, would expand to 20 percent of all seats.

Although diversity should be paramount to admissions, I fear that Mayor de Blasio’s proposal trades systems of exclusivity. In order to evaluate students based strictly on their scores, the test doesn’t compensate for inequities in early education. By contrast, assessments based on class rankings ignore the merit of individuals below the 7 percent line to overcompensate for inequities. Without the test, however, the student bodies of specialized high schools may be no different than others because the plan places unequal middle schools on an equal playing field.  

Moreover, students’ abilities set the pace in classrooms and determine the quality of discussions. An undistinguished student body removes the challenges meant to be integral to a specialized high school education.

Rather than reform the system to the advantage of all New Yorkers, Mayor de Blasio proposes to lower the bar. The substandard education that students of color often receive will remain in place in elementary and middle schools. Programs designed to prepare students for the entrance exam will disappear, and with them the enrichment opportunities offered to students regardless of the results.  

The diversity problem I’ve witnessed firsthand at the High School of American Studies at Lehman College, a specialized high school in the Bronx where I’m a junior, persists. Some of my classmates are first-generation immigrants who overcame the disadvantage of a non-English speaking or low-income household to gain a seat. They’re the exception. In fact, they’re often among a handful of students at their middle school to be admitted to a specialized high school. In contrast, the graduating class of my Upper West Side middle school received 150 offers from specialized high schools. I had a scholarship to a tutoring program for the test, but this isn’t an option for most students of color.

Recognizing this lack of resources, a new student-run tutoring program was created at my high school to prepare local Bronx middle school students for the SHSAT. A team of upperclassmen create and teach English and math lessons twice weekly to a class of seventh-graders. We plan activities, explain the high school process to ensure that the middle school students see admittance to our school as attainable, and provide snacks.

But teenagers can only tutor 30 kids at a time when thousands more deserve enrichment opportunities. All specialized high schools and other schools should host tutoring programs. These programs can and should reach more students and at a younger age, so that fairness and diversity are ensured long before incoming students walk through the door.

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Jade Lozada is a junior at the High School of American Studies at Lehman College and a second-generation Hispanic American. Through a student-run tutoring program, she teaches local Bronx middle-schoolers English Language Arts in preparation for the SHSAT exam.

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Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

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The Answer to More Diversity at Specialized High Schools is Tutoring Programs Like Ours Mon, 25 Mar 2019 04:00:00 +0000
Enough DOE Deception Around Admittance to Specialized High Schools https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8256-enough-doe-deception-around-admittance-to-specialized-high-schools https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8256-enough-doe-deception-around-admittance-to-specialized-high-schools mayorsoffice school

(photo: Benjamin Kanter/Mayoral Photo Office)


How many times is the Department of Education going to mislead the public in connection with the city’s effort to eliminate the test used to select students for admission to its highest performing high schools?

Reasonable people can disagree about the value of changing admissions to Brooklyn Tech, Stuyvesant, Bronx Science, and five other schools that use the Specialized High School Admissions Test. But facts should matter to the DOE.

The latest case in point concerns the city’s announcement that it was changing the Discovery Program to improve the numbers of black and Latino students at these schools. By taking an intensive summer program, Discovery is an alternative mechanism for disadvantaged students who just miss the SHSAT cutoff to gain admission to these highly selective schools.

In June, Mayor de Blasio announced support for a bill in Albany to gut the test. In the interim, the city called for revamping Discovery, telling the public: “Based on modeling of current offer patterns, an estimated 16 percent of offers would go to black and Latino students, compared to 9 percent currently.” The increase would be the result of limiting eligibility to Discovery to children attending a subset of the city’s middle schools having at least a 60 percent Economic Need Index calculated based on the neighborhood’s poverty level.

While the changes prevent many poor children of all races and ethnicities from being eligible for Discovery, a recently-filed lawsuit contends the changes are unconstitutional because in changing the way the city structured its Discovery program revamp – by limiting eligibility to the middle schools with at least 60 percent of the students living in poverty – the city disproportionately excludes poor Asian children at ineligible schools.

Joshua Wallack, a Deputy Schools Chancellor who is the DOE’s point person leading this effort, recently submitted an affidavit under oath to the court explaining that the DOE cannot say what impact the change will have on increasing black and Latino enrollment. He explained that “there are several factors beyond DOE’s control” that will affect the racial and ethnic composition of the students admitted through a changed Discovery program.

He also conceded the switch to only high-poverty schools may not improve diversity at the specialized high schools because Asian-American families are statistically the poorest demographic group in the city. He noted that last year 70 percent of students admitted from these high-poverty schools were Asian-American.

On one level, the Brooklyn Tech Alumni Foundation hopes the city’s Discovery changes do result in increased enrollment of children from underrepresented communities. That is why we have urged the city to change the Discovery program to take into account children who are educationally disadvantaged by expanding eligibility without regard to qualifying for free lunch for children attending schools that currently send few if any students to specialized schools; because of segregated housing patterns this change would likely increase the number of black and Latino students qualifying for Discovery without penalizing poor students of all races who are being excluded because of the change.

But on another level, we are appalled that the DOE would initiate significant changes without adequate review and study. The city’s modeling was based on only looking at one year of data, which can undermine its accuracy. There should be more than “optics” in play when it comes to disrupting a system that is producing the highest-achieving high schools in the city.

This is not the first time that the DOE has misled the public on this topic. While the DOE claims replacing the SHSAT with a range of more subjective metrics will have no impact on student preparation for the college-level coursework required in specialized schools beginning in the ninth grade, the New York City Independent Budget Office just released a report showing that 500 students scoring below grade level on the state’s math assessment would likely be admitted to the specialized high schools under the mayor’s proposed changes.

The DOE’s hostility to the SHSAT knows no limits and apparently drives officials to suppress the truth whenever it is inconvenient to their view. This year saw the forced release of the DOE’s study done five years ago proving that the SHSAT was both a reliable and valid predictor of student performance at the high schools. No explanation has been offered for why they suppressed this information and kept it from the public.

