Top-ranked high schools admitting more special ed students

Twenty-five of the city’s top high schools are now admitting more students with disabilities, a new enrollment analysis shows.

Of 29,000 students who attended some of the city’s specialized high schools and other sought-after screened high schools, 712 were classified as having a disability last year. That represents just 2.5 percent of students at those schools, but the share is still significantly better than it was just two years ago, when just 428 students with disabilities attended those schools.

The increase, first chronicled on education consultant David Rubel’s website, comes in response to a series of changes that the Department of Education has made to its high school admissions policies since 2011, when it began facing pressure from state education officials. High schools that screened potential students were the first to be required to set aside more seats for special-needs students, in 2012; a year later all high schools, including those whose students were selected based on arts auditions, were supposed to do so.

In addition to many of the most sought-after screened programs, such as Millennium High School and Beacon, the analysis looks at special education enrollment for all nine of the city’s specialized high schools, including Stuyvesant High School and Brooklyn Technical High School, which admit students solely through a single test. It also includes three schools where admissions are based on performance auditions, including Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music and Art and Frank Sinatra School of the Arts.

The recent increase is most pronounced for students with learning disabilities, such as dyslexia or ADHD. Put together, the 25 high schools served 160 percent more students with learning plans that called for integrated classroom settings in 2012 than in 2010, according to the analysis.

Rubel writes in his report that the trend is “urgent” information for parents of high-achieving students in eighth grade to know about as they prepare their high school applications, which are due on Dec. 2. Roughly 5 percent of middle school students with disabilities scored a level 3 or 4 on the 2014 state English and math exams, and they should be represented in the city’s top high school programs, Rubel said.

“I think a lot of parents in this boat are going to say that they don’t want to have their kid in a selective high school without support services,” Rubel said. “What this information is showing is that you don’t have to make this choice anymore.”

Rubel compiled the rankings using the 2011-2012 progress reports, although large zoned high schools, like Midwood in Brooklyn and Francis Lewis in Queens and two other other well-regarded high schools, New Explorations into Science, Technology and Math and Queens Gateway to Health Sciences Secondary School, were not counted because their data included middle school enrollment numbers, too.

Some of the top 25 schools are doing better at admitting students with special needs than others. For instance, more than 25 percent of all 712 students with disabilities attended just two of the schools last year: Leon Goldstein (with 122 student) and NYC Lab School for Collaborative Studies (80).

Some of the high schools have multiplied their special education numbers many times over, in most cases because they were serving so few students with disabilities before. Medgar Evers College Preparatory, which enrolls more than 1,000 students, went from serving three students with disabilities in 2011 to 23 last year; Columbia Secondary School, a small school with around 475 high school students, went from having two students with disabilities to 20.

Other high schools, though, have seen their special education enrollment flatten or even decrease. Townsend Harris served three students with disabilities last year, up from two in 2011.

Scholars Academy in Far Rockaway and Bard High School Early College served a combined five students with disabilities last year, down from 16 in 2011.

“New York City can do much better here,” Rubel writes.

Principals from both Scholars’ Academy and Bard did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comment. It’s unclear if the city is cracking down on schools that aren’t meeting their special education quotas, but a spokesman for the education department acknowledged that “there is more work to be done.”

“We are encouraged by the increasing number of students with IEPs in the City’s most selective schools, but we know there is more work to be done, and we look forward to continuing to build on this success,” said the spokesman, Harry Hartfield.

The deadline for students to apply for one of the city’s more than 500 high schools is Dec. 2. Students can apply to up to 12 high schools as part of the admissions process, with the  screened schools weeding out candidates based on a combination of seventh grade report-card grades, state test scores, and attendance.

Clara Hemphill, founding editor of InsideSchools at the New School, said that the city’s efforts to set aside special education seats means that eligible students have an “inside track” to some of the most competitive schools in the city. But she said that the schools are having trouble filling its quotasin part because some parents of students with disabilities believe screened schools aren’t equipped for students with special learning needs.

Another 200 students with disabilities were projected to be admitted to the 25 schools in Rubel’s analysis this year, and he say that the more integrated they become, the better environments they’ll become for the special-needs population.

“Now that there are more parents are on the inside, they can make schools responsive,” Rubel writes.