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Diversity in Elite High Schools

Whatever happens in the New York City school system is bound to have implications for other cities because of its size.  That's why the results of decision-day merit comment ("Diversity Lags as Students Are Matched With City Schools," The New York Times, Mar. 9).  It's when eighth graders are notified which high school they have been accepted to for the fall.  It's also when new kindergartners learn where they will start school then.  But I'll restrict my comments to the former.

There are eight specialized high schools in the nation's largest school district. Admission to these coveted schools is based solely on a single standardized test. Despite efforts to diversify enrollment, only about 10 percent of offers went to black and Hispanic students, even though they constitute about 68 percent of the school population.

I support diversity in all schools, but I oppose lowering standards to achieve that goal.  I realize that a single standardized test does not necessarily allow valid inferences to be drawn about an applicant's ability.  Yet eliminating the test, as critics have proposed, would be risky.  Yes, teacher recommendations and prior grades can be used instead, but I wonder if they are sufficient.  These specialized schools are highly demanding in what is expected from students.  How well served are they if they cannot handle the intense pressure?  We talk so much about building student self-esteem.  But if we enroll students in schools that are beyond their ability to succeed, their self-esteem is bound to be diminished.

By all means, let's continue to reach out to black and Hispanic students and provide them through the free DREAM program with help in preparing for the admission exam.  But in the final analysis, let's not undermine the quality of these specialized schools.  They are a gem in the New York City system.

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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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