I-Team: Federal Lawsuit Alleges Bias at Elite NYC High Schools

At this point, the only factor considered for admission to one of the specialized public schools is a student's score on a standardized test

By Melissa Russo and Tom Burke
|  Thursday, Sep 27, 2012  |  Updated 8:54 PM EDT
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Mayor Bloomberg responded to an inquiry as to whether the city testing measures for high performance schools are fair. Governmental Affairs Reporter Melissa Russo investigates.

NBC 4 New York

Mayor Bloomberg responded to an inquiry as to whether the city testing measures for high performance schools are fair. Governmental Affairs Reporter Melissa Russo investigates.

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I-Team: Rethinking Admissions Exams to Top NYC Schools

An I-Team investigation uncovers the ethnic discrepancies at New York's best public schools, and why groups are pushing for a change to the admission exam at schools like Stuyvesant, Bronx Science and Brooklyn Tech. Melissa Russo reports.
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The NAACP Legal Defense Fund has filed a complaint charging an admissions test given at eight elite New York City high schools discriminates against blacks and Latinos

At this point, the only factor considered for admission to one of the specialized public schools is a student's score on a standardized test.

"Even Harvard doesn’t do that. Most selective institutions use multiple measures to make placement decisions, to make admissions decisions," said Damon Hewitt, Director of Education Practice with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.

"The policy is unfair to children of all races because it doesn’t reward them for the hard work they’ve done in K-8. It actually tells them, your grades are irrelevant, your work is irrelevant, the only thing that matters is your test score and that’s simply wrong," he added.

Critics believe that using a single test as the sole determining factor is the primary reason why a racial gap exists in the city's specialized schools.

An example of that gap, the complaint argues, is evident at Stuyvesant High School.

Among 967 incoming students, Department of Education records show 32 are Latino and 19 are black.

"This policy has been in place for decades and also for decades there's been a significant disparity as to who gains admissions to the schools," said Hewitt.

Using only a test to determine admission is unfair, unjustified and discriminatory, he argues. He also said it’s against the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits a recipient of federal funds from utilizing criteria or methods of administration that have the effect of subjecting individuals to discrimination.

In its complaint, the Legal Defense Fund writes, "The admissions policy for the specialized high schools does not fully capture any student’s academic merit or his or her potential."

After learning of the complaint, the city issued a statement that said, "State law requires that admission to specialized high schools be based solely on an exam, and we want all of our students to have opportunities to prepare for the test no matter their zip code. The Department of Education has launched several initiatives to improve diversity, and last year, more black and Hispanic students were offered a seat in one of our specialized high schools than in the past two years."

Last month, Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott said the Department of Education is making efforts to close the racial gap. He also recently expanded a free tutoring program for low-income, high-performing students.

"The start of this program was to address that and to create equity and increase the diversity of students of students attending the specialized high schools," said Walcott.

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