Finding the Right School

If Grades & Test Scores Are “Better” At Predicting Student Success Why Aren’t Screened Schools “Better” Than Specialized Ones?

Applications for New York City public schools were originally due today, Monday, December 3. However, last week, the Department of Education announced that they were extending their deadline to turn in your rankings to Friday, December 14. They went out of their way to stress it absolutely was not due to what an unmitigated disaster their much vaunted new parent portal is. It’s simply because of… reasons. (In their defense, even before the error-plagued parent portal, the DOE had a long history of extending their own deadlines. But that was usually because either not enough students had applied to the schools the DOE thought they should or, in the case of Universal Pre-K, not enough had applied, period, despite the Mayor insisting there was overwhelming demand.)

Except for the specialized high schools, and LaGuardia, all other NYC public high school choices – Screened, Arts/Audition, Ed-Opt, etc… – go on a single form. Teens can rank up to 12 choices, and an algorithm attempts to give each their top available choice. (Click here for tips on how to maximize your odds of getting in.)

When I work with families to help them navigate NYC’s insanely and needlessly complicated school system, I inevitably get the question, “What’s the best school?”

And I always answer, “The best school is the school that’s best for your child.”

I don’t fundamentally believe that a specialized high school like Stuyvesant is necessarily better than a screened school like Leon Goldstein or Townsend Harris. It depends on what you’re looking for.

Earlier this year, Mayor Bill de Blasio and School Chancellor Richard Carranza introduced a bill that would change admission to the specialized high schools from a single test, the SHSAT, to admitting the top 7 percent of students from every public middle school. (Private and Catholic school kids, you’re not welcome anymore.)

Advocates claim that grades and test scores are a much better predictor of student success than a single test.

Here is where I get confused:

NYC has over 400 public high schools and about 700 programs within those schools. Currently, easily one-third use grades and test scores (along with, sometimes, essays, interviews and portfolio review) to accept students.

How many schools use the SHSAT?


Two in Manhattan, two in the Bronx, two in Brooklyn, one in Queens, and one on Staten Island.

If grades and test scores select “better” students, then why aren’t screened schools “better” than specialized ones? (This, of course, presumes that “better” is a static definition and that all parents and experts agree on what makes a good school. Much more on that issue, here.)

After all, regardless of designation, every NYC public school uses the same DOE curriculum and they all have the same DOE teachers. It’s the kids that make the difference.

And the kids in screened schools, we’re told, are admitted via the superior process.

Why then, are the Mayor and Chancellor working their hardest to change admissions at the state level and give a more diverse cohort of students access to the tiny minority of eight SHSAT schools, when they could – without input from the state, all on their own – change admission to screened schools in order to give a more diverse cohort of students access to over 130 schools/programs?

The screened schools are wealthier than the SHSAT schools. The screened schools are whiter than the SHSAT schools. According to the Mayor and the Chancellor, the screened schools have a better approach to choosing better students. And, I cannot stress this enough, there are many, many more of them! One hundred thirty schools versus eight!

So why aren’t the Mayor and Chancellor focusing on imposing their warped definition of diversity on screened schools first? (I know, I know, it’s because both believe screens are immoral. Now that their own children have graduated from specialized and screened high schools.)

Specialized schools aren’t the right fit for every child. Screened schools aren’t the right fit for every child. Bronx Science or Brooklyn Tech aren’t “better” than Bard High-School Early College or NEST+M. It all depends on the kid.

But if we’re being told that the “best” schools are those that accept kids based on grades and test scores, then why aren’t the Mayor and Chancellor focused on making them more diverse and accessible, instead of the schools which, according to them, are already inferior in the first place?

Could it be that sending a cohort of unprepared kids to 130 rather than eight schools will expose, on a much grander scale, just how badly the majority of NYC students are being short-changed in K-8?

Sixteen times more kids will be sixteen times harder to hide….

Your thoughts welcome!

What do you think?

2 thoughts on “If Grades & Test Scores Are “Better” At Predicting Student Success Why Aren’t Screened Schools “Better” Than Specialized Ones?

  1. Because the specialized test schools are the ones with many decades of a prestigious reputation, so the academically strongest students want to get in to them, whatever the selection method. However Harvard picks its freshman class, it’s going to get strong students, and the same with Stuyvesant.

    This does not seem like a hard question to answer at all.

    1. Not everyone who wants to go to Harvard can go to Harvard. In fact, the majority who apply don’t get in, just like with Stuyvesant. Also, Harvard uses a holistic approach to admission which, when studied for the high-school level, has actually been demonstrated to accept LESS minority students than the SHSAT. As I noted here:….

      According to Mike Mascetti of the Science School Initiative, the lower-income students he works with often have a harder time getting into a school that uses multiple criteria. “You would think a kid from East Harlem would have an easier time getting into (a screened school) than Stuy, but that’s not necessarily the case.”

      A 2015 NYU study found that taking into account factors like grades and extracurricular activities, as colleges do, “would not appreciably increase the share of Black students admitted” to SHSAT schools.

      Who would it help, though?

      Middle-class white students.

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