But the major inconvenient truth the DOE continues to ignore is that demographic results of the SHSAT directly reflect the inadequate advanced academic programming (especially in so-called STEM subjects like science and math) it provides to most children in underrepresented communities. When that advanced programming was offered in middle schools in every district, demographics at specialized schools more closely mirrored the city at large. Once the city systematically eliminated those programs in black and Latino neighborhoods, those students were denied tools to let them succeed on the test and in the schools.

We know students from all communities can succeed on the SHSAT and in the schools when given the tools, since they did in the past. If the DOE would do the hard work of restoring Gifted and Talented and enhanced and accelerated coursework in every community, we could close the demographic gap at the specialized schools.

When government denies the truth and makes public policy on false assumptions, we get the worst of both worlds: effective change does not take place, and additional harm can result. It’s time for the DOE to face the truth and start doing something about the real problem. School system leaders can start by going to our Save the SHSAT website, where we have laid out just such a plan.

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Larry Cary, a Manhattan lawyer, is the President of the Brooklyn Tech Alumni Foundation.

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Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

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Enough DOE Deception Around Admittance to Specialized High Schools Tue, 05 Feb 2019 05:00:00 +0000
New Research Shows SHSAT Less Valuable Predictor Than Middle School Grades https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/7871-new-research-shows-shsat-less-valuable-predictor-than-middle-school-grades https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/7871-new-research-shows-shsat-less-valuable-predictor-than-middle-school-grades 40733222720 d03438bc0b z

Mayor de Blasio's announcement on specialized high schools (photo: Benjamin Kanter/Mayor's Office)


The recently-released Metis validation study of the Specialized High School Admissions Test has portrayed the SHSAT in a more favorable light than the facts warrant.

Although Metis found that SHSAT scores were correlated with high school grades, it did not investigate whether other factors might be stronger predictors. In my validation study, the most important finding was that seventh grade GPA predicts more than twice as much of the variance in high school grades (44%) when compared to the SHSAT, which predicted 20% in my study and 21% in the Metis study. This finding is critical to the current debate over the admission system at New York City’s Specialized High Schools.

Mayor Bill de Blasio, along with many advocates and civil rights groups, have proposed doing away with the test, with a three-year phase-out period where the test is used along with grades for admissions purposes. Their opponents have argued that allowing grades as a factor would dilute the quality of the students admitted and thus the quality of these schools, an argument that is rebutted by my analysis.

This study uses data supplied by the New York City Department of Education, including the 27,818 SHSAT scores from 2013, and grades for New York City public school students in that cohort.

The chart below compares mean SHSAT scores for students at Stuyvesant High School with their Freshman Grade Point average (FGPA) in different FGPA categories. Students with FGPAs below 75 actually had higher SHSAT scores than students with FGPAs from 75 to 85, while students with FGPAs of 85 to 90 had barely higher scores. Only the students with grades above 95 had much higher scores. This suggests that the exam does not predict very well for students with scores below the very top. 

stuyvesant mean shsat x fgpa

The next chart, which compares the same categories of FGPA by seventh grade GPA (GPA7) of Stuyvesant students, instead of their SHSAT scores, shows a much more linear relationship. Higher FGPAs were associated with higher GPA7 in a regular progression.

stuyvesant mean gpa7 x fgpa

As is well known, girls are admitted to the specialized high schools at much lower rates than boys. Below is the chart with the rates by gender for those students who took the test last year, when girls represented 51% of applicants and only 44% of those admitted.

school enrollment

A good study of predictive validity should address the gender bias of the exam. According to American Educational Research Association standards, the test user is “responsible for evaluating the possibility of differential prediction for relevant subgroups for which there is prior evidence or theory suggesting differential prediction.” Prior evidence with respect to the validity of the SAT suggests that possibility. Yet, the Metis study failed to do this, despite the fact that girls are under-represented in the Specialized High Schools.

In my study, girls had lower SHSAT scores than boys with the same GPA. For example, at Stuyvesant High School, girls had GPAs equal to GPAs of boys whose SHSAT scores were 6 to 7 points higher. The following chart shows that girls (red bars) achieved each FGPA level with lower SHSAT scores than boys (blue bars). Among students in 95+ FGPA group, girls (549) had mean SHSAT scores 16 points lower than boys (565). This chart helps explain why fewer girls are admitted to the Specialized High Schools than boys.

bar chart

The gender bias of the SHSAT parallels findings with respect to the predictive validity of the SAT. However, there is a crucial difference in how the scores are used. The SAT is only one of multiple criteria considered in college admissions, including high school grades, which enables admissions officers to take that statistical bias into account. In New York City, where the SHSAT is the sole admissions criterion for eight schools, girls with lower SHSAT scores than boys are denied admission despite the fact that they are expected to do as well as boys admitted with higher scores. It is clear that as the sole admissions criterion to the Specialized High Schools, the SHSAT is unfair to girls.

A variety of analyses were done to rule out the possibility that the under-prediction in girls’ grades resulted from differences in course selection. Because the under-representation of females in STEM majors and occupations has been a source of societal concern, it was of special importance to examine the relationship between SHSAT scores and girls’ grades in STEM areas, and to ascertain whether girls in New York City’s Specialized High Schools enroll as frequently and do as well as boys in challenging STEM courses.

Gender comparisons were done across different academic domains for all students who took the SHSAT in 2013 and subsequently attended New York City high schools. Similar comparisons were done for those who actually attended Specialized High Schools. Finally, analyses were done at Stuyvesant High School, which, because it is the most selective of the schools, might possibly have the most difficult courses. Overall, girls earned significantly higher grades than boys in each of these categories. At the Specialized High Schools, girls had higher mean STEM grades (89.6) than boys (86.7) and enrolled in STEM courses in proportion to their overall numbers in these elite schools.

