Last May, the Our Town partnered with the Amsterdam News for a special investigation of the Discovery Program, an initiative that had fallen by the wayside of the education system but was intended to increase the substantially low diversity levels at the city"s specialized high schools. Now, citing that investigation as part of his reasoning, Brooklyn Assembly Member Karim Camara will introduce new legislation to address the schools" admissions criteria, which he says are unfairly biased and don"t account for students who may not be good test takers but are otherwise up to the rigorous academic standards the schools require.
â€œA one-day measurement is not enough to decide the aptitude of a student, Camara said, explaining that his bill would simply make the schools use additional information when deciding their admissions lists.
The call to change the specialized high schools" admissions process has been echoing down education corridors for a while, as the numbers of black and Hispanic students have fallen to miniscule levels at the top two public high schools in the city, Stuyvesant and Bronx Science.
While black students make up 32 percent of all public high schools and Hispanic students account for 39 percent of public school populations, Stuyvesant had less than 2 percent black students and less than 3 percent Hispanic students in the 2009-2010 school year. Bronx Science had just over 3 percent black students and almost 8 percent Hispanic students the same year. The disproportionate numbers have been blamed on varying factors, but one that has been repeatedly called out is the inherent bias in standardized testing.
â€œWe"re not saying set particular quotas for any race. But I do believe that you will have a more diverse group within the schools, Camara said.
The fact that specialized high schools use only an admissions test to make up their student body stems from a 1971 law that was intended to discourage racial bias and make the schools open to all students at a level playing field. But the top high schools have since become less diverse, causing lawmakers to step in. State Sen. Adriano Espaillat, who represents part of the Upper West Side and Upper Manhattan, has committed to be a sponsor of the bill in the Senate.
â€œThe fact that only 5 percent of students at Stuyvesant and 11 percent at Bronx Science are either black or Hispanic highlights thatÂ we have more work to do to ensure that allÂ New Yorkers have an equal opportunity for aÂ prosperous future, Espaillat wrote in an email. â€œWe must expand educational access to students from all communities.
Camara emphasized that the bill, if passed, would not suddenly make the schools more diverse, nor would it take away the pressure and importance of the admissions test.
State Sen. Tom Duane, who represents the southern portion of the Upper West Side, also signaled his support.
â€œI have long believed that standardized test scores should be subordinate to more holistic and inclusive criteria in elite schools" consideration of applicants, Duane wrote in an email. â€œThese tests measure neither the passion nor the talents of all students to whom these schools should be made available.
Under the proposed legislation, the Department of Education would be able to determine what other factors the schools take into account and devise the new process in consultation with the schools.
Camara said he expects the bill to get bipartisan support, and that there will be at least one Republican senator sponsoring it.
â€œMost people agree that it"s reasonable to say that a standardized test should not be the sole deciding factor whether someone should be admitted to a high school's especially a public high school, Camara said.
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