Chinese Parents Anxious Over School Admission Reforms

Parents and children entering the Citywide High School Fair at Brooklyn Tech. (Photo by Yiyi Huang via World Journal)

Parents and children entering the Citywide High School Fair at Brooklyn Tech. (Photo by Yiyi Huang via World Journal)

Translator’s Note: What follows is a condensed translation of two articles that appeared in  World Journal and China Press on September 20. Both report on the concerns of some Chinese parents who are worried about whether the city Department of Education will soon change the admission criteria for specialized high schools and count factors other than scores on the Specialized High School Admission Test in its admission decisions.

The Citywide High School Fair, held at Brooklyn Tech this past weekend, attracted scores of Chinese parents and their children. Nearly 90 percent of Chinese parents who attended rushed over to check out the booths for New York’s specialized high schools. But when it came to the regular high schools, parents were less enthusiastic.

“Chinese students have always been good at taking tests,” said one Chinese parent. “Even if the admission test for specialized high schools was reformed, so long as there is no quota on the number of Chinese students admitted, if the exam questions are made more difficult, Chinese won’t be afraid.”

In New York City, there are nine specialized high schools, of which eight – including Stuyvesant, Bronx Science and Brooklyn Tech – grant admission based solely on test scores from the Specialized High School Admission Test (SHSAT), a two-and-a-half hour examination taken in eighth or ninth grade that tests students’ verbal and math abilities.

Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music and Art and Performing Arts in Manhattan is the only specialized high school that uses auditions, and not the SHSAT, to decide whom to admit.

Mayor Bill de Blasio, whose son Dante is a senior at Brooklyn Tech, has expressed personal qualms with the SHSAT, saying he doesn’t “believe in a single test determining admissions to a specialized high school.”

Stuyvesant Principal Jie Zhang answers Chinese parents’ questions. (Photo by Guoqi Cui via China Press)

Stuyvesant Principal Jie Zhang answers Chinese parents’ questions. (Photo by Guoqi Cui via China Press)

Stuyvesant Principal Jie Zhang said that admission into specialized high schools is still based only on scores from the SHSAT, and not on other factors.

On Saturday morning, parents were jostling with one another once inside the high school fair, and the area set aside for specialized high schools, in the first-floor gymnasium, was extremely crowded. Outside, a long line snaked around the perimeter of Brooklyn Tech.

Once inside, in just one hour, parents snatched up all the Chinese-language materials that organizers had prepared.

Despite the gym being air-conditioned, inside temperatures soared because of the warm weather and because of the huge crowds. Parents and children who attended said they were drenched in sweat.

Crowded into her booth by Chinese parents and students, Zhang said there are always many applicants each year, and that Stuyvesant’s exam score for admission has historically always been high.

Jinger He, who works for State Senator Marty Golden, of Brooklyn, as a Chinese assistant, said she attended the fair to serve as a translator for the specialized high schools.

She said the Chinese attendees’ questions focused on three areas: SHSAT scores for admission; recommendations for deciding which specialized high school to attend; and the school environment and specialized classes. Language classes, in particular, received special attention.

One Brooklyn Chinese mother surnamed Liu, who said her son got into Brooklyn Tech last year, accompanied her daughter to the fair this year. The objective – to see which specialized schools her daughter, who will soon graduate from middle school, is most interested in.

Liu said she really hopes her daughter can study the Chinese language well, adding that she wanted a guarantee that her daughter would take Chinese after being admitted.

To prepare for the SHSAT, many Chinese parents enroll their children in after-school classes. A Queens Chinese couple from Kew Garden Hills, surnamed Ruan, said their son was currently in the final leg of his cram school test prep class.

“After inquiring about all of the schools, we were extremely interested in Queens High School for the Sciences at York College,” they said. “The most important reason is because the student population is extremely small. There are only around 400 students in all. As a result, my son will enjoy a relatively close relationship with his fellow classmates and his teachers.”

Parents also expressed concerns about the possibility that the specialized high school admissions process might be reformed. A Queens Chinese father surnamed Deng said he has continuously kept a close watch over admissions changes, explaining that it would definitely be unfair if, in the future, the Department of Education imposed quotas on the number of Chinese students admitted to specialized high schools.

Deng said his son’s middle school class has 30 Chinese students, 12 of whom were admitted to Stuyvesant, three to Bronx High School of Science, and 10 to Brooklyn Tech.

Even if the Department of Education makes the SHSAT questions more difficult, Deng said Chinese would remain unfazed.

“If they want to change the questions, they can make them even harder,” he said. “Is it possible that it will be even more difficult than the high school exam in China? We Chinese are not afraid.”

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