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Schools Confront Challenge of Increasing Black Students' Access to Specialized High Schools

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TWC News: Two Middle Schools Discuss Effectiveness Of Specialized High School Test Prep Courses
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The city's specialized high schools have more in common than their reputation as being among the best, but across the board, they have few students who are black or Hispanic. Last fall, a federal discrimination complaint put pressure on the city to remedy that, but this year, the results were even worse. NY1's Lindsey Christ revisited two middle schools that tried to change the odds.

Fahari Academy spent thousands of dollars to give its eighth graders access to special classes to prepare for the city's specialized high school exam. Twenty-five of them studied six hours per week after school and on weekends. Three got in.

Nearby Explore Charter School made a similar investment: hosting a free course for eight students and connecting many others to outside prep. Two scored high enough to get offers.

"It was a learning process for us," said Lauren Pizer, who is involved with high school placement at Explore Charter. "We selected students, we put them in the test prep program, we monitored their progress every week and we saw how they were doing, and we saw that their scores did increase."

The students whose scores increased enough to earn them a spot at one of the eight elite schools said the prep programs made the difference.

Melanie Adams was one of just nine black students who got into Queens High School for the Sciences.

"Before I took the course, I looked at the practice test, and I didn't know half of the things that were in there," she said.

Terell Williams is going to Brooklyn Latin.

"The practice test, the first test that we took, I scored a, I think it was a 302 on it," he said. "I scored a 477 on the test."

Of the nearly 6,000 black students who took the test this year, just four percent scored high enough to get into one of the schools. Of the Asian students who took the test, 35 percent got in.

In October, Jhevanae Langley told NY1 she'd just learned that the specialized high schools existed. She now has an offer from Brooklyn Latin. Why does she think so many other black students didn't get in?

"I'm one of the few that actually got the opportunity to take the test, that knew about the test and got test prep," she said.

Even with preparation, most students from the two schools didn't score high enough.

"I'm just thinking about what we can do next year," said Janelle Miller, a counselor at Fahari Academy. "I think that without the test prep, our kids wouldn't have been able to do as well as they did on the exams, and I know there are other places that kids are prepping for years, from sixth grade on."

There are other selective schools that don't rely entirely on the test, and students at both Explore and Fahari were admitted to some. But winning spots at schools like Stuyvesant or Bronx Science remains a challenge.

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