New York City’s specialized high schools will have even fewer Black and Latino freshmen this fall as admission rates for those students have declined to 9% of all seats, the lowest rate of the past three years, the Department of Education said Thursday.
The drop in specialized school admission rates of Black and Latino students — compared to 11% last year and to 10.5% in 2019 — comes after fewer students this year took the Specialized High School Admissions Test that is the sole way of gaining admission to the schools, the DOE said, pointing to the pandemic and an exodus of 43,000 students from the system as factors.
Last year, 27,800 8th graders took the test, while 27,500 students took the test in 2019. This year, about 23,500 8th graders took the entrance exam and 4,262 received an offer to one of the specialized high schools.
Still, this year’s numbers add fuel to the fiery debate over whether the entrance exam for the specialized high schools, which include Bronx High School of Science, Stuyvesant High School, and the Brooklyn Latin School, has a discriminatory impact.
In a school system whose total enrollment, according to the DOE’s 2019-2020 data, is 41% Latino, 22% Black, 18% Asian and 15% white, the specialized high schools have grown disproportionately Asian and white over the past years.
At Stuyvesant High School, only 8 Black students and 20 Latino students out of 750 admitted students got in for this fall, compared to 493 Asian students and 152 white students, according to DOE data. At Brooklyn Tech, the country’s biggest high school, 64 Black students and 76 Latino students were admitted out of 1,607 freshman seats, while 844 Asian students and 499 white students were admitted. One Black student and 7 Latino students were admitted to Staten Island Tech out of 281 seats.
These trends have remained stubbornly consistent, despite the city’s recent efforts to boost integration by expanding free test prep and enrichment—for example, this year’s enrollment at Bronx Science was 7% Latino, 3% Black, 64% Asian and 23% white. The rates of Black and Latino students taking the test have also declined since 2018.
The city’s education officials have vocally opposed the admissions test, which is required under state law — during the early 1970s, the state legislature enshrined the tests into law amid a push to integrate Stuyvesant, Brooklyn Tech, and Bronx Science high schools.
Mayor Bill de Blasio has advocated for an expansion to the specialized high schools’ admissions requirements beyond the test, and in 2018 he proposed eliminating the test entirely in exchange for moving to admit the top 7 percent of students from across the city instead.
“Until the test is abolished, thousands of diverse, high-potential students will continue to face barriers to specialized high schools,” said Danielle Filson, spokesperson for the DOE, in a statement.
On Thursday, Chancellor Meisha Porter called the decline “unacceptable” and evidence that the test is broken.
“I know from my 21 years as an educator that far more students could thrive in our Specialized High Schools, if only given the chance. Instead, the continued use of the Specialized High School Admissions Test will produce the same unacceptable results over and over again, and it’s far past the time for our students to be fairly represented in these schools,” Porter said in a statement. “The State law that requires the City to administer the exam must be repealed so we can partner with our communities to find a more equitable way forward, and do right by all of our children.”
Tom Sheppard, a member of the city’s de facto school board the Panel for Educational Policy, is an alum of Brooklyn Tech and said he appreciated the education he received there.
“I definitely understand the benefits of our specialized high schools. I get it,” he said Thursday. “I just think that we have a system that is set up so that certain kids can’t get in.” Sheppard added that the process is “not normal, it just is not fair, by any stretch of the imagination.”
The de Blasio administration’s open hostility to the test has led to the DOE failing to inform students of free test prep opportunities, said Lucas Liu, a member of District 3’s Community Education Council and co-president of PLACE NYC which supports the specialized high schools. The admission test is not the problem, but rather the failure of adequate education to do well on the test, Liu said.
“If you provide the same quality education to all kids starting in elementary school, so when they get to middle school and they’re going to take that screening test, they’re ready,” Liu said Thursday. “But they don’t do that and they use the test to say it’s racist, versus the test is highlighting which students you’re not educating properly.”
Roberto Quesada, a tenth grader at Brooklyn Tech and an organizer with the youth-led advocacy group Teens Take Charge which is fighting to abolish the admissions test, said he was “horrified” by the data.
“It feels awful, but I’m also not surprised,” he said. “Many prestigious universities and high schools, across the country, and in New York City, use various factors in admissions besides a single exam,” he added. “Besides changing the exam, I think we need reforms in elementary and middle schools,” including more equitable funding for schools in Black and Latino communities.
The upshot of the fury over the admissions process has meant a lonely time for Quesada at Brooklyn Tech, he said: “There’s a lack of students who look like me or share cultural roots.”