In admissions change, city pauses middle school screens
by Benjamin Fang
Dec 25, 2020 | 3226 views | 0 0 comments | 304 304 recommendations | email to a friend | print
New York City has changed the admissions process for public middle and high schools for the 2021-22 school year, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced on Friday.

Under the new policy, students applying for middle school will not be selected based on previously used screening criteria this year. According to the Department of Education (DOE), 196 middle schools use screens, or metrics, that include grades, interviews, standardized test scores and attendance to determine admissions.

Instead, students will rank their choices on their middle school applications. Schools with more applications than seats available will choose students through a lottery system.

For high school admissions, district and other geographic priorities will be permanently eliminated. That policy will be phased out over two years, starting with 48 high schools. Approximately 250 high schools have some sort of district priority in place.

Academic screens will remain for high schools that wish to continue using them, the city announced. Schools can consider a combination of state tests, previous years’ grades and other school-established criteria. Those schools would also be required to publish their rubric criteria on MySchools.

“The COVID-19 crisis has exposed longstanding inequities in our city’s public schools,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said. “As we rebuild our city, we are expanding opportunities for all public school students and doubling down on our mission to provide a quality education for all, regardless of a child’s ZIP code.”

DOE will evaluate the one-year pause on middle school screens for the 2022-23 school year enrollment cycle, the department said. A district priority will remain in place for middle schools that have it.

Students can start applying to middle school the week of January 11. The deadline will be the week of February 8.

High school applications, meanwhile, open the week of January 18, with a deadline of the week of February 22.

“It is my responsibility to deliver the highest-quality education possible to each child so that they are prepared for a successful, productive life and empowered with the skills they need to chase their dreams and lead us all forward,” Chancellor Richard Carranza said. “This year, we have faced the unknown together, and as we look ahead, we know that opening up more of our schools to more of our students will make our system stronger and more equitable for all.”

On Friday, DOE also announced that Districts 9, 13, 16, 28 and 31 will be given grants to develop community-led District Diversity Plans, making a total of 13 districts actively discussing integration proposals.

Over the next four years, DOE plans to expand diversity planning to all 32 community school districts.

Meanwhile, the city will administer the Specialized High School Admissions Test (SHSAT) in late January. Students began registering for the test on December 21, with registration closing on January 15.

The exam will be administered in middle schools to reduce travel and mixing of different cohorts.

DOE’s new policies were applauded by several elected officials, including Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, who said the measures are “welcome, if overdue.”

“New York City’s school system was the most segregated in the nation before the pandemic, and COVID-19 has only deepened these inequities in the classroom and remotely,” he said in a statement, “exacerbating the immediate need to bring justice to our admissions systems and create transformational change inside our schools.”

Queens Borough President Donovan Richards said in a statement that diversity must be a “bedrock principle” of the city’s education system. He also called on the DOE to expand its Gifted and Talented programs.

“Equal access to a quality education is something generations of families living in historically underserved communities across this city have sought, but never received,” he said.

Councilman Brad Lander said in a statement that too often, admissions screens measure access to resources more than ability, which furthers segregation and inequality in pulic schools. He said the pause in use of screens is a “huge and important step” toward fairness and integration.

“We still have lots of work to do to close the gaps in educational opportunity and advance integration,” Lander said, “but suspending middle school screens and reducing geographic priority for high schools are helpful steps in that direction amidst the disruption of this pandemic year.”
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