By Clara Hemphill, Nicole Mader, Melanie Quiroz, and Laura Zingmond
Nearly 15% of New York City public high school students and about 18% of middle school students attend academically “screened” schools, where admission is based on student grades, test scores, attendance, an exam or admissions interview, or some combination of these factors. (These schools are separate from the elite City high schools using the Specialized High School Admissions Test, or SHSAT, as the sole basis for admission.)
In a school system troubled by intense racial, ethnic, and income segregation, these admission screens have become a hot-button issue. Some educators and activists believe that screens reinforce racial and social privilege and should be abolished. On assuming leadership of the system, City Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza, for example, described screens as “antithetical” to the mission of public education, although he has since modified that view.
“Screened Schools: How to Broaden Access and Diversity,” a new report by the Center for New York City Affairs at The New School, takes an in-depth look at secondary school academic screened admission.
It reveals a complex, nuanced picture. It clearly identifies instances where requirements included in admission screens severely and unfairly disadvantage the Black and Hispanic students who make up the overwhelming majority of the overall public school student population. On the other hand, however, the report also finds that:
More than half of students in academically screened public high schools are Black and Hispanic;
Some 60% of students at those schools are from low-income households; and
Two-thirds of screened-admission middle schools have majority Black and Hispanic student bodies.
In many cases, the report concludes, these academically screened secondary schools offer “islands of opportunity” for Black and Hispanic students in low-income neighborhoods. Further, the report calls attention to unscreened schools that also have impressive records of graduating college-ready Black, Hispanic, and low-income students.
New York City continues to grapple with the challenge of promoting racial and income diversity throughout the school system. A mayoral advisory panel has made preliminary recommendations to increase diversity in the City’s schools, and will publish a fuller report in a few months. “Screened Schools” contributes to this process, suggesting a range of practicable strategies for increasing both diversity and educational quality across the city. Unlike Mayor Bill de Blasio’s headline-dominating proposal to scrap the SHSAT, which depends on the doubtful prospect of State legislative approval, these strategies can be fully implemented by City officials. They include:
Removing screens at schools where they severely disadvantage Black and Hispanic applicants;
Carefully increasing enrollment at diverse and successful screened schools;
Replacing admission decisions based on ranking screened school applicants by test scores or grade-point average with a less arbitrary and fairer cutoff lottery approach; and
Expanding enrollment at successful unscreened high schools.
Percent of Black and Hispanic middle school students by district and school