De Blasio Seeks To Upend Admissions to Elite Schools

NEW YORK (Bloomberg) -

Mayor Bill de Blasio, who took office Jan. 1 promising to reduce economic inequality, said he wants to end a 43-year policy that restricts admission at the city’s elite high schools to students who score highest on a standardized test.

The rule has been debated since a 1971 state law made the test the only criterion to gain entry to eight specialized public schools that offer college-preparatory curriculum and whose alumni include Nobel laureates and Pulitzer Prize winners. Bills in the legislature backed by the teachers union and set to be reintroduced next year would allow use of other measures, including grades, attendance and scores on other exams.

“I do not believe a single test should be determinative, particularly for something that is as life-changing for so many young people,” de Blasio, who would need to persuade the state Legislature to amend the law, said last week. “We have to determine what combination of measures will be fair.”

A graduate of Cambridge Rindge and Latin School in Massachusetts who received his undergraduate degree at New York University and master’s from Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs, de Blasio is no stranger to the rigors of standardized testing. His son, Dante, attends Brooklyn Technical, one of the specialized high schools that would be affected.

The current discussion is part of a larger one about high-stakes testing after 12 years in which former Mayor Michael Bloomberg advocated the use of such exams, saying they provide the most reliable way to measure student, teacher and school performance. Tests provide training for challenges that students face throughout their lives, Bloomberg said.

At the Bronx High School of Science, which requires the test, the alumni board in a June 20 letter asked the legislature to reject any changes to the requirement.

“We stand for an admissions process that is a pure meritocracy, with one standard that is transparent and incorruptible,” the board wrote. “Preserving the objectivity of the admissions process is necessary to maintain the high educational standards of the specialized schools.”

Lawmakers in Albany didn’t vote on bills that would change the system in the legislative session that ended last week. The same proposals will be reintroduced next year.