Coalition to host forum over NYC school admissions bill

Updated: 2014-06-19 08:50

By JACK FREIFELDER in New York (China Daily USA)

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Asian-American community leaders and parents are planning a meeting on Sunday in Flushing over proposed bill that would change admissions to specialized high schools in New York.

The Coalition Supporting NYC Specialized High Schools will host a public forum at the Flushing Library on the proposed legislation which 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.

Since the 1930s, admission to these schools has been gained through this exam, which is taken by about 30,000 students a year.

Community leaders and parents are concerned that the changes could significantly reduce the number of Asian-American students admitted to the schools.

The group has circulated a petition that already garnered 3,000 signatures and will be presented to the Mayor's Office. It has also maintained engagement with opponents of the new bill on social media sites, encouraging people to support the current admissions process.

Phil Gim, a Chinese American who is a senior adviser to the Asian Cultural Federation (ACF), said on Wednesday that Sunday's event would help dispel misconceptions about the proposed legislation and give residents a venue to address concerns, express opinions and ask questions.

Gim said proponents of the bill should not push for a change in the admission criteria unless there is a better alternative to the status quo.

"The test is the best we have for now, but … all we want is a discussion," Gim said at a media-briefing event. "People need to know and be educated about the law and we want the parents to understand where it's going."

"If you come up with something better I have no problem, but until that is the case, I will support the SHSAT," said Gim, a resident of the heavily Asian-populated Flushing, who is running for a state Assembly seat in the 40th District, which covers Flushing and Murray Hill.

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

Two of the backers of the proposed bill are Assemblyman Karim Camara of Brooklyn and Senator Adriano Espaillat of Manhattan, The New York Times reported on June 9.

"Queens has 1900 offers to go to specialized high schools, and under a proposed addition to the bill, we could lose more than 800 seats at these schools," said David Lee, a liaison for the National Association of Asian American Professionals in New York (NAAAPNY). "Queens high schools are at capacity, and [we] don't have any place to send these students."

Lee, who is an alumnus of Brooklyn Technical High School, said "it's a shame" that there's a lack of diversity in these schools. He said the "real reason" that officials want to change the test policy is because of "a lack of diversity".

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 eight 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.

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.

Coalition to host forum over NYC school admissions bill
David Lee (left), a liaison for the National Association of Asian American Professionals in New York (NAAAPNY), and Phil Gim (right), a senior adviser to the Asian Cultural Federation, speak at a media-briefing event on Wednesday in Flushing, New York. Lee and Gim promotoed a public forum set for Sunday that will address the current state legislation that could affect the admissions process for eight of New York City's specialized high schools. JACK FREIFELDER / CHINA DAILY