2018-06-06 / Editorials

Don’t Lower The Bar, Raise The Students

Absurdly the mayor and schools chancellor have announced a plan to change the entrance requirements for the city’s specialized high schools. Instead of keeping the Specialized High School Admissions Test—which historically has always been the gold standard for qualifying to attend the six elite city high schools—they want to make exceptions to the test, their purpose being to equalize the demographics of the specialized schools, specifically to increase the current low representation of black and Latino students at the schools. While we would love to see more black and Latino students—and those of any other group not currently represented—attending and excelling at the specialized schools, we do not believe making exceptions to the entrance requirements is the way to go about it. It in fact would be a disservice to students who may be ill-prepared for the schools, and perhaps a disservice to the other students. If students are to graduate from those schools, either they would have to be able to handle the curriculum, or the curriculum has to bend to suit them. We do not believe anyone would argue for the latter. It has been shown that students who can pass the test can do the work, period. Whether they have the work ethic and/or raw intellect, they always rise to the occasion and benefit from the highly advanced program.

We are absolutely opposed to a diluted specialized high school entry requirement, since the test has been a great measure of getting the best suited students into a Stuyvesant, Bronx Science, Brooklyn Tech or the other specialized schools. The test is not prejudiced against any race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, left-handedness or right-handedness—it doesn’t matter. These schools graduate students from all walks of life. The only requirement that matters is to take the test and get the score to get in. Changing the entrance requirement to factor other criteria defeats the entire purpose of specialized schools. Getting students prepared to do well has always been the winning formula, historically. In the real world, one has to be prepared and excuses won’t get one far.

If de Blasio and Carranza truly want to help the situation, they should invest in small class sizes in elementary and junior high school; have more gifted and talented programs; make prep classes widely available to all high-achieving students; make sure the schools are not letting children fall through any cracks. Instead of pulling the elite schools down, they should raise the quality of schools throughout the city.

If we want diversity we need to focus on preparing all students to do well in the test and in general. It seems as though the mayor and chancellor, rather than bite the bullet and improve the public schools by funding smaller classes and more test preparation, would rather take a shortcut, put on a bandaid that will, in reality, help no one. Eliminating the test is the same as eliminating the specialized high schools. It is akin to participation trophies which render the concept of trophies meaningless. It is an insult that says, “you, as part of a particular group, cannot keep up with the rest and need special provisions.”

Some junior high school students didn’t get the glowing grades in enriched schools, yet thrive at specialized high schools—why? Because some students are bored in an unchallenging environment in school, yet have the ability to excel in an environment where they are not bored, such as the specialized high schools.

It is disturbing that there is even any discussion after so many years of evidence that the test has no prejudice and clearly students who are qualified do well on the test, get in and graduate. Many of those very same specialized high school-admitted students are below the poverty line and are on subsidized lunch programs, etc. Further proof that it is not an economic issue either. They worked hard in school all along and also on the test preparation to get in.

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