New York City has a peculiar high school admissions system. To gain admission to the city’s five most elite high schools, one must excel on a highly competitive examination called the Secondary High School Admissions Test. Nothing else counts but that one score on one test. I am not aware of any selective institution in the nation that relies on only one score for admission.

Every year, the media reports with shock how few Black and Hispanic students were admitted. This year may have been the worst yet. Only seven Black students were offered a place of 895 admitted to StuyvesantHigh School. Last year, it was 10. Valerie Strauss wrote about the results:  “For 2019, Stuyvesant offered admissions to 587 Asian students, 194 white students, 45 of unknown race or ethnicity, 33 Latino students, 20 multiracial students and nine Native Americans.”

At the meeting of the Jackson Heights Parents for Public Schools on March 16, the discussion of the specialized high schools became heated when a debate erupted between parents who said the exam was exclusionary and racist, and Asian parents who held up posters saying that criticism of the exam is racist. Asian students study hard for the test, do well, and don’t want it to change.

Jose Luis Vilson, who teaches middle school math, has no doubt that the exam is racist.

He writes:

“When news broke this week that only seven black students were accepted into New York City’s Stuyvesant High School, an elite public school that supposedly only takes the most advanced students in the city, I wasn’t surprised. In my 14-year career as a middle school math teacher in Manhattan with majority black or Latinx students, I’ve had thousands of kids who were rejected from magnet public schools like Stuyvesant. It breaks my heart every time.

“Every year, sometime in March, thousands of New York City adolescents receive a letter that tells them which high school selected them. That school day is always a tough one. Some students run up and down the halls, excitedly telling their friends about where they will be spending the next four years. Others, disappointed in their placement, sit solemnly or find a comforting shoulder to lean on.

“I’ve had to console far too many brilliant students who didn’t get chosen for the high school they wanted to go to. They checked off all the proverbial boxes: great attendance, high grades, strong work ethic, and had positive relationships with adults and peers. They studied hard for the Specialized High School Admission Test — an assessment given to eighth or ninth graders for entry into eight of the elite magnet public schools in New York City — for months. Because a student’s score on that test is the only criterion for high school admissions, the stressful three hours spent taking this exam could determine a student’s future.

“As a teacher, I try to assure my students that they will be fine regardless of which school they attend. But I often wonder if we educators are doing a disservice — and perpetuating the lie of meritocracy — by continuing to tell kids that if they work hard and excel then they can get what they want in life.

School segregation in New York City is reaching emergency levels

“Make no mistake: New York City is burning. But unlike the literal and metaphorical burning of the Bronx in the 1970s, the latest fire is happening in our education system as schools continue to segregate at alarming rates. Only 190 of the 4,798 slots, or 3 percent, in the eight major specialized high schools went to black students. This is in a city where a quarter of NYC’s public-school students are black.”

My view:

First, I think it is absurd to base admissions to any academic institution on a single test score. No Ivy League school does that. They ask for grades, essays, teachers’s recommendations, evidence of student interests and passions and service.

Second, when my next grandson applies for high school in New York City, I will actively discourage him from taking the exam or applying to one of the specialized schools. In my view, they are too large and they are academic pressure cookers. I hope he listens to me and applies to a school that has a balanced curriculum and gives him time to explore his interests. I also hope he goes to school with a diverse student body. Oneof thevaluesof public education is exposure to many kinds of people, with many kinds of talents, not just one dimension.