Asians Swarm to Take Hunter College H.S. Entrance Exam

Students wait with their parents to take the Hunter College High School entrance exam on Jan. 11. (Photo by Chunxiang Jin via World Journal)

Sixth graders numbering 2,800 from all over the city took the Hunter College High School entrance exam on the freezing day of Jan. 11, competing for the 230 admission slots. Close to half of the students appeared to be Asian. Most of them looked calm while they walked into the test room under the caring watch of their parents who sent them there and waited outside.

Many parents said they got up before dawn to prepare breakfast for their children that day, and then took a day off from work to wait for their children outside for hours. Many of the parents seemed confident and ready to accept whatever results come out for the exam. They said that to be qualified to attend the exam is an achievement in itself. Some parents said Hunter High is not the only option, and participation is more important than the result for their children. They hope that by taking such a highly competitive exam, their children can have an early taste of the tough challenges they may face during their lives, and that it will prompt them to work even harder in their academic studies.

This year, only those who scored 625 or above in math and English Language Arts on their fifth grade state tests are qualified to take the exam. After the exam, the top 500 students will be selected based on their scores in math and English for the first round, and then the pool will be narrowed down to the top 170 students based on their scores in writing. This means only those who get high scores in math, English and writing will be admitted. The rest of the slots are reserved for graduates of Hunter College Elementary School who have to take the entrance exam too but enjoy lower cut-off scores.

Tina Chang, a Chinese parent living in Long Island City, came to the venue early with her son who is a sixth grader at the Institute for Collaborative Education. Chang said her son likes the curriculum and extracurricular activities ICE provides. He had never attended any cram schools but he works hard on studying by himself. “There are many good schools in New York. He is a member of the school band, is starting to try theatre performance, learning fencing and tennis, and improving his social skills. These are more important than focusing only on high academic scores,” Chang said.

Eason, Chang’s son, said when he came out of the test room by noon that the exam was easier than he expected. The writing test asked students to discuss the pro and cons for a tree to grow indoors, and apply the lessons to real life experiences. Eason said he finished the exam within three hours and was confident he would score high.

Gloria Li, a parent who studied mathematics and works in finance, came with her daughter, a student of Columbia Secondary School. Li said she spent some time to help her daughter prepare for the exam beforehand. Born in New York and having attended public schools, Li said she never participated in such highly competitive entrance exams when she was a child. But she thought it would be an important experience for her daughter because this would be the first real challenge in the lives of many children in New York. And no matter what result they get, they can always learn some lessons from it.

Hunter High is not a specialized high school per se and is not managed by the city’s Department of Education. Therefore, it would not be affected by Mayor de Blasio’s specialized high school reform plan. But the impact of the fervent debate was evident in the students taking the entrance exam on Jan. 11. Yao Chen, a Chinese parent, said her son told her when he came out of the test room that there was a question on the test sheet asking students to check their race and ethnicity. And he checked “Latino.”

“My son said: ‘The mayor doesn’t want us Asians to get into good schools. So I have to hide my Chinese identity.'”

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