Proposed Changes in Specialized HS Admissions May Hurt Asians

Most members of the student dance group at Stuyvesant High School are Asian. (Photo courtesy of a parent, via World Journal)

Most members of the student dance group at Stuyvesant High School are Asian. (Photo courtesy of a parent, via World Journal)

A bill introduced by state Sens. Simcha Felder and Adriano Espaillat on June 9 aims at changing the admission policies of specialized high schools. It calls for the admission decision to be based on holistic criteria including academic scores, attendance rates and extracurricular activities rather than solely on the scores of the Specialized High School Admissions Test (SHSAT). This may be good news for African-American and Hispanic students who may get better chances. But the fate of Asian students, who rely on their good performance on the test to get into specialized high schools, would change.

The bill worries Asian students and parents. They said the SHSAT-based admission policy is absolutely fair. The proposed changes discriminate against Asian students. They call on community organizations to react quickly by mobilizing their members to protect their rights.

“If your child works very hard to maintain good academic scores, but his or her seat is taken away by a student who works not as hard and whose scores are not as good, how would you feel?” asked Stanley Ng, the Lower Manhattan representative for the Citywide Council on High Schools. Ng said the bill is unfair to Asian students and if it passes, Asian students will become the biggest victims.

Ng said the eight specialized high schools in New York admit 5,000 students altogether every year. But they get 70,000 applicants. Normally 1,900 out of the 5,000 admissions go to students from Queens. So Queens students will be disproportionally affected if the bill passes.

Many members of the Alumni Association of Stuyvesant and other specialized high schools, despite their diverse racial backgrounds, oppose the bill. They said they got into specialized high schools on their own merits rather than by taking advantage of the admission policy. Everybody can take the test, and “if you are above the cutting scores, you are in. If not, you are out. It is as simple as that.”  Even African-American alumni don’t support changing the admission policy. They said SHSAT is proof of their qualifications, and they are strong enough to compete with students of other races.

Mr. Wang, a parent at Stuyvesant High School, said it is ridiculous that the proposed bill targets Asian students. He said the reason for the high proportion of Asian students in specialized high schools is the composition of immigrants. In the 1970s and 1980s there was an influx of Jewish people. The current admission policy was already in place then. And specialized high schools were dominated by Jewish students.

Now there are more and more Asian immigrants, Wang noted. In addition, revering education is an Asian tradition. So the large Asian population in specialized high schools is not a surprise. “It’s not like African-American and Hispanic students are prohibited from taking the test. If they pass the threshold they can get admission too. But changing the admissions policy only to serve their interests is very unfair to Asians,” he said.

A student whose last name is Wei was admitted to a specialized high school after attending cram schools to prepare for the test. He said he has never doubted the fairness of SHSAT. Compared to the holistic admission criteria, the test is a simple and more objective way to make the decision. “No matter what other people think of us, we got into the school on our own merits. I don’t know where they get the idea that this policy is wrong,” he said.

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