New York Assembly wants to hold hearings on admission to specialized high schools

State lawmakers want to hold hearings in May to discuss admissions at specialized high schools, Speaker Carl Heastie announced a day after New York City released data showing these schools continue to accept few black and Hispanic students.

The hearings would be a significant step in the debate over a de Blasio administration proposal to scrap the single test that students take to get into the elite schools, which is viewed as a barrier to entry for students of color. Getting rid of the test would require approval from state lawmakers, who haven’t taken up the issue this session and left it on the table last year.

Heastie and Assemblywoman Alicia Hyndman, a Queens Democrat who sits on the Assembly’s education committee, both tweeted the news. Heastie’s office did not immediately respond to questions about why they decided to schedule hearings. In his tweet, Heastie said the hearings would likely be scheduled in early May.

Data released Monday showed that, once again, a little more than 10 percent of offers to the eight specialized high schools — considered some of the best in the nation — went to black students and Hispanic students, even though they make up almost 70 percent of students citywide. Stuyvesant, the most sought-after school in the city, gave offers to seven black students out of almost 900.

Twenty-nine percent of offers went to white students, and 51 percent went to Asian students.

The latest admissions data sparked a lot of conversation on social media, and it’s been a hot topic since the mayor backed his plan last year to diversify these elite schools. But in Albany, lawmakers haven’t debated the issue publicly, and even the mayor has said he’s going to focus entirely on extending mayoral control, which expires on June 30, before anything else.

The heart of the issue is the specialized high schools admissions test, which is the sole criteria to get into these schools. De Blasio’s proposal is two-fold: expanding a program that admits high-needs students who score just below the cutoff score for the test, and getting rid of the admissions exam altogether, instead admitting the top 7 percent of students at each middle school, based on their grades and other academic measures.

At least two bills — one in the Assembly and one in the Senate — have been proposed to get rid of the exam, but other bills have also targeted improving gifted and talented programs instead.