Lawmakers Propose Change to Specialized High School Admissions

By Jonathan Zhou
Jonathan Zhou
Jonathan Zhou
Jonathan Zhou is a tech reporter who has written about drones, artificial intelligence, and space exploration.
June 9, 2014 Updated: June 9, 2014

NEW YORK—Members of the state Legislature announced a bill to reform the admission standards for New York City’s specialized high schools at the headquarters of the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) Monday.

State Sen. Adriano Espaillat, Assemblymen Ron Kim and Karim Camara, and UFT President Michael Mulgrew were there to promote the bill, which is sponsored by state Sen. Simcha Felder.

The bill would modify the admission criteria for specialized schools by giving weight to factors like attendance and GPA. Currently, an applicant’s score on the Specialized High School Admissions Test (SHSAT) is the sole determinant of admission to those schools.

Eight specialized high schools in the city currently use the SHSAT, including Stuyvesant, Bronx Science, and Brooklyn Tech.


The legislation aims to make the demographics at the elite specialized schools more representative of the city’s diverse groups.

“No one with real experience in New York City schools believes that out of roughly 52,000 black and Hispanic eighth-graders, only 28 are worthy this year of a Stuyvesant education,” said UFT President Michael Mulgrew.

Figures provided by the UFT on Monday indicated that not a single black eighth-grader was offered admissions to Staten Island Technical High School in 2014. When asked about the cause of the disparities, Mulgrew attributed the problem to lack of access to test preparation.

“It absolutely has to do with the ability to have test prep and students not knowing whether to sign up for admission to these schools,” he said.

“The exam is not logical in its organization. In order to be successful on the assessment, you have to understand how the test is graded. It’s not equally graded on ELA and math; you have to be successful on one part of it,” said UFT Vice President Janella Hinds.

Mulgrew later clarified that equal access to test preparation would not be an adequate solution, citing the superiority of holistic admission standards.

“Even if everyone had test prep, it’s not the right measure, saying that we prepped the child with the Princeton Review on how to do well on the test does not give us a true picture of that child’s true merit and academic ability,” he continued, “portfolio is much more powerful than individual test scores.”


Mulgrew refused to disclose specific admission criteria the legislation would entail, saying that the bill had to be passed first before specific proposals could be made.

“Albany would have to change the legislation to allow us to open up the criteria. Once they allow us to open up the criteria, by working with the State Education Department, we would set up the guidelines and guidance on how that process should be and exactly what the weight on each criteria should be.”

Mulgrew brushed off concerns about how the varying rigors at different schools make it difficult to compare GPAs, saying that the new criteria would not throw out standardized test scores entirely.

“That’s why it has to be a combination of the test, you look at the child’s academic record, you look at it all together,” he said.

Jonathan Zhou is a tech reporter who has written about drones, artificial intelligence, and space exploration.