Fariña: SHSAT should count for some, not all, of specialized HS admission decisions

Chancellor Carmen Fariña told a group of Harvard students Thursday that she thinks the city’s Specialized High School Admissions Test should continue to play a central, but not exclusive, role in admissions decisions to those schools.

“I do not believe in eliminating the test, at all,” Fariña said at the event, a forum hosted by Harvard’s Graduate School of Education. “I believe in assessments. I believe the specialized high schools have a place to play in the city.”

“I believe the percentage may not be 100 percent,” she continued. “That’s something the mayor and I have discussed. What percentage is valid? I certainly think between 60 and 70 percent for the test makes sense.”

Her comments are in line with Fariña and Mayor Bill de Blasio’s past statements in support of an admissions system that would look at criteria beyond the test, but offer new detail about what Fariña would like to see instead.

This year, just 5 percent of offers to eight of the city’s specialized high schools went to black students and 7 percent went to Hispanic students, numbers that the mayor and civil-rights advocates have said are far too low. Fariña and de Blasio endorsed a legislative effort at the state level last year that would require specialized high schools to use more than a single test as their admissions criteria, something they said could help increase diversity. (Three of the schools — Stuyvesant, Bronx Science, and Brooklyn Tech — have admissions rules set by state law.)

Fariña has not put forth a proposal of her own, and department spokesman Harry Hartfield said her comments didn’t reflect a settled position from the department, which is continuing to evaluate options for increasing diversity at the schools.

A recent report from the Research Alliance for New York City Schools found that replacing the Specialized High School Admissions Test altogether with other criteria like state test scores, school grades, and attendance wouldn’t significantly increase the share of black and Hispanic students offered seats. That analysis didn’t look at what what would happen to the share of black and Hispanic students if the SHSAT was used in conjunction with other measures.

At the event, Fariña repeated that the city is focused on increasing access to test-prep programs, especially DREAM, a two-year tutoring program aimed at preparing low-income students.

“I don’t want students moving into those schools who will not succeed,” Fariña said.