Every January, hundreds of 6th graders flock to the Upper East Side to take a test for which only the city’s brightest qualify. While students at Hunter College are on winter break, the middle schoolers take over their classrooms with just one goal in mind: to qualify for one of 200 seats at nearby Hunter College High School, which spans grades 7-12.
However, according to the school’s admissions department, fewer students have been coming to take the exam in recent years. Between 2005 and 2007, the number of test takers decreased by almost 15 percent.
“We would normally have about 2,000 to 2,200 show up for the exam and that number fell to just above 1,500 last year,” said Lindy Uehling, Hunter College High School’s director of admissions.
Both public and private school students can qualify for the exam at Hunter College High School, a tuition-free laboratory school created by CUNY and governed by Hunter College that is geared toward intellectually gifted students and considered one of the city’s best. Though bound by state and some city regulations, the school is not directly accountable to the city’s Department of Education. Prospective
students, however, must be New York City residents and be enrolled in a local school. More importantly, students must have scored in the 90th percentile on their 5th grade state reading and math exams. The only entry year for the high school is 7th grade.
According to Uehling, several recent policy changes appear to have indirectly and unintentionally caused the decline. One is the shift from citywide to statewide exams in the 5th grade. The state exam, Uehling explained, is “not as differentiating as the citywide test used to be”—a feature that becomes particularly problematic when trying to sort out differences on the upper end of the spectrum. Although New York City students have been doing better on statewide exams on average, “the number of students in the top 10th percentile have been declining,” Uehling said, and that’s where Hunter College High School gets its candidates.
Another change is the new emphasis on test scores for public school funding. Some public middle schools “may not want to lose their best-scoring students,” Uehling said. Other guidance counselors simply may not be aware of the opportunity.
Earlier this year, Hunter College High School mailed informational packets with registration materials to all 6th grade schools, and Uehling said that many are eager to help notify students who qualify for the test. The high school suggests that parents contact the principal or guidance counselor at their child’s school for more information. Principals, guidance counselors and parents can also call the high school directly at 212-860-1261.
The Department of Education said it has not heard of schools failing to notify qualifying students about the Hunter College High School exam.
“Hunter College is one option for our most talented students. There are many, many selectively screened high schools, such as the nine specialized schools that continue to get far more applications than there are seats,” said Andrew Jacob, a department spokesperson.
In order to stop the decline in potential students, Hunter College High School’s admissions department is looking for different ways to inform students and parents about the program. Although previously dependent on middle schools to notify qualifying students, for the first time the school posted its application and fee waiver (the test has a $65 administrative fee) online, at www.hchs.hunter.cuny.edu. The admissions department also plans to translate the documents into different languages for students with parents who do not speak English.
Ultimately, the school says its goal is not to place blame for the decline but to find ways to stop it and to help more families learn about the opportunity. This year’s application deadline is Wednesday, Nov. 12 at 4 p.m., and the test is scheduled for Friday, Jan. 9, 2009.
“The kids who sit for the exam as a pool are an exceedingly strong pool. In fact, it makes you wish there were more Hunters, because often middle school is where these kids become disenchanted,” Uehling said. “What is sad for us is that students who might have qualified to come to this school for the next six years don’t know about the opportunity.”
Students Eligible for Hunter College HS Exam
Students Who Actually Took the Exam
2008: Anticipating 1,310 public school candidates
Source: Hunter College High School
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