Is the NYC High School Admissions Test Racially Biased?

09 Oct 2012

written by Carolyn

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Last week, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education, alleging systemic bias in New York City’s specialized high school admissions process. The complaint’s principal charge is that the Specialized High School Admissions Test (SHSAT) discriminates against black and Latino students seeking admission.

Admission to New York’s eight specialized high schools depends on a student’s performance on the SHSAT. The NAACP LDF complaint argues that “thousands of academically talented African-American and Latino students who take the test are denied admission to the Specialized High Schools at rates far higher than those for other racial groups.”  In sum, the NAACP LDF claims that because so few African-American and Latino students score well enough on the test to be admitted to the specialized high schools, the test is inherently unfair.

This reasoning can be too easily dismissed as circular and reductive. John McWhorter, in a recent Daily News op-ed, claimed low admission rates for black and Latino students has nothing to do with racism. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg was even less diplomatic. “Life isn’t always fair,” Bloomberg told theDaily News when asked about the complaint. “We’re not here about equal results. We’re here about equal opportunity.”

As a parent with a student in one of the eight specialized high schools, I believe the admissions process is both biased and flawed.  However, NAACP LDF’s focus on the test – and not the entire process – is misplaced.

According to a recent New York Times article about black students at Stuyvesant, the specialized high schools are far less diverse today than they were a decade ago.  My daughter’s school, Brooklyn Tech, currently is the most diverse of the specialized high schools, with 10 percent of the 5,332 students identifying as black — but, as the article notes, in 1999-2000, 24 percent of Brooklyn Tech’s students were black. The decline in black and Latino enrollment at the specialized high schools likely corresponds to the increased prevalence of SHSAT prep courses, one of the biggest factors determining student performance on the SHSAT.

(Read the rest on Dominion of New York)



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