Responding to low enrollment by Hispanic and Black youth, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund has filed a civil rights complaint challenging the admissions process at  Stuvesant High School.  Stuyvesant’s admissions requirement now consists of prospective high school students needing to garner high scores on a single multiple choice math and verbal exam called the SSHSAT.

Sheldon Silver, Assembly Speaker, supports a bill in Albany that would eliminate the Stuyvesant test requirement in favor of a range of criteria including grades, extracurricular activities, and “proven leadership skills” .  New York City mayor Bill de Blasio, whose son, Dante, attends another prestigious specialized science high school, Brooklyn Tech, that uses the same SSHSAT exam requirement, also supports new admissions criteria.

Dennis Saffran, a Republican lawyer from Queens, has an interesting opinion piece in City Journal:  The Plot Against Merit.  Saffran believes that the proposed changes would discriminate against the striving Asian students who now make up the majority of the student body at Stuyvesant and the other specialized science high schools.  Saffran writes:

The poor students get into such schools through hard work and sacrifice—both their own and that of their parents. The students typically attend local tutoring programs, which proliferate in Asian neighborhoods, starting the summer after sixth grade and for several days a week, including weekends, during the school year prior to the test. The costs are burdensome for poor and working families, but it’s a matter of priorities. …

All this once would have been the stuff of liberal dreams: a racial minority group historically victimized by discrimination begins coming to America in greater numbers because of an immigration reform sponsored by Ted Kennedy. Though many in the group remain in poverty, they take advantage of free public schools established by progressive New York City governments. By dint of their own hard work, they earn admission in increasing numbers to merit-based schools that offer smart working-class kids the kind of education once available only at Andover or Choate.

As a NYC educational consultant who works with many New York families applying to prestigious private schools as well as to public Stuyvesant High School, I am leery of admissions requirements that rely on one day’s work, which seems like a snapshot rather than an in-depth, reliable picture of a student’s potential.  I am also dismayed by the rise in test prep and the sacrifice of children’s childhoods to prepare for exams.  I believe that Stuyvesant and other NYC admissions test-based high schools like my alma mater, Hunter College High School, should move to a system that considers students’ school performance in admissions.