The city is making significant changes to the middle and high school admission processes due to the coronavirus pandemic — eliminating the use of academic criteria to determine admissions to middle schools this year, but allowing it to continue at high schools, Mayor Bill de Blasio and Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza announced Friday.
The changes are meant to address complaints the city's admissions policies discriminated against Black and Hispanic students and led to more segregated schools.
"I think these changes will improve justice and fairness," de Blasio said. "But they'll also make the process simpler and fairer, particularly given what we're dealing with this year."
The mayor and chancellor argued that using screens at the middle school level was not possible when those students did not get grades or take state exams last academic year, in part because they are so young. Students applying to high school, they argued, had more data to draw from for screened admissions.
"I think the simple answer on high school versus middle school is, middle school just wasn't viable. There was no way to do fair evaluation with a screen this year. High schools, there's more factors to deal with for this year,” de Blasio said.
The controversial Specialized High School Admission Test, the sole criteria for admission to the city’s most prestigious public schools including Stuyvesant, Brooklyn Tech and Bronx Science, will remain in place and will be given in person in January.
Here’s a rundown of how admissions will work this year.
Middle schools will not use academic screens as part of their admission process this school year. However, middle schools will still be able to give priority for admission to students who live within the school’s community school district.
Keeping middle school screens would have meant admitting students based on their third-grade scores, and that’s the first year children take state exams.
“It's just not educationally sound. But we do have other data points for the high schools and that was factored into the decision,” Carranza said.
The removal of middle school screens is so far temporary — but the mayor hinted it could continue.
“This is clearly a beginning. And what I think is clear is that unfortunately screens have had the impact of not giving everyone equal opportunity. And this is not our future,” he said.
If a school has more applications than seats, students would be chosen via a lottery.
Students will be able to apply to middle school beginning the week of January 11; a deadline will be set for some time during the week of February 8.
Academic screens will remain in place for high school admissions. However, those screens typically use tests scores and grades a student earned in the last school year, and public schools did not give grades last school year, nor were state exams taken. Schools will instead be able to use test scores and grades from the year prior — so, a student’s sixth grade year, as opposed to their seventh.
Schools will now be required to post online the exact rubric they use for ranking students; and that ranking will be done by the Education Department’s central office, not the school.
In a significant shift, the city will eliminate the use of district geographic priorities for high school students, a process that had come under fire in Manhattan’s District 2.
The city eliminated “zoned” high schools under former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, allowing students to apply for high schools across the city. But some schools still gave preference to students who live within the same district where the school is located, giving those students a tremendous edge for admission. That means students who live elsewhere are often shut out of these schools — some of the highest performing, and often least diverse, in the city.
All other geographic priorities — some schools have priority admissions for students from the same borough, for example — will be scrapped in the next school year.
High school applications will open the week of January 18; the deadline for applications will be set for a day during the week of February 22.
Schools that require students to audition will this year use a virtual audition process.
SPECIALIZED HIGH SCHOOLS
The Specialized High School Admission Test will remain in place. While some proponents of the test feared the mayor would use the pandemic as a reason to scrap it, and some critics of it hoped he’d do the same, the test is required under a state law.
The exam will be given in person, but this year, instead of at designated sites around the city, it will be given to students at their own school to minimize their exposure to other children. Registration for the exam will open on December 21; it will close on January 15. The exam will be administered beginning on January 27.
Advocates for diversity in schools have applauded some aspects of the changes — like the end of geographic preferences — but also found the mayor’s announcement lacking. Meanwhile, on the other end of the ideological spectrum, some parent groups are criticizing the mayor for removing the screens, arguing children had worked hard to gain entry into the middle schools that formerly used them.
The chancellor argued those students hadn’t wasted their effort — nor had they necessarily worked harder than students in more difficult circumstances.
"There's nothing wasted in that effort and that'll yield lots of benefits later on in life. But we also know that these are public schools for all children in New York City, and that all children in New York City deserve the opportunity to go to schools anywhere in this city,” he said, noting that on top of that, many students have been directly impacted by the pandemic. "I just flatly reject the notion that a student that has lost somebody to the pandemic or a student whose parents don't have the option of working from home or a student who's lost their apartment because their parents have lost their jobs that, that student's working any less rigorously than the student who perhaps hasn't had to have those kinds of challenges during this pandemic."