Hunter College High School ignores calls for admission reform, plans to administer entrance exam this summer

Hunter College Campus School on the Upper East Side. (Photo via Wikimedia Commons)

The Upper East Side’s Hunter College High School will still administer its entrance exam this year, ignoring months of growing calls from students, alumni, and lawmakers to do away with the high-stakes test. 

Officials announced the decision to keep the test on Monday which will be given to incoming seventh graders on June 23. Normally, sixth-graders eager to attend the elite school sit for the exam in January but school leadership pushed back the test date due to the pandemic. 

In late January, close to 40 elected officials sent a letter to Hunter leadership and CUNY Chancellor Felix Matos Rodriguez–the public university system oversees the high school–urging them to suspend the test and revamp its entire admission process in order to increase diversity within the student body. 

The letter came after a renewed push in the city to scrap specialized high school and middle school admissions tests last year as a means of increasing diversity in elite schools and roughly a month after Mayor Bill de Blasio and former Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza issued admission changes to those schools. As a part of those changes, de Blasio said he would drop admission screens at selective middle schools this year and eliminated district-based admission preferences for high schools. 

Since Hunter College High School is the only public high school controlled by CUNY and not the city’s Department of Education it has been largely left out of the conversation concerning how to diversify city public schools. Hunter administrators are free to create their own admissions process and Public Advocate Jumaane Williams asked Matos and Hunter College President Jennifer Raab to use this freedom and create a “pro-diversity” admissions system instead of relying on one exam for admission in a letter also sent early this year. 

“In its mission statement, Hunter College High School states it ‘strives to reflect the city [it] serve[s] by admitting and educating a population of students who are culturally, socio-economically and ethnically diverse. We seek to serve as a model for combining excellence and equity, serving as a catalyst for change in New York City and the nation.’ I urge Hunter and CUNY to recommit themselves to that vision for the sake of our students and our city,”  Williams wrote in the letter. 

During the 2018-19 school year, Black and Latino students made up a combined 8.4% of the Hunter College High School student body despite Black and Latino students accounting for 70% of all New York City public school students. That same year only 9% of Hunter students came from low-income households, according to school data. 

The push from electeds came after months of urging from Hunter students, faculty, and alumni to address the school’s diversity problem, part of which they argue is perpetuated by making admission contingent on the results of a single exam. In June, students released a “call for diversity” addressed to Raab and Director of Hunter College Campus Schools Lisa Siegmann and protested its diversity problem with alumni outside of the fortress-like school last fall. But both CUNY and Hunter administrators have remained silent for months on the status of the school’s potential plans to improve student and faculty diversity. 

“We are committed to achieving a truly multi-cultural and inclusive student body, and HCHS is actively involved in a rigorous process to consider how to create an admissions policy to help us better achieve this goal. A variety of groups – including students, alumni, faculty, parents, teachers and administrators – are members of the President’s Task Force on Advancing Racial Equity that is considering different options to increase diversity,” said Siegmann in a  statement. “The Task Force is working with an educational equity consultant, who has had experience in urban school districts including Chicago and Charlotte.  Because this work is ongoing, HCHS will continue to use its admission test for this fall’s new seventh-grade class.”

Siegmann added administrators rolled out some changes to the admissions process this year. This year, families will be exempt from paying the Hunter’s $70 application fee, and applicants and 4th-grade state test scores will be used to determine if an applicant can sit for the admissions test. Traditionally, students must score in the 90th percentile in both the English and Math portions of their fifth-grade state tests in order to qualify for the entrance exam. 

“While we’re deeply disappointed with the route President Raab has taken for the 2021 process, we know that there is widespread support for reform in our community,” said Cristina Mercado, a freshman and a Hunter College High School. “Students, teachers, parents and alumni remain committed to making Hunter an equitable institution, which starts with admitting a class that reflects the diverse talents and experiences of students in our city. The fight does not end here.”