Saturday, February 6, 2010

Closing the Achievement Gap? Black & Hispanic Students Disappear from City's Top High School

As reported today in the NY Times and the Post, a grand total of 7 black students scored high enough on the Specialized High School Admission Test (SHSAT) to be offered admission to Stuyvesant High School. The total for Hispanic students was an equally dismal 17. The under-representation of black and Hispanic students at Stuyvesant has been pointed out for a number of years (see 2006 and 2008 NY Times articles).

During my tenure as a parent and PA officer, there was much consternation about it, but of course nothing that either the PA or the school itself could do (most notably, a mentoring program for students already at Stuyvesant) could improve the dismal admission statistics. These are basically a reflection of the quality of preparation in the lower grades. No doubt the test is culturally biased, but that alone cannot explain the low numbers. And it certainly cannot explain the continuing drop in admissions, as there is no reason to believe the test has become any more culturally biased over the years.

According to the “DOE spokesman" interviewed by the Post reporter, “the demographics of those taking the test and receiving offers has stayed relatively constant in recent years.” The statistics on the DOE's own website tell a different story.

The state statistical reports for Stuyvesant (here and here) indicate that the school had 83 “Black /African-American” students in 2003-4; 75 in 2004-5; 66 in 2005-6, 66 in 2006-7, and 61 in 2007–08; the corresponding numbers for “Hispanic or Latino” are 96, 86, 99, 99 and 93. These classifications are probably somewhat fluid, but there has undoubtedly been a huge fall-off. Incidentally, the shrinking number of black students is even more dramatic when viewed against the backdrop of ever-larger freshman classes (between 2004 and 2009, the freshman class grew from about 700 to almost 1000 students).

Of course, the city's response to the continuing slide in the number of black and Hispanic students who “ace the test” (shorthand for making the cut-off for admission to Stuyvesant) has been more test prep rather than more instruction. Instead of teaching more math, science and English in K-8 (including correct verbal expression and critical reading of books and essays rather than isolated passages), DOE set up a Specialized High School Institute, which gives promising candidates “extra lessons and test-taking tips.” Predictably, the approach hasn’t yielded results. Although it seems that most people who can afford the often substantial fees have given in to SHSAT test-prep frenzy--"cram schools" in Flushing are given much of the credit for the explosion in Asian enrollment at Stuyvesant, while Kaplan and its clones are considered virtually obligatory for everyone else--there's little reason to believe test prep will make a real difference for a child who isn't already adequately prepared in the subjects the test covers.

The stories behind the statistics are instructive and heart-breaking. The 2006 New York Times article cited above reported on two kids in the city's free SHSAT test prep program, which was held at Stuyvesant. (I have edited identifying information):
[A girl], 12, said the very act of striding through Stuyvesant’s gleaming hallways made her feel smart. “You can be like, ‘I could be here, I could be in these desks in a year or two,’ ” she said during her lunch break one day. For [a boy], 12, who got an “overall excellence” medal at his sixth-grade graduation, the experience has been humbling. His teacher at [PS XXX] had called him a “walking dictionary,” but in the first seven pages of “To Kill a Mockingbird,” a book he read for the institute, he found 71 new vocabulary words.
How can a few weeks of "extra lessons" and "test tips" possibly prepare these kids for the SHSAT, much less the Stuyvesant curriculum? Consider, by contrast, the experience of several kids I know, who moved to New York after going to school overseas, took the SHSAT without much preparation or even familiarity with that sort of test, "aced it" and did well at Stuyvesant. Most did not even speak English in the home, but all were well-prepared to learn what Stuyvesant can offer.

When the Post reporter called me for comment last night, I practically fell off the couch on which I was dozing. The under-representation of black and Hispanic students at Stuyvesant is an old story, but a drop in the black student population from 2%-3% to less than 1% is astonishing. No matter how much BloomKlein may crow about increasing scores on dumbed- down and easily gamed tests, the proof of the pudding eventually is in how many kids get admitted to good high schools. A competitive-exam school such as Stuyvesant is not for everyone, nor would I suggest it is the only avenue to academic success. But I don't see how the administration can claim to be making progress on the racial achievement gap when the number of black kids who qualify for the city’s top high school has fallen to insignificance under their watch.


