NYC overhauls high school admissions

In a major shift for high school admissions, eighth graders from across the five boroughs with course grades in the top 15% of their class last year will have priority in scoring seats at some of New York City’s most selective high schools, Chancellor David Banks said Thursday.

Middle schools, meanwhile, will once again be allowed to screen students based on grades and other metrics for the first time since before the pandemic, Banks added.

The move marks a departure from the past few years when the pandemic upended many of the selective admissions criteria, forcing changes to admissions that helped move the needle on integrating one of the most segregated school systems in the nation. Integration advocates said those changes increased the share of Black, Latino and low-income students admitted to some of the city’s most selective schools.

According to limited data from the education department, the changes increased the proportion of Black and Latino students at several high-demand schools.

Banks said the revamped admissions process, which immediately sowed confusion among families, aims to strike a balance between “increasing access to communities who have historically been locked out of screened schools,” while also “rewarding those who work hard academically and make it to the top of their middle school class.”

The high school change applies to roughly 100 schools that have in the past used selective admissions criteria such as grades, test scores, and attendance. It does not apply to about 20 of the most coveted selective schools — like Beacon High School and Bard Early College — that have their own assessments like essays or school-based tests.

For middle school admissions, the city will allow each district’s superintendent to work with the community to decide what, if any, selective admissions criteria to use in screening applications.

“We are not eliminating screens,” said Banks. “The previous administration sought to take these opportunities away. I have heard overwhelmingly across the city, parents have asked us to increase opportunity, not take it away.”

For high schools, the new plan represents a big change from last year’s policy, under which students needed at least an 85 grade point average to be in the top tier for selective schools — and roughly 60% of eighth graders qualified, said Sarah Kleinhandler, the head of enrollment for the education department. With this year’s changes requiring at least a 90 average, roughly 20% are expected to have priority.

“If a young person is working their tail off every single day and they get a 99% average … that should be honored,” Banks said. “I don’t want to de-incentivize hard work. … I think it’s really important that if you’re working hard and making the grade, you should not be thrown in a lottery with just everybody.”

For middle schools, screens could be coming back after they were paused altogether for the past two years. Middle school applications open on Oct. 26, giving superintendents a short timeline to work with communities on creating changes and then explaining those changes to families.

High school applications open Oct. 12. Applications for middle and high school are due Dec. 1. High school offers are expected to be shared in early March, while middle school offers are expected in April.

The city’s selective schools are separate from the eight specialized schools that require the Specialized High School Admissions Test. Admissions for those schools remain unchanged. Registration for the test opens Oct. 6. The exam will be given to eighth graders in their middle schools on Nov. 17, as well as the weekend of Nov. 19.

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