Grades in specific courses offer the best test of the hypothesis that girls are less capable of succeeding in STEM subjects, and that the under-prediction of their grades by standardized tests such as the SHSAT is due to enrollment in easier courses. At Stuyvesant High School, girls, on average, earned better grades than boys in each of the ten specific STEM courses analyzed, including Geometry, Integrated Algebra, Biology, and Physics. In four of the ten courses, girls were represented in greater numbers than in the overall Stuyvesant ninth grade cohort. Furthermore, their grades were significantly under-predicted by the SHSAT.

In 2005, Lawrence Summers, then president of Harvard, suggested that the reason there were fewer women in STEM fields was their under-representation at the highest level of the distribution of ability in STEM subjects. Because one of the goals of the Specialized High School admissions process is to identify truly exceptional students, it is important to determine if the higher mean grades earned by girls in STEM classes were achieved without those extreme high-achievers. It would be possible for girls to have higher mean grades, but fewer exceptional grades. However, this is not the case. Girls represented only 42% of the cohort and only 41% of the top 3% of SHSAT scores, but in STEM courses they earned 50% of the grades of 95 or better, and only 30% of grades 80 or lower.

Why should females earn better grades than predicted by their performance on the SHSAT and SAT? Research has repeatedly shown that women do poorly relative to men on multiple choice questions. In addition to the SAT, this phenomenon has been found on a wide range of exams, including AP exams, placement exams, and the California State Bar Exam. One researcher attributed this to women on average being more risk-averse, and therefore not guessing as often as males, although guessing on multiple choice tests is often a useful strategy.

Because women often outperform men on constructed answer questions, it seems possible that multiple choice and constructed answer questions tap different competencies on which there are real gender differences. Constructed answer questions, particularly essays, may require multiple abilities, and may reflect a more complex understanding of material than do questions that require only the selection of a correct choice. If multiple choice and open constructed answer questions measure important, but different abilities, in the interest of fairness, exams should include both types of questions. Given that the purpose of the SHSAT is to admit a class with the greatest chance of success at school, it is apparent that the same metric cannot be used for boys and girls, and that the exam should be reformulated to include questions in different formats.

Our analysis also found that New York state exams were somewhat less gender-biased than the SHSAT, and somewhat more predictive of success in high school, perhaps because they contain more open-constructed answer questions, though again, 7th grade GPA is the most valid predictive factor for success at New York City high schools in general, including the Specialized High Schools.

A hypothetical admissions index was constructed weighting SHSAT and GPA7 by coefficients from the regression of FGPA. The index was then used to simulate admissions to the Specialized High Schools, resulting in the proportion of girls “admitted” rising from 45% to 62%, a difference of 716 girls. At Stuyvesant, using the index, the representation of girls increased from 44% to 65%, a difference of 177 girls. If GPA7 were the sole admissions criterion, the proportion of girls would have been 68%, a difference of 202 girls.

Use of this index would also have resulted in substantially different racial/ethnic proportions. At Stuyvesant, for example, an additional 10 African-American and 25 Hispanic students would have been admitted. Asian students, though reduced in numbers from 78% would still comprise 66% of those admitted. Similar shifts would occur in the entire cohort of students admitted to Specialized High Schools, with increases of 40 African-American, 209 Hispanic, and 205 white students. With 49% of the hypothetically admitted class, Asian students would still constitute the largest segment and would be admitted in numbers far exceeding their proportion of applicants (32%).

Because the hypothetical criterion predicts far more variance in FGPA than the actual criterion, with a smaller standard error of estimate, its use should not dilute the quality of the entering class. In fact, it might even result in a stronger cohort, while simultaneously increasing diversity and gender equity.

With changes to the SHSAT and consideration of additional criteria, it may be possible to select a group of students who will be more representative of the community the school system serves, and the pool of students who apply, without sacrificing the excellence for which New York City’s Specialized High Schools are so justifiably famous.

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Jonathan Taylor, Ph.D. is an educational research analyst.

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Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

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New Research Shows SHSAT Less Valuable Predictor Than Middle School Grades Thu, 16 Aug 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Fostering Feeder Schools Will Improve Diversity at the Specialized High Schools https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/7841-fostering-feeder-schools-to-improve-diversity-at-the-specialized-high-schools https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/7841-fostering-feeder-schools-to-improve-diversity-at-the-specialized-high-schools students

students (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)


The public education system in New York City remains one of the most segregated and unequally resourced school systems in the country, reflective of segregation and inequality in other areas of our civic life.

That segregation is starkly obvious in our specialized high schools. In a city where two out of three public high school students are black or Latino, it is unacceptable that they comprise only 10% of the student body across all eight of our elite high schools.

Much has been made recently of Mayor de Blasio’s plan to eliminate the Specialized High Schools Admissions Test, or SHSAT, from the admissions process. The plan is to replace it with a more holistic assessment of achievement based on students’ classroom grades, scores on state standardized English and math tests, and potentially other criteria yet to be determined. But the lack of diversity in our specialized high schools is not a function of the admissions process alone.

The city’s specialized high schools draw from just 21 of the nearly 600 public middle schools citywide. The two Brooklyn City Council districts that we represent factor into this discussion in important ways, and help us draw a path toward improvements to our school system and more diversity at our elite high schools.

Three of these 21 feeder schools are located in the city’s 43rd City Council District in south Brooklyn, with nearly a quarter of all students admitted to specialized high schools coming from School Districts 20, 21, and 22. The schools in these communities are exceptionally diverse, with a majority of students coming from first and second generation immigrant families -- white, black, Hispanic, and Asian alike.

District 16 in central Brooklyn, where schools are 77 percent black and 18.5 percent Hispanic, is a different story. There is not one feeder middle school in District 16, which decades ago had enhanced academics that sent hundreds of students of color to the specialized schools. In fact, until 2015, District 16 schools did not offer the advanced level courses and programming known as “gifted and talented.”

