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Entrance Exams Have a Legitimate Purpose

For several decades, admission to eight elite high schools in the New York City system has been determined by the Specialized High Schools entrance exam.  But because of the small percentage of black and Hispanic students who do well on the test, the Education Department will remove sections starting this fall that it deems unfair to these two groups ("NYC to take out parts of Specialized High School entrance test," New York Daily News, Jan. 19).

What will happen, however, if the percentages of these two specific groups still do not significantly improve?  Will the test be further modified, or will it be entirely scrapped?  That's an important question because the very quality of education offered by such schools hangs in the balance.  I recognize the importance of diversity, but I believe that it is secondary to excellence.  It's not that the two are mutually exclusive,  but great care has to be taken not to let the former undermine the latter.

Countries known for the reputation of their schools are far more realistic than we are.  They accept that not all students are capable of handling the same high level of academic work.  That's why they  differentiate among students, without guilt.  But we persist in the fiction that with enough "grit" all students can succeed academically.

Which brings me back to the proposed changes in New York City.  How will students of any race be well served if they are admitted when they are not qualified?  If they find themselves over their heads, their self-confidence will be shaken.

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The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner's Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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