State Sen. Leroy Comrie of Queens has proposed legislation that would expand free test prep for the specialized high schools admissions test to all 6th and 7th graders in city public schools and would establish gifted and talented programs in each school district to increase the number of black and Latino students accepted to the elite schools—but education experts believed the planned reforms would not shake things up enough.
The bill, introduced less than a week before the State Legislature adjourned for the year, pushes back against Mayor de Blasio’s controversial plan to eliminate the test required to gain entry to the eight elite schools in order to diversify them. Although black and Latino students make up about 70 percent of public high-school students, they comprise just 10 percent of students at the specialized high schools.
Mayor’s Bill Stalled
The Legislature would have to approve the elimination of the test used for Stuyvesant, Brooklyn Tech and Bronx High School of Science. Although the Mayor’s plan hasn’t received widespread support among legislators, the Assembly’s Education Committee voted 16-12 June 17 in support of the bill effecting those changes.
Mr. Comrie wants to create 10 additional specialized high schools, since currently there are just 15,000 spots for 360,000 high school students. The bill would also establish a commission on middle-school achievement that would make recommendations for improvement.
To counter the problem that only a small number of black and Latino students take the exam, the proposal would require the test for all eighth-graders unless their parents opt-out.
The Education Equity Campaign, founded earlier this year, opposes scrapping the test in favor of these reforms.
“Students in every district deserve access to early age [Gifted & Talented programs], publicly funded test prep and a specialized high school close to where they live. That is exactly how we fix this problem,” said the group’s head, Kirsten John Foy, who served as Director of Intergovernmental and Community Affairs to Mr. de Blasio when he was Public Advocate.
Expert: Won’t Be Enough
But Aaron Pallas, chair of the Department of Education Policy and Social Analysis at Teachers College, Columbia University, argued that increasing how much test prep students received wouldn’t make much of a difference.
“Test prep doesn’t matter as much as the cumulative education experiences students have from the time they enter school,” he said.
David Bloomfield, a Professor of Educational Leadership, Law, and Policy at Brooklyn College, argued that the plan doesn’t expand tutoring enough to substantially change who gets into these schools.
“Many children are going to test prep for many more hours and years than the DOE would provide. Joining the tutoring arms race is going to probably be a losing battle,” he said.
And the fundamental problem with the bill, Mr. Pallas argued, was that it upheld the SHSAT as the be-all and end-all for determining which students should get admitted.
Add Other Criteria
“The bill still treats the test as the one appropriate way for kids to get into the specialized high schools,” he said. “I would like a lot more attention paid to having more diverse admissions methods without necessarily watering down the standards. There’s a resistance to believing that other criteria can compete with test scores.”
He believed that more research needed to be done to determine whether the admissions exam accurately gauged student performance.
“For such far-reaching consequences, we really don’t know much about it,” Mr. Pallas said.
One study of the exam by Jonathan Taylor, a Research Analyst at Hunter College, analyzed the 7th and 9th grade GPAs of the 22,576 students who took the test in 2013. His research concluded that although there was a relationship between the specialized admissions exam and high-school performance, middle-school grades were a far-better predictor of achievement.
Mr. Bloomfield was more doubtful about the exam’s merits.
“The test isn’t a good measure of giftedness. Part of the flaw of the test is that it is so highly tutorable,” he said, calling the proposed legislation a “distraction” that “doesn’t meet the needs of students.”
Will Baskin-Gerwitz, a spokesman for the Mayor, said that he remained “focused on working hand in hand with allies in Albany to pass real reform that accomplishes the goal of eliminating the SHSAT.”
“Mayor de Blasio and education experts have been clear: a single test on a single day shouldn’t determine any child’s future,” he added.
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