It took pressure from local elected officials forced the Department of Education to provide many majority-minority school districts access to the kind of enhanced academics that provide a pathway to the specialized schools. Despite representing over two-thirds of our public school population, black and Latino students make up only 27% of those enrolled in gifted and talented programs. But even now, the enhanced academics are poorly resourced.

To be sure, improving the admissions process to ensure greater diversity in our specialized high schools is critically important. Expanding access to a great education for minority communities already facing obstacles to their achievement is necessary if we are going to provide equality of opportunity for all New Yorkers.

High-stakes, standardized tests like the SHSAT are poor indicators of students’ potential for success. However, the test is not in itself the problem, and need not be eliminated in order to increase opportunity and diversity. But even with additional methods of assessment, the reality of unequal resources and underinvestment in certain schools would mean improving diversity at our elite high schools will still be a significant challenge.

When you consider that nearly 60% of the middle schools that sent students to specialized high schools were in districts that had gifted and talented schools that required a test for admission, it is evident how decades of unequal investment in enrichment for students of color might be the most significant contributing factor to the city’s problem of diversity in specialized high schools.

Barring state intervention, the students who receive a qualifying score on the SHSAT will continue to be those who have access to test prep and other educational enrichment that most black and Latino students do not.

Today, the National Society of Black Engineers offers test prep to youngsters in District 16 schools to prepare them for tests like the SHSAT. This programming should be expanded, not just to succeed on a test, but to teach how to succeed in life. We must give students enriching experiences that make them connect with learning and foster critical thought and engagement. And we have to do more to create parent awareness and interest in gifted and talented programming.

But it is not enough simply to offer gifted and talented programs and call it a day. The programming provided must be adequately resourced and targeted at the students who are currently underrepresented.

Our colleagues in the City Council agree that the city must restore the funding for enhanced academics in black and Latino communities. As recently as 1989, Brooklyn Tech, for example, was 51 percent black and Latino. As enhanced academics for high-potential students was eliminated in those communities, the percentages of students of color decreased to the point we are at today. We know students, whether in southern or central Brooklyn, can compete successfully if given the resources. They have done it before. They can do it again.

Ending the SHSAT without providing adequate funding and a commitment to educating all students equitably will do nothing to adequately resolve the lack of diversity in our schools, specialized or otherwise.

***
Robert E. Cornegy, Jr. represents the Brooklyn communities of Bedford Stuyvesant and Northern Crown Heights in the New York City Council. Justin Brannan represents Bay Ridge, Dyker Heights, Bath Beach and Bensonhurst in the City Council. On Twitter @RobertCornegyJr & @JustinBrannan.

***
Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

Note: this column has been corrected to reflect that in 1989, Brooklyn Tech was 51 percent black and Latino, not 67 percent as originally stated.

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Fostering Feeder Schools Will Improve Diversity at the Specialized High Schools Thu, 02 Aug 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Missing Pieces of the Discussion Around Specialized High Schools and City Education https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/7760-missing-pieces-of-the-discussion-around-specialized-high-schools-and-city-education https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/7760-missing-pieces-of-the-discussion-around-specialized-high-schools-and-city-education Mayor de Blasio education

Mayor de Blasio's announcement (photo: Benjamin Kanter/Mayor's Office)


On June 2, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced in Chalkbeat that he was urging the State Legislature to change the admissions system at the city’s eight specialized high schools, which relies on a single high-stakes exam called the SHSAT. Only 10 percent of students admitted to these selective high schools are black and Hispanic, while these students make up 67 percent of the overall public school population. This year, only 10 black students were offered admission to the city’s most selective of these high schools, Stuyvesant, out of 902 students admitted.

The Mayor and the Chancellor have proposed that admissions instead depend on a combination of a student’s school ranking in terms of grades and state test scores. In the meantime, before the state law is changed, de Blasio plans to expand the “discovery program,” a special program for disadvantaged students near the cut-off score on the SHSAT, to admit them into these schools after extra academic preparation.

As City Council Education Chair Mark Treyger later pointed out on Twitter, the entire effort was announced with little preparation; and ”key stakeholders were also not consulted” on something “dropped 11 days before the end of the [Legislative] session.” The proposal has aroused much controversy, and will not come to a final vote this year, as neither the Assembly nor the Senate was prepared to pass it so late in the session that just ended. Yet the issue will be surely be reconsidered again when the Legislature reconvenes next year, and the debate continues, including over what the City can and should do on its own.

Despite the fact that much ink has been spilled and emotions aroused since de Blasio made his announcement, several aspects of this hot-button issue remain under-discussed:

1. This move is long overdue. New York City is the only school district in the entire nation where admissions to any high school depends solely on the results of a single high stakes test. This was confirmed by Chester Finn of the Hoover Institute, a conservative education advocate who co-authored a book,“Exam Schools: Inside America’s Most Selective Public High Schools.” Advocates have made efforts for at least 50 years to open up the admission process to these schools and make it more fair.  The Hecht-Calandra Act of 1971 in New York, which specified that specialized high schools must rely solely on a single exam for entry, was passed in the first place in response to such a campaign. Bill de Blasio also promised to reform this admissions process  when he first ran for Mayor in 2013.

2. The reality is that relying solely on a single high-stakes test for admissions, grade retention, or any important decision in a student’s educational career is unfair, unreliable, and likely to have a racially disparate impact, as pointed out by the National Academy of Sciences nearly 20 years ago in its seminal report, High Stakes, Testing for Tracking, Promotion, and Graduation.

3. The SHSAT, produced by Pearson, is a highly peculiar exam that has never been independently assessed for racial bias. This was pointed out by Joshua Feinman in 2008, and confirmed more recently by the NAACP Legal Defense Fund in its 2012 Civil Rights complaint about the use of this exam. The results of this test also appear to be gender biased, as girls tend to score significantly higher on state exams and receive better grades, but score lower than boys on the SHSAT. (Girls were only admitted to Stuyvesant and Brooklyn Tech in 1969-1970.) The test is quirky in other ways and is scored to give extra points to students who do exceptionally well on the ELA or the math section – rather than those students who score well on both subjects. It also has poorly worded questions – see, for example, the first question in this sample exam.

