Specialized High School Admissions Test would be preserved in new bill

A new bill that would expand gifted and talented programs as well as preserve the Specialized High School Admissions Test is touted on the steps of City Hall Tuesday.
A new bill that would expand gifted and talented programs as well as preserve the Specialized High School Admissions Test is touted on the steps of City Hall Tuesday. Photo Credit: AFP Photo / Courtesy of PIX11 News

Three lawmakers unveiled a bill on Tuesday they say will diversify the city’s specialized high schools without tossing out the controversial entrance exam.

State Sen. Tony Avella joined Assemblyman William Colton, City Councilman Robert Holden and Asian-American community leaders to rally for the bill, which would boost the number of gifted and talented programs in city schools.

The mayor’s proposal to eliminate the entrance exam, which was announced in early June, highlights the need to improve racial diversity for especially black and Latino students in the eight specialized high schools. However, opposing voices, many representing Asian-American communities, have criticized the plan, saying it pits lower-income minority communities against each other.

“While New York City schools are built with some of the brightest students in the country, unfortunately too often the schools they attend do not have the proper programs to challenge them and develop their skills,” Avella said at a news conference outside City Hall. “As many in our city are calling for a decrease in the specialized high school test, today I call for an increase in the educational quality we provide to our children.”

But the de Blasio administration and the city’s Department of Education said gifted and talented programs are already widely available.

“We’re laser-focused on making specialized high school admissions fairer for all New Yorkers, and we’re confident that getting rid of this arbitrary test will strengthen our schools,” Jaclyn Rothenberg, a spokeswoman for de Blasio, said in a statement. “Through our broader Equity and Excellence for All agenda, we’re investing in high-quality elementary and middle schools, and we’ve added Gifted and Talented classes so that there is an option in every district.”

The lawmakers said their legislation goes a step further. If approved, the bill would mandate that all elementary and intermediate schools with four or more classes per grade have an advanced class for the top performing students who gain entry via academic credit.

It would also ensure that all elementary and intermediate districts have at least one gifted and talented program.

Colton, a former teacher, said during his 11-year career he taught just two gifted and talented classes.

“We have to stop looking for political schemes in order to solve real educational problems,” Colton said. “Because when you play political schemes, what you do is, you hurt children. You hurt children who are passing the SHSAT right now because you are denying them of an opportunity they have earned through their hard work. But you also hurt the children who could be passing that test if they were given the proper preparations.”

David Lee, who founded Coalition EDU — a group that strives to educate communities on issues related to NYC public schools while protecting the SHSAT — noted that when the gifted and talented programs began to be dismantled in the 1990s, there was a drop in the attendance and enrollment of minority groups.

President of Chinese American Citizens Alliance Wai Wah Chin said that none of the minority groups are being overrepresented.

“I’m not going to say overrepresented, because none of the groups will ever be overrepresented,” Chin said. “They are represented . . . by their merit. The idea that we should be facing is how do we elevate everybody so that they have a chance so you don’t change the rules of the test or entry — you change the abilities of everybody to join.”