Bill de Blasio NYC Segregation Testing

New York City: Pandemic Leads de Blasio to Drop Screens for Middle School Admissions

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Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that middle schools will drop their screens–e.g., test scores, grades, etc.–for admissions and will choose students by lottery if they have more applicants than places. The administration of Michael Bloomberg and Joel Klein eliminated zoned neighborhood high schools and middle schools and introduced screens for admission; about 40 percent of the city’s middle schools have selective admissions. The Mayor and Chancellor Richard Carranza are taking advantage of the pandemic–which caused the cancellations of last year’s state tests–to turn the situation into an opportunity to promote racial integration in the city. New York State has the most segregated public schools of any state in the nation, according to the latest report from the UCLA Center on Civil Rights, which says “New York is the most segregated state in the country for Black students. The average Black student in New York attends a school with only 15% White students and 64% of Black students are in intensely segregated schools with 90-100% non-White students. While New York is the most segregated, Illinois, California, and Maryland and others also have extreme segregation levels.” Segregation and admissions tests are correlated.

Jillian Jorgensen of NY1 explains how the changes would work.

The city is making significant changes to the middle and high school admission processes due to the coronavirus pandemic — eliminating the use of academic criteria to determine admissions to middle schools this year, but allowing it to continue at high schools, Mayor Bill de Blasio and Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza announced Friday. 

The mayor and chancellor argued that using screens at the middle school level was not possible when those students did not get grades or take state exams last academic year, in part because they are so young. Students applying to high school, they argued, had more data to draw from for screened admissions. 

“I think the simple answer on high school versus middle school is, middle school just wasn’t viable. There was no way to do fair evaluation with a screen this year. High schools, there’s more factors to deal with for this year,” de Blasio said.

The controversial Specialized High School Admission Test, the sole criteria for admission to the city’s most prestigious public schools including Stuyvesant, Brooklyn Tech and Bronx Science, will remain in place and will be given in person in January.

Here’s a rundown of how admissions will work this year.

MIDDLE SCHOOLS

Middle schools will not use academic screens as part of their admission process this school year. However, middle schools will still be able to give priority for admission to students who live within the school’s community school district.

Keeping middle school screens would have meant admitting students based on their third-grade scores, and that’s the first year children take state exams.

“It’s just not educationally sound. But we do have other data points for the high schools and that was factored into the decision,” Carranza said.

The removal of middle school screens is so far temporary — but the mayor hinted it could continue.

“This is clearly a beginning. And what I think is clear is that unfortunately screens have had the impact of not giving everyone equal opportunity. And this is not our future,” he said.

If a school has more applications than seats, students would be chosen via a lottery.

Students will be able to apply to middle school beginning the week of January 11; a deadline will be set for some time during the week of February 8.

HIGH SCHOOLS

Academic screens will remain in place for high school admissions. However, those screens typically use tests scores and grades a student earned in the last school year, and public schools did not give grades last school year, nor were state exams taken. Schools will instead be able to use test scores and grades from the year prior — so, a student’s sixth grade year, as opposed to their seventh.

Schools will now be required to post online the exact rubric they use for ranking students; and that ranking will be done by the Education Department’s central office, not the school.

In a significant shift, the city will eliminate the use of district geographic priorities for high school students, a process that had come under fire in Manhattan’s District 2.

The city eliminated “zoned” high schools under former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, allowing students to apply for high schools across the city. But some schools still gave preference to students who live within the same district where the school is located, giving those students a tremendous edge for admission. That means students who live elsewhere are often shut out of these schools — some of the highest performing, and often least diverse, in the city.

All other geographic priorities — some schools have priority admissions for students from the same borough, for example — will be scrapped in the next school year.

Eliza Shapiro of the New York Times writes:

New York is more reliant on high-stakes admissions screens than any other district in the country, and the mayor has for years faced mounting pressure to take more forceful action to desegregate the city’s racially and socioeconomically divided public schools. Black and Latino students are significantly underrepresented in selective middle and high schools, though they represent nearly 70 percent of the district’s 1.1 million students.

But it was the pandemic that finally prompted Mr. de Blasio, now in his seventh year in office, to implement some of the most sweeping school integration measures in New York City’s recent history. They will be, by far, the mayor’s most significant action yet on integration.

With many schools shuttered, grading systems altered and standardized testing paused since the spring, the metrics that dictate how students get into screened schools have largely disappeared. That has made it next to impossible for many schools to sort students by academic performance as they have in previous years…

The changes, which will go into effect for this year’s round of admissions, will affect how about 400 of the city’s 1,800 schools admit students, but will not affect admissions at the city’s specialized high schools or many of the city’s other screened high schools.

Mr. de Blasio and his successor will no doubt face pressure to integrate those schools, which are among the most racially unrepresentative in the system. But integrating specialized and screened high schools has long been considered a third-rail in the district, and changes made there would no doubt be highly contentious.

The city will eliminate all admissions screens for middle schools for at least one year, the mayor will announce. About 200 middle schools, or 40 percent of all middle schools, use metrics like grades, attendance and test scores to determine which students should be admitted. Now those schools will use a random lottery to admit students.

Selective middle schools tend to be much whiter than the district overall. Mr. de Blasio is essentially piloting an experiment that, if deemed successful, could permanently lead to the elimination of all academically selective middle schools.

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