Anonymous said...

I also wonder if the children are taking advantage of the many smaller, rigorous schools available now, and are turned off by the schools' perceived social reputation (uptight nervous nellies and promiscuous upper class children). That also hurts who does and does not even take the test. Note that 7 were offered slots; they may not even go!

Anonymous said...

First, we are not teaching kids anymore, we are just test-prepping them so they lack the basic education they need.

Many Asian parents have the funds to send their childrent to private schools, on Saturdays, Sundays, summer vacations and even after school so they can learn what the public schools are not teachign them. I know these schools are all over Queens. The kids that attend these schools start their test prep and their real learning when they are in elementary school. No one can compete with them until the playing fields are leveled.

Anonymous said...

anon 11:23 a.m. made a good observation. How many of those students who are not Black/Hispanics were in private schools or were sent to special tutoring sessions paid by their parents?

Anonymous said...

To the second commenter -- you make a sweeping statement which is grossly mistaken in the first place. No, many Asian parents do NOT have the funds to send their kids to test prep. Many are immigrants struggling to gain their financial footing in this country. But, knowing that education is the most crucial key to advancement here, they willingly scrimp and save and do without to be able to pay for test prep. They work long hours and don't spend on clothes and shoes and entertainment, but put everything they have towards their children's futures. It's a matter of what your priorities are.

Anonymous said...

I have to agree with Anon 1:50PM about priorities, although I see it from a different angle. I'm a Latina Stuy alumna whose parents scrimped and saved for vacations in the home country rather than extra schooling--holding onto our culture was their priority. On the other hand, most of my classmates (all Latino or Black) were dissuaded from taking the test to begin with by the teachers at our gifted and talented middle school, and they called it the Bronx Science test. I didn't even know Stuy existed until I got to the school to take the test. There's definitely a lack of outreach into Black and Latino communities, so it's no wonder fewer and fewer students of color are admitted every year.

Anonymous said...

The data for Brooklyn Tech is the most revealing here. When I taught at Tech from 1995-1999, we were often told that Latino and African-American students who were accepted at Stuy and Science were choosing Tech because they liked the demographics better than those at the two other schools. So perhaps there were more Latino and African-American students accepted at that time. It sickens me to see the decline of these students going to these schools. Having worked as a professional developer in a wide variety of schools, I can tell you that many students who might otherwise be able to ace the specialized hs exam, are sitting in classrooms where there are months of test prep for the ELA and Math exams. Forget about project-based learning. They are also being pressured to stay in 6-12 settings to keep their schools test scores high.

The DOE MUST tell us what they are going to do about this situation. Prepping for the exam is not going to cut it. Equity of Access is such a farce when you see this situation. How Klein and Bloomberg sleep at night is a wonder to me. Not that No Child Left Unassessed is not to blame too. Duncan needs to take a good hard look at this.

Anonymous said...

Right off the bat, the first sentence is misleading. More accurate would be: 7 of the black students who took the SHSAT and ranked Stuyvesant as their first choice gained admittance.

It's being forgotten that student choice plays a role in placement. Kids rank which schools they'd like to attend in order when they take the SHSAT. It's entirely possible that few black students ranked Stuyvesant #1. They may have chosen any of the other 7 test-in specialized high schools as their top pick. Indeed if one goes further into the data, the representation of black and Hispanic kids is higher at several of the other schools.

Anonymous said...

Has anyone hazarded a guess as to the ethnicity of the 174 out of 964kids admitted to Stuyvesant who did not bubble in their race?

Eric N. said...

Like the last anonymous commenter, I too am eager for reference points to guesstimate the racial and ethnic backgrounds of the students not identifying themselves on test forms. Perhaps ACT’s or College Board’s research divisions have done work in this area.

