Directing their fury at Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza on Wednesday, parents and Asian-American groups said the city's plan to scrap the admissions test for elite high schools amounts to racism.
WHAT IS THE SPECIALIZED HIGH SCHOOL ADMISSIONS TEST?
Students in eighth or ninth grade who want to apply to one of the city's eight specialized high schools — Bronx High School of Science, Brooklyn Latin School, Brooklyn Technical High School, High School for Math, Science and Engineering at City College, High School for American Studies at Lehman College, Queens High School for Sciences at York College, Staten Island Technical High School, and Stuyvesant High School — must take the exam.
The 180-minute test scores potential students based on English Language Arts and math. Test-takers are then ranked based on their scores for the number of questions they answer correctly. If admitted, the student is assigned to a specialized high school based on how he or she ranked the school on the application, the priority the student assigned to the school, and the seats available.
Tens of thousands of students apply to the schools every year for 5,000 seats.
HOW IS THE CITY TRYING TO CHANGE ADMISSIONS POLICIES?
State Assemblyman Charles Barron has introduced a bill to get rid of SHSAT.
Instead of one test, schools would move toward a system that ensures the top seven percent of students from every middle school in the city gets a spot at a specialized high school.
Barron urged the public to pressure their state elected officials to vote for it.
More immediately, the mayor said the city is taking action on its own by expanding a program, the Discovery Program, to help low-income students gain entry to these top high schools. 20 percent of seats at specialized high schools will be set aside for students from high-poverty middle schools who fall slightly short of the admissions test cut-off.
"Now, a disadvantaged student who is just a point or two shy of the cut-off won't be blocked from a great educational opportunity," the mayor wrote in an op-ed in the education website Chalkbeat.
The specialized high schools rely solely on SHSAT to admit students every year. The cut-off for admissions varies from school to school.
De Blasio has always said that, philosophically, he has been opposed to the way the specialized high schools chose their students, but this the first time the mayor has presented an actual plan to scrap SHSAT.
The mayor called the exam flawed and pointed to socioeconomic barriers — such as families not being able to afford tutors or test preparation courses — putting students from poorer families at a disadvantage in their efforts to be admitted to the specialized schools.
De Blasio said he's pushing the change now, in part, because he is expecting Democrats to win control of the New York state Senate in November.
The mayor said he is not sure if the legislation would pass in the current state legislature session, which ends at the end of the month, but he said he is hoping the next one would take up the issue.
THE ISSUE OF SEGREGATION
Using students' middle school rankings as the basis for admissions would allow more students across the city to be represented — more than half of the students that are admitted to the specialized schools come from just 21 middle schools.
Nearly 70 percent of public school students in the city are black and Latino, but just ten percent gain access to the city's top high schools.
Stuyvesant High School, for example, is welcoming 900 new freshmen in September; just 10 of those students will be black.
But Asian students say his proposal would end up denying them admission.
Asian students make up about 16 percent of the school system, but about 52 percent of those accepted to the eight schools. At Stuyvesant, three out of four students are Asian.
State lawmakers have said in the past that they do not want to change the test. They have listened to alumni interest groups from the schools and have said that the exam is the fairest way to determine who should be admitted.
The powerful alumni groups from the specialized high schools have successfully lobbied for decades to keep SHSAT. Some have argued that opening up admissions at the specialized schools would weaken them.
De Blasio has said that argument is un-American.
PROTESTS IN SUNSET PARK
The controversy brought protestors to a regularly scheduled town hall with the chancellor at P.S. 24 in Sunset Park.
"Carranza must go! Carranza must go!" they chanted.
"It's unfair! We oppose it because you are against all Asian people!" one protester said.
Carranza defended the proposal. "In a public school system, there has to be as wide an opportunity as possible for students to have an opportunity," he said.
Parents opposed to the mayor's plan say the current system is fair.
"For us, we always put education as our first priority," one said.
"Just exactly like when you're doing Olympic running game, how fast is how you measure it, and you can't say, 'Oh, because black people run raster and it's not fair to another race,'" one protester said.
But the chancellor has said one test cannot accurate measure a student's ability.
"You name any elite university within the United States, you will not take a single test to get admitted — in fact, you won't be admitted, it's multi-dimensional," Carranza said.
Some parents support the plan. "Just face it: The test is racist!" some protested.
"Right now, it's the black and Latin students who are shunted off to their neighborhood schools in disproportionate numbers, and Asian and white students are in the specialized high schools in disproportionate numbers," one man said. "So that's not fair, and you can't make the argument that a baby step is bad."
Opposed parents say education officials should focus on fixing kindergarten through eighth grade. Carranza responded by saying officials are already doing much of that work improving those grade levels.