Queens Borough Hall is the epicenter of the specialized high school disparity debate

Queens Borough Hall. Eagle photo by Christina Carrega

Queens Borough Hall. Eagle photo by Christina Carrega

By Victoria Merlino

Black and Latinx students account for more than two-thirds of the New York City public school system, but they account for roughly one-tenth of the students accepted into the city’s eight elite high schools.

The debate over how to integrate the city school system and ensure diversity at the elite high schools has focused on overhauling or eliminating the Specialized High School Admissions Test, which determines who gets into schools like Queens High School for the Sciences and Stuyvesant High School in Manhattan.

Tonight, Queens Borough Hall will be the epicenter of that debate, as lawmakers host the first in a series of public forums on school diversity and the SHSAT. Supporters and opponents of the SHSAT will demonstrate outside the building ahead of the event

Mayor Bill de Blasio proposed completely eliminating the SHSAT last June as a way to increase enrollment of black and Latinx students at the specialty high schools. Only 172 black students and 298 Latino students received offers for specialty high schools out of 5,000total students admitted in 2018, de Blasio wrote in a piece for Chalkbeat last year.

This year, the disparity was even more striking as the percentage of black, Latinx and multiracial students all declined compared to 2018. Only seven African-American students received one of the 895 offers to Stuyvesant. That accounts for less than 0.8 percent of offers.

De Blasio criticized the “fundamental illogic” of the high-stakes test and said he would offer 20 percent of specialized high school seats starting to economically disadvantaged students who “just missed the test cut-off,” in his Chalkbeat piece. He would advocate for replacing the test, which is the only basis of admission to the speciality high schools, he said.  

“Let’s select students for our top public high schools in a manner that best reflects the talent these students have, and the reality of who lives in New York City,” de Blasio wrote. “Let’s have top-flight public high schools that are fair and represent the highest academic standards.”

The proposal was condemned by groups across the city, especially in the city’s Asian communities. Students of Asian descent account for 51.1 percent of the students offer spots in the specialized high schools this year. Last year, Asian students received 51.7 percent of specialized high school offers. Asian students account for 16.1 percent of public school students.

Asian students also accounted for 30.7 percent of SHSAT takers, according to data from the city compiled by Chalkbeat. White students accounted for 18.2 percent of test takers, Latinx students accounted for 24.1 percent of test takers and black students accounted for 19.9 percent.

“The plan that the mayor announced last year was a racist plan. It’s racist because it deliberately excluded the entire Asian community,” Queens State Sen. John Liu told Sinovision earlier this month.

A majority of city residents seem to favor the plan, however, according to a Quinnipiac poll released earlier this month. The poll found that 57 percent of New York City voters would like to change the current specialized high school admissions process. About 26 percent of respondents favored the current one-test system.

Tonight’s forum will last from 6:30-8:30 p.m. in room 213 at Queens Borough Hall, 120-55 Queens Boulevard.