Getting into a Specialized High School has life-shaping implications, and whether a student gets in or not depends all on one test score. Almost all students who attend the Specialized High Schools graduate from high school within four years, and most go on to attend four-year colleges, often very selective ones. By contrast, students who miss the Specialized High School cutoff scores and are unlucky in the NYCDoE’s high school matching process may wind up attending high schools with terrible graduation and college-gong rates. I doubt that any psychometrician would endorse using one test to make decisions on placements that have such significant, life-shaping consequences.

There’s no major precedent for it. Undergraduate admission offices look at more than just SAT scores when deciding who to admit. The LSAT, MCAT, and GMAT weigh heavily in the admissions process for professional schools, yet they are far from the only factors used by professional school admission offices. And students who fail to pass high-stakes NCLB end-of-year tests can still be promoted to the next grade with a teacher’s recommendation or alternative criteria in most schools.

You might say that professional certification exams, like the bar exam, as similar to the SHSAT in that there’s a single cut-score that determines everything but that would be mistaken. The professional certificate exams tend to be high-pass tests of minimal competency while the SHSAT is a very low-pass test of excellence.

I’d be eager to know whether there’s a strong predictive relationship between SHSAT score and GPA’s within each Specializing High School. In other words, is there a strong linear relationship between incoming SHSAT score and HS GPA at Bronx Science? At Brooklyn Latin? Are the students who graduate in the bottom 25% percentile at Brooklyn Tech—and probably go to CUNYs or less competitive SUNYs—ones who scored lower on the SHSAT? A very strong relationship would indicate that the SHSAT is a good tool for determining who is going to do well within the Specialized High Schools. If the relationship is less than tight, then there should be some thought as to what other admission criteria could strengthen this relationship. I would like to see a policy organization getting involved here, as I think that it will take a high-profile report to catalyze any type of change in a system where there’s such a long history of doing things in one way and where so many interests would be threatened by even small changes to the Specialized High Schools admissions system.

Anonymous said...

The people looking at these stats need to look at this data:

Citywide: How many Black/Hispanic kids in the 7th Grade scored a level '4' in both their NYS ELA and Math ?

This is a pretty good predication on the number (or precentages) that will pass the Specialized HS exam 4 months later.

Kam said...

During the 70s, Black attendance at the Specialized high schools were pretty high. They were never a majority but attended in much greater numbers than they did now. Everyone focuses on why the enrollment is done but forgets that it wasn't always that way. No one is focusing on what made those earlier students successful. I would really like someone to interview those earlier students and perhaps get a sense of what schooling was like for them.

Anonymous said...

Alongside with Jewish-American, Asian Students and their families have strong focus on academic merit and scholastic achievement than any other race. And they esteem a value of obtaining degrees of high ranking universities and diploma of academically execellent high schools for preparing to qualify intellecutual professinal such as physician.

It is a reason that students of top rank specialozed high schools are predominantly Asian-american.

To Asian-American, merit only selection system is best for their belief.

Anonymous said...

I rewrite for some ofwrong letters.

Alongside with Jewish-American, Asian Students and their families have strong focus on academic merit and scholastic achievement than any other race. And they esteem a value of obtaining degrees of high ranking universities and diploma of academically excellent high schools for preparing to qualify intellecutual professional such as physician.

It is a reason that students of top rank specialized high schools are predominantly Asian-American.

To Asian-American, merit only selection system is best for their belief.

Smith said...

By reading all comments I conclude, Its mean itDepends on parent if they want to make their children sharp in studies. Why student need tutions while good schooling concept is still alive.

Anonymous said...

i teach at a school at the upper west side of manhattan, where the students are predominantly black and hispanic. i teach them what needs to be learned for secondary school admission tests, including the specialized high school test. i even offer after-school specialized high school prep classes for free. my students couldn't be bothered. their parents couldn't care less, either. now we're wondering why there's dwindling population of black and hispanic students in specialized high schools? some of us who commented that "unless the playing field is leveled", the trend will continue to be just that? when is the playing field leveled? water down the test? use the quota system? hand it to them in a silver platter as though they were entitled to it? the vicious cycle of entitlement!! shouldn't they be taught they have to work hard for something if they really want it? obviously, they don't want it.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.