School bill raises concerns

Updated: 2014-06-12 12:06

By Jack Freifelder in New York (China Daily USA)

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Asian-American community upset with bill

Some Asian-American community leaders and parents in New York City are concerned that proposed state legislation that would change the process for getting into eight specialized high schools for academically and artistically gifted students in the city could significantly reduce the number of Asian-American students admitted to the schools.

The legislation would change a 1971 law that makes an exam, known as the Specialized High School Admissions Test (SHSAT), the only measure that can be used to admit students to the high schools. The exam is taken by about 30,000 students.

Critics of the test say it gives a big advantage to those who can afford test prep. Those backing the proposed legislation say it will make admissions fairer at schools where few black and Hispanic students gain entry.

"The test remains popular in some quarters, particularly among Asian and other immigrant groups who see passing the test as an attainable steppingstone to a good college and later success," the New York Times reported on June 9, while also saying that "there appears to be little momentum" in either the state Assembly or Senate for the legislation.

Simon Li, president of the Asian Cultural Federation, told China Daily on Wednesday that the Asian community needs to fight the proposed change.

"This bill has a really negative impact on the Chinese community," he said. "Our children can test into other great schools, but they're not letting us go. There already are not enough schools for our children in the community, so where are they supposed to go?".

Phil Gim, a Chinese American who is a senior adviser to the ACF, said on Wednesday that proponents of the bill should not push for change in the admissions criteria unless there is a better alternative to the status quo.

"This should not be rammed into law in a short period of time without any public hearing," said Gim, a resident of heavily Asian-populated Flushing, who is running for a state Assembly seat in the 40th District, which covers Flushing and Murray Hill.

"We don't want this issue to be 'political football', so we should think of all the parents and students involved. [The proponents of the bill] really have to figure out what they want before they try to push this bill through," he said.

"Of course we want diversities in these schools," Gim said at an open roundtable with reporters in Flushing. "But until we find a truly objective way to handle it we should not provide different criteria."

The proposed legislation, which is supported by the teachers union and the city's schools chancellor, would allow the schools to use multiple measures, including grade-point averages and state test scores, as well as the current admissions exam to decide whom to admit, rather than just the current 2 1/2-hour-long multiple-choice test.

The schools include the Bronx High School of Science, the Brooklyn Latin School, Brooklyn Technical High School, High School for Mathematics, Science and Engineering at the City College, High School of American Studies at Lehman College, Queens High School for the Sciences at York College, Staten Island Technical High School, and Stuyvesant High School.

In the 2012-13 school year, state data showed that most of Stuyvesant's 3,284 students were Asian, 36 students were black and 80 were Hispanic.

A ninth special school has a different process. For Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts, acceptance is based on an audition and a review of a student's academic records.

Amy He contributed to this story.

School bill raises concerns
Phil Gim, a senior adviser to the Asian Cultural Federation in New York, speaks during an open roundtable with reporters in Flushing on Wednesday. Jack Freifelder / China Daily