Seven New York City students who didn’t get into specialized high schools are asking the state education commissioner to ensure they get spots, saying the city’s diversity push unfairly denied them seats for the fall.
Their challenge argues the city’s expansion of the so-called Discovery program will hurt the elite schools’ academic excellence. That program offers spots and free summer tutoring to low-income students with high potential who score below the test-score cutoff for admission. The petitioners ask the commissioner to declare the department’s implementation unlawful.
These petitioners, who are mostly middle-income, are black, Hispanic, Asian and white. They just missed test-score cutoffs for these prestigious schools, which use an exam to determine admission. They say the city hasn’t complied with key details of a state law that governs entrance.
The petitions were filed this week through an appeals process that involves making a formal request for the state commissioner’s review. Doug Cohen, a spokesman for the city Department of Education, said his agency would also review the filings.
“We’re proud to implement a plan that will expand opportunity for New York City students and make our schools stronger,” he said by email.
The petitioners’ unusual move comes at a time of intense debate over Mayor Bill de Blasio’s effort to overhaul the admissions system. While lobbying legislators to change the state law, he vastly expanded the Discovery program for the coming school year, in hopes that doing so would better integrate schools that are predominantly Asian.
“The absurdity of the implementation of the mayor’s Discovery program is that it is supposed to be directed towards getting African-American and Hispanic kids into these specialized high schools, and it is so arbitrarily drawn that even those kids are adversely affected,” the students’ lawyer, Claude Millman, said Friday.
The petitions say the city ignored language in the 1971 law requiring that Discovery operate “without in any manner interfering with the academic level” of these eight schools. The petitions include signed statements from three former principals of Stuyvesant High School and Bronx High School of Science, saying the current version of Discovery admits many students whose test scores are too low for them to keep up.
Stuyvesant’s current principal, Eric Contreras, didn’t comment on the petitions but expressed confidence in the Discovery program. “Current ninth-graders who participated in Discovery last summer are doing well and participating fully in the Stuyvesant experience,” he said by email. “I have no doubt that the students who complete the program this coming summer will also be successful here.”
Each school has a different test-score cutoff for regular admissions. The most selective, Stuyvesant has a cutoff of 557 out of 800 points this spring. The lowest threshold, at Brooklyn Latin School, is 486. The petitioners argue if Discovery hadn’t expanded, the cutoffs would be lower, and they would have gotten in.
By law, the Discovery program serves disadvantaged students who score below the cutoff. The petitions say the law intends for each school to pick Discovery students, according to its own cutoff. By contrast, the city Department of Education manages the process centrally, and uses the Brooklyn Latin threshold for all of them. This spring, Discovery offers went to low-income students scoring 458 to 485, the department said.
That means a Discovery student at Stuyvesant could have a substantially lower score than classmates. However, critics of test-based admissions, including Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza, say that no single exam can capture all of a student’s talents, and the standardized test is an unfair barrier to opportunity.
The petitions also say the city improperly changed who is eligible for Discovery without a public hearing. Now only students from certain high-poverty schools can join. In the past, rising ninth-graders citywide could do so. The city expects to fill about 500 seats with Discovery students this fall, up from 250 this year, among 4,000 ninth-grade slots.
One African-American petitioner scored 483, which would have gotten him into Brooklyn Latin if so many seats weren’t reserved for Discovery, Mr. Millman said. That student’s mother, who declined to be identified, said middle-class minority students were getting lost in the mayor’s diversity push.