4. The mayor could alter the admissions tests at five of the eight specialized high schools immediately – without any act of the state Legislature. Only Stuyvesant, Bronx Science, and Brooklyn Tech are named in state law. The other five schools -- Staten Island Tech, the High School of American Studies, the High School for Math, Science, and Engineering at City College, Queens High School for the Sciences, and Brooklyn Latin School -- were designated as specialized high schools by Joel Klein when he was city schools chancellor, and could be undesignated as such by Chancellor Richard Carranza.  All it would take is a vote of the Panel on Educational Policy at one of its monthly meetings. It is a panel made up of a supermajority of mayoral appointees. (The best explanation of how only three schools are mandated to use this exam was published in Gotham Gazette. While many other news outlets have gotten this fact wrong in the past, they have recently improved their reporting on this issue.)

5. Despite the huge amount of time and money many students invest in test prep for the SHSAT exam,  there is research to show that attending a specialized high school has little or no impact on a students’ future SAT scores, chances of enrollment in selective colleges, or college graduation rates – which in turn casts real doubt about the value of attending one of these schools.

6. Whatever happens to the admissions system at the specialized high schools, there are myriad problems with how admissions to New York City schools have been designed. Many schools utilize a complex and competitive application system overly reliant on test scores. This makes the process of admissions stressful to kids and their parents, and leads to excessive test prep. In many cases, admissions to middle schools are based heavily upon students’ scores on the 4th grade state exams, and 7th grade exams for high school. The state tests and their scoring methods have their own problems in terms of accuracy and validity. In addition, some New York City middle and high schools have developed their own special tests that they rely upon for admissions.

7. The competitive nature of this process worsened under Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Chancellor Klein. The number of high schools that admitted students through academic screening increased from 29 in 1997 to 112 in 2017, while the proportion of “ed-opt” high schools, designed to accept students at all different levels of achievement, dropped sharply. Even so-called unscreened programs actually do screen students, in covert ways. Moreover, the Gates-funded small schools that proliferated after 2002 initially barred students with disabilities or English language learners from their schools, prompting a civil rights complaint in 2006.

Most of these small schools also required prospective students and their families to attend special “open houses” in the evening, which also tends to box out families with the fewest resources. While  Bloomberg and Klein often bragged about expanding school “choice,” too often this has meant that schools make the choice, not students or families. There is something to be said for comprehensive high schools as exist in most of the country, where students automatically have a right to attend when they enter 9th grade and don’t have to compete to get into.

8. The method de Blasio now proposes to use for admissions at the specialized high schools would be to give preference to students at the top of their class in terms of grades wherever they attend middle school, as long as their state test scores are also good enough. Yet this method, based upon the admissions process at the University of Texas system, will likely only work to effectively integrate the specialized high schools if city middle schools remain largely segregated.  

9. Even if all New York City high schools became less stratified according to race and class, one would still be left with the biggest problem of all: too many elementary and middle schools are simply not providing the quality of education necessary – especially for students of color. This was revealed by city students’ recent results on the NAEP exams, which showed scores have stagnated – with the only significant change since 2013 being a seven-point decrease in the proportion of fourth-graders proficient in math. The achievement gap among racial and ethnic groups is also larger than ever, in 4th and 8th grade reading.

10. Class size reduction is one of very few reforms proven to work to narrow the achievement gap, and yet New York City class sizes remain excessive. In fact, class sizes have increased substantially since 2007, and are up to 50 percent larger than class sizes in the rest of the state. More than 290,000 New York City students were crammed into classes of 30 or more this fall. In the early grades, the number of first-through-third-graders in classes of 30 or more has ballooned by an amazing 3800 percent. Yet despite promises to reduce class size when he first ran for office, de Blasio has done nothing to accomplish this.

In January, Class Size Matters, along with nine New York City parents and the Alliance for Quality Education, brought a lawsuit versus the City and the State to require the Department of Education to lower class sizes in our public schools, as the state’s highest court deemed was necessary for students to obtain their constitutional right to a sound basic education. Our lawsuit will be heard in State Supreme Court in July. Whether the city’s public school students will receive an equitable chance to learn may depend on the outcome of this lawsuit, as well as the education policies pursued by Mayor de Blasio and Chancellor Carranza going forward.

***
Leonie Haimson is the Executive Director of Class Size Matters. On twitter @leoniehaimson.

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Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

Note: this column has been corrected to accurately reflect when the schools admitted girls.

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Missing Pieces of the Discussion Around Specialized High Schools and City Education Thu, 21 Jun 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Former Top DOE Official: Time to Move Beyond ‘Relic’ of Specialized High School Test https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7719-former-top-doe-official-time-to-move-beyond-relic-of-specialized-high-school-test https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7719-former-top-doe-official-time-to-move-beyond-relic-of-specialized-high-school-test Shael Suransky DOE

Shael Polakow-Suransky, right, with Carmen Farina (photo: Bank Street College)


Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a plan earlier this week to diversify the city’s elite specialized high schools through changes in admissions policies. The schools currently enroll very few black and Latino students, while, relative to their numbers in the larger school system, white and Asian students are highly over-represented.

De Blasio’s plan involves a first step of setting aside 20 percent of seats at these schools for low-income students whose scores fall just under the qualifying threshold, which the city can take on its own, as well as pushing for phasing out the Specialized High School Admissions Test (SHSAT) and implementation of a new admissions system based on state test scores and middle school grades, which requires approval from the state Legislature.

The mayor’s initiative was quickly met with both widespread praise and consternation. Supporters, including some educators and elected officials, applauded the administration for taking the first step in desegregating the city’s top high schools while some parents, elected officials, and alumni groups cried foul that the changes would be unfair to students who work hard to do well on the test, that it is a piecemeal reform that will largely punish low-income Asian students, and that it will exacerbate inequities in educational achievement.

In Albany as well, the mayor’s proposal was met with resistance and the state Senate looks like it may reject his push to scrap the SHSAT even if it is successful in the Assembly in the final few weeks of this year’s legislative session. Governor Andrew Cuomo, while acknowledging the problem the mayor is targeting, did not take a set position and predicted the issue would be taken up next year alongside a variety of other education topics.

Among those who are more full-throated in calling for change is Shael Polakow-Suransky, president of Bank Street College of Education, who oversaw the city Department of Education’s SHSAT contract as the DOE’s chief academic officer and senior deputy chancellor. After the mayor’s announcement, Polakow-Suransky tweeted that the SHSAT is “not a particularly strong or predictive test.” He said “a multiple measures approach” to admissions with both qualitative and quantitative data “is long overdue.”

Gotham Gazette spoke with Polakow-Suransky about the mayor’s plan, the problems with the current system, and the administration’s overall approach, or lack thereof, to school desegregation.

This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

Gotham Gazette (GG): What you think about the mayor’s plan? How is it going to work and what are the issues with the existing system?

Shael Polakow-Suransky (SPS): I think the biggest challenge here from my perspective is that the current system is missing a lot of talented children who have the right skills to be in these schools, but because we’re looking through a very narrow and pretty blunt instrument at who has those skills, we’re missing a lot of talent that could really strengthen these schools. So that’s a real shame and if the ideas of these schools is to take the most talented young people in the city and accelerate learning for them so they can be leaders, then we need to be looking for the best talent in the city and in order to find that, we can’t use an instrument that you need to game and we can’t use an instrument that only focuses on some narrow set of math and reading skills.

As someone who used to oversee the accountability office, one of my responsibilities was managing the contract with Pearson [the testing company] around this test and…we didn’t have as much money as we would have liked, and I think that’s still true, to spend on this and you kind of get what you pay for.

GG: To spend on the test?

SPS: Yeah. Tests are expensive and the quality of the instrument depends on how much you’re going to spend on it. And so this is a really basic one, like as far as tests go, it’s about as simple an instrument as you can create.

GG: So, what are the problems with it exactly? You’re saying it’s too simple?

SPS: I’m saying that the kinds of skills it’s measuring are the kinds of skills that you can measure through multiple-choice questions, and the content area it’s focused on are English and math. So it’s multiple-choice questions, there’s no writing. If you look at good exams out there today, there’s a combination of multiple-choice and writing and we aren’t looking at any writing. We’re not looking at kids’ problem-solving skills. We’re not looking at their ability to work with others. We’re not looking at their presentation skills. You know, those are the kinds of things you would see if you took into account the grades that they’re getting in middle school, references from teachers, they’re asked for writing submissions.

Any high-performing university, any high-performing private school, and most of the other high-performing screen schools in the city all look at a range of measures in order to find the best talent and we don’t for the specialized schools. We just look at this very narrow set of English and math skills that you can measure with multiple choice questions. And it leads to an inequitable outcome because we’re relying on the students who are participating in this test to kind of focus on how do they do well on this set of questions that this test is measuring, which is not really the right set of things that we should be looking for to find the best talent. And then people spend lots of money and lots of time doing test prep to get good at taking this test which doesn’t necessarily indicate that they’re great writers or great thinkers or great leaders.

GG: Have there been efforts to change it over the last couple of years?

SPS: There haven’t been meaningful changes. I think there have been small changes around the edges. But, nothing meaningful.

GG: Did you try to implement changes when you were there?

SPS: I didn’t because it wasn’t something that I could convince others was an important area of focus.

GG: Where was the pushback coming from?

I think the folks at the leadership level felt that this was something that had been in place for a long time and they didn’t really want to open this issue up. They were more interested in investing in trying to provide more supports for kids in middle school, which is also really important. I think there wasn’t major focus at that point.

GG: And by leadership level, you mean just the DOE or just in terms of the City Council, the administration? No one was pushing for it?

SPS: I mean I was working in the DOE, I can’t really speak to things beyond that, but this has been in place for a long time, and it’s a fairly new thing that people are seriously considering changing the state law.

GG: Mayor de Blasio’s plan, what do you think about it? Could it have been better? Is it a good first step?

SPS: I’m not sure what the right solution is. I applaud him for taking the issue on. I think trying to think about how should the state law change so that we can use multiple measures to find the most talented young people in the city for these schools is important. It’s important in order to have more diversity, but it’s also important to make sure that we’re really rewarding talent and not a narrow set of test-taking skills.

GG: Do you think in terms of the larger efforts to desegregate the city’s schools, is this a good first step, and what needs to happen next, in your opinion?

SPS: Well, I think the larger question on segregation is much more complicated than this small group of schools. I think that, if you look at the school districts in the city at the elementary and middle school level where there really is a lot of diversity in terms of different races, those school districts could pursue policies that allow for more choice at the elementary and middle school level that would increase diversity.

But, that is a process that needs to be negotiated in partnership with the local Community Education Council. It’s not completely up to the Department of Education and the mayor to change those zones that currently exist. It’s to include a process with the community and I think that’s happening in District 3 now. It’s happened in District 1. There’s efforts in District 15. But I think it’s that type of work that is needed in order to sort of move away from zones that completely track to where people live.

GG: What do you think of the resistance to the mayor’s plan?

SPS: I think that there are people who are afraid that they’re going to be winners and losers with this shift and they’re trying to protect their current status, which positions them with an advantage in the system. So any change is hard. The truth is that there are many, many other good high schools in the city that are not specialized high schools…so, the notion that these are the only places where you can get a good education is just ridiculous.

I think it’s sort of become a symbolic issue and symbolism is important and we’re a city that has a public school system and 70 percent of the kids in that school system are African-American and Latino. And it’s not right that we aren’t identifying this talent among the African-American and Latino students when we have schools like this that are meant to serve the most talented young people in the city. So, we need to figure out a better way to do it. And, I think with any change, there’s going to be a process where folks push in different directions and that’s part of the nature of making change in a large school system.

GG: Are there comparisons with other cities - is there a path that New York City could follow that some other cities have already done or are there similar issues?

SPS: Most cities have magnet schools like this. So, it’s an interesting question. I don’t know a lot about their admissions processes in other cities, but I do know in the private school world and I know in the university world, it’s very rare that you rely on a single test as a way to do admission for the elite programs in this country. There’s almost nothing left in the world that relies on a single test as the way the admission is granted. So this is really a relic. And, it’s a really blunt instrument to do it because it’s only measuring a really narrow set of skills. And so we’re missing tons of talented kids that could be great in these schools.

GG: What do you think of the mayor’s leadership in general on schools, on school segregation?

SPS: I think he’s moving in the right direction. I think it’s good that - I think it’s impressive that the new chancellor has decided to take this on and that he’s supporting him.

GG: People have been critical that the mayor didn’t take this up until his second term when it’s sort of politically safer for him to do it. And of course the new chancellor seems a bit more willing to take a line that’s not the same as the mayor’s. So, you think that’s promising?

SPS: I think they’re on the same page, actually. I think it is politically complex to do this well because if you force changes through the system that generates conflict in communities between parents or within schools, between teachers, that can distract from the education. And, so, you have to be really strategic and deliberate about the changes you make and to the extent that you can build support within communities and make the changes in ways that bring all stakeholders along, that’s the ideal. So, you know, I don’t have an opinion on the pace of this or when it’s happening, but I do think it’s great that we have a chancellor that wants to take on this issue and it’s great that the mayor is supporting him.

The only other thing I would say is that one of the things that a lot of folks who are lay-people, who don’t know the school system that well, think when they think about specialized schools is that these are the only good schools and the truth is that that’s not the case. I currently run a graduate school of education and as part of that we also have a lab school that is a K-through-8 independent school. And so our eighth-graders apply all over the city to the top schools, some of them private, some of them public. And for many really talented kids at our school, the specialized schools are not the right set because they have a fairly traditional education model with lots of direct instruction by teachers, very large schools, large classes, not great at personalizing the education to the individual child and so I certainly want folks to understand that these are wonderful schools for young people who thrive in that larger environment, but they’re not actually the best schools in the city. There are better public schools that exist that are doing much more innovative work and I think that we need to be thinking about this less from this being the sort of pinnacle of the school system and more in terms of this is one option within the school system that is an important option, but there are many other really interesting options as well.

***
by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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Former Top DOE Official: Time to Move Beyond ‘Relic’ of Specialized High School Test Wed, 06 Jun 2018 04:00:00 +0000
A Closer Look at This Year’s Specialized High School Admissions https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/7619-a-closer-look-at-this-year-s-specialized-high-school-admissions https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/7619-a-closer-look-at-this-year-s-specialized-high-school-admissions mayorsoffice brewer

(Edwin J. Torres/Mayoral Photography Office)


Critics of the test used for admitting students to New York City’s specialized high schools -- Brooklyn Tech, Stuyvesant, Bronx Science, and five others -- failed to properly assess this year’s test and admission results because they yearned for a more robust increase in offers to black and Latino students, when compared to the year before. The city had improved the test and increased outreach and free test prep, all efforts intended to redress their underrepresentation, but in a school system where more than 70 percent of students are from black and Latino families, just 10 percent of the seats in the specialized high schools were offered to students from those communities.

This disparity is unacceptable. But so too is a failure to properly analyze the test and admission results, and thereby call the city’s efforts a total failure and demand simply that the test be eliminated in one way or the other. Such an approach overlooks what is and can be done to help remedy the city’s decades of neglect in many of the schools serving black and Latino communities.

While a sudden turnaround was not to be expected, this year’s test results did show that as a percentage of all offers, there was a small increase in offers made to black students. In absolute terms, 207 black students received offers compared to 194 the year before. On the other hand, Latino admissions declined by 10, to 320 from the latest test. Because both white and Asian offers of enrollment declined this year, both absolutely and as a percentage of total offers made, it could be argued that these results potentially show an inflection point for black admissions. However, since the students self-identifying as “multi-racial” nearly doubled, to 128, and because the race of 419 others is unknown, it would be premature to make such a claim.

Also ignored by critics of the test, was any appreciation of the city’s contradictory efforts.

On the one hand, it increased free test prep. On the other, it changed the test, making it harder to prepare. While the Brooklyn Tech Alumni Foundation, which I head, supported changing the test to make it better aligned with what is supposed to be taught in our schools, and thereby mitigate against a test prep advantage, we shouldn’t entirely ignore this issue in our discussion of the latest test’s results.

Notably, while 450 more Asian students took the test this year, fewer were admitted this year than last in both absolute and percentage terms. Because the accusation has frequently been made that the test’s results are skewed because so many Asian students do test prep, the city’s effort to mitigate test prep advantages may well have worked. Since the city is again changing the test to be administered later this year, by, for example, including poetry, a fair and proper assessment of the city’s efforts may take a few more years.

Other efforts can and should be made. One step the city could take is to revamp the Discovery Program – a long-standing, if unused, program which lets “disadvantaged” students who fall just short of the test’s cut-off score get a second chance for admission. By a targeted redefinition of what “disadvantaged” means, focusing on the underrepresented schools and communities, more high-performing black and Latino students will have increased chances for success.

Another effort that should be adopted is the bill in Albany sponsored by Bronx State Senator Jamaal Bailey, a Bronx Science graduate, that mandates administration of a free and voluntary practice SHSAT, the specialized high school test, to be offered in sixth grade, with students receiving an analysis of test results to identify areas in need of improvement before the test is given in eighth grade. We give a PSAT for obvious reasons, why not a PSHSAT?

Alumni from all eight test-in schools believe deeply in increasing diversity at their schools, but believe just as deeply in keeping the test as the single criterion for admissions as an objective measure immune to the kinds of influence many more affluent white families use to gain entry for their children to better schools that use the kind of subjective criteria that Mayor de Blasio and others have said should replace the test. For example, the student body of Brooklyn Tech, which sits in the middle of Brownstone Brooklyn, is 80 percent students of color.

The decades of declining enrollment in specialized high schools experienced by the black and Latino communities correlates with the elimination of enriched educational programs at many of the elementary and middle schools in these communities. Today only 15 middle schools account for over half of the students in the specialized high schools; none are in black or Latino communities. A fair assessment of the city’s efforts simply cannot ignore the impact of decades of neglect by the Board of Education and its successor, the Department of Education.

Ultimately, the city needs a plan to promote the creation of pipeline middle schools located within the black and Latino communities of our city. This requires the creation of vibrant gifted and talented programs in the elementary schools and enriched coursework in the middle schools. The new chancellor would be well-advised to create such a plan.

At the same time, efforts to increase outreach, free test prep, reconfiguring the Discovery Program to enroll more disadvantaged students from black and Latino communities, among other measures, can help to promote more diversity at Brooklyn Tech and the other test-in high schools. Such efforts should be fairly and accurately evaluated, not skipped over in a rush to demand elimination of the test.

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Larry Cary is a Manhattan lawyer and president of the Brooklyn Tech Alumni Foundation.

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Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

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A Closer Look at This Year’s Specialized High School Admissions Tue, 17 Apr 2018 04:00:00 +0000
The Specialized High School Exam: A Flawed Test in a Flawed System https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/6678-the-specialized-high-school-exam-a-flawed-test-in-a-flawed-system https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/6678-the-specialized-high-school-exam-a-flawed-test-in-a-flawed-system classroom teacher board students desks

(photo: Kevin Caraballo for the DOE)


Every October, roughly one-third of the eligible eighth-graders in New York City -- between 25,000 and 30,000 students -- take the Standardized High School Admissions Test (SHSAT) for a chance to attend one of the city’s eight specialized high schools. Admission to these schools is highly competitive, and spots are coveted. While less than 20% of students who take the test receive an offer, 72% of those who are accepted choose to attend. Yet, despite being in New York City, where the overall student body is 72% black and Hispanic, students of color make up only 12% of specialized high school students, a number that is declining.

This is due to a flawed and exclusionary education system that negatively affects low-income students and students of color from their first day in the system. In New York City, the clear majority of students are assigned elementary schools that are within their zip codes. For many students of color, this means that they attend schools that face a myriad of problems, including: less funding and resources, less experienced and effective teachers and overcrowded classrooms. This, in addition to the various socio-economic problems that students from these backgrounds already face in their daily lives. Ultimately this results in students from these backgrounds having lower attendance rate, lower grades in key subject areas and lower standardized scores.

Next, because entry to middle school is based on those aforementioned metrics, low-income students and students of color are substantially less likely to attend honors or screened programs. Instead, these students attend schools within their zip codes, which face the same issues that elementary schools face. And, analysis shows that between 2005 and 2013, 88 middle schools, 76 of which were honors or screened, were home to 85% of total student offers to SHSAT schools. Demographic data further revealed that students from these schools came from wealthier, and largely white or Asian households.

In addition to the socio-economic advantages that students who enroll into these strong middle schools typically have, they also benefit from attending the schools themselves. Not only are these schools better funded, they also offer more comprehensive and rigorous curricula. Importantly, these schools also dedicate resources to informing students and parents about the SHSAT, and the high-school admissions process in general.

A natural consequence of attending one of these schools is that students and parents are both more likely to have heard of the SHSAT and students are more likely to be prepared to take the exam. It is here that the inequities in the system become reinforced, adversely impacting students in two key ways: first in deciding to take the SHSAT and subsequently, in earning the requisite admission score.

Yet, it would be a mistake to assume that the SHSAT itself is color- or income-blind. Analysis reveals a flawed exam. Like all standardized tests, critics argue that the SHSAT does not test for ability and potential.

Rather, the test is basically an indicator of income and narrow readiness more than anything. Parents who can afford to invest in expensive preparatory courses and high quality private tutors to give their children an advantage -- often added upon prior advantages. Test-prep companies and private tutors are keenly aware of how the test works and impart significant help. Two notable examples of this include:

1. The SHSAT’s decision to favor higher overall scores, rather than balanced ones. This means that a student with a score of 500 (with a score breakdown of 250/250) is viewed less positively than a student who scores a 501 (with a score breakdown of 399/102) – where the lowest score a student can get on a section is a 100, and the highest a 400.

2. In addition, students who prep generally take several simulated SHSATs under test conditions. Since the SHSAT is administered only once per year, students who receive this preparation are much more prepared, psychologically and otherwise, than those who are taking the exam without having practiced a simulation.

Criticisms of the SHSAT are not solely socio-economic. Two reports that examined the SHSAT found that “Students who receive certain versions of the test may be more likely to gain admission than students who receive other versions” and that “the SHSAT ignores widely accepted psychometric standards and practices.” Psychometric standards are evaluations that test for reliability and validity.

In addition, because the cut-off scores for admissions differ slightly from year to year, being accepted on the margins is largely a matter of luck. And finally, the SHSAT only tests for ability in math and reading, other key subjects, such as science and social studies, are not included.

Ultimately, the SHSAT, and the educational system that it sits within, is deeply flawed. Policy changes must be considered to make the system more equitable.

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Bernard Agrest is a recent graduate of the University of Edinburgh's MPP with a focus on education policy analysis.

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Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

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The Specialized High School Exam: A Flawed Test in a Flawed System Mon, 19 Dec 2016 05:00:00 +0000