New York Assemblyman Charles Barron Pushes to End City’s “Racist” and “Elitist” Standardized High School Test

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[New York City Education News]
Assemblyman Charles Barron
Photo: Facebook

Assemblyman Charles Barron says New York City's test for top high schools is "racist and "elitist."

New York Assemblyman Charles Barron wants to end what he calls the “racist” and “elitist” SHSAT standardized testing for New York City high school students. He says this racially elitist test prevents many capable Black and Latino children from getting into New York’s top high schools.

Barron thinks every Black and Latino official in New York City should support the legislation he has introduced to address this problem.

Assemblyman Barron insists the current SHSAT test has “got to go” because it discriminates and keeps out many bright Black and Latino students from admission to the city’s top eight high schools. Assemblyman Barron is proposing a bill, AO2173, “to amend the education law, in relation to admission to the specialized high schools in the city of New York.”

Barron said his bill will create “equal access to every student, no discrimination.”

Reportedly, last year Blacks and Latinos accounted for only nine percent of those entering New York’s top eight high schools—although they make up nearly 70 percent of the city’s students. In contrast, Whites represented 27 percent of those entering these schools—although they only account for 15 percent of the city’s students. Asians represented 52 percent of those entering into these schools, but they are only 16 percent of the city’s students.

The Black Star News spoke with Assemblyman Barron about why he thinks the admission process for New York City’s specialized high schools should be changed.

“Well, first of all in the specialized high school admissions process, New York City is the only city in the entire country that has a single test for admissions entrance in specialized high schools,” Barron said. “This test occurred in 1971. The legislature put it in place with this racist intent to make the three high schools, Bronx High School of Science, Brooklyn Tech, and Stuyvesant elitist. That’s why they created the test in the first place, in 1971. Prior to that it was open admissions. Any student could go to just about any school, if you use your grade point average and other things to get into school. But they wanted to make it elitist. Well, they succeeded because this time around only seven Black students were admitted into Stuyvesant. And don’t tell me that we only have seven Black students smart enough for Stuyvesant.”

Many Asians, in New York City, are opposed to getting rid of the SHSAT. The Black Star News asked Barron about his thoughts on this.

“This bill is equal access for everyone. It favors no one,” Barron said. “I don’t understand why people wouldn’t be happy with a bill that favors no one. Equal access to everyone. No student, this is important, no student has a reserve seat. Every year the admissions is open to all students. And this failing admissions process of one single three-and-a-half-hour test, multiple choices, 94 questions, cramming students to pass this test is not a measure or predictability of educational excellence or success. So, Asian students who makeup 62 percent of the specialized high schools, but only 16 percent of the public-school system, and Black and Latinos makeup 67 percent of the public-school system and only 9 percent of the specialized high schools, somethings wrong with that. So, to equal it out, we have an admissions process that I’m proposing to the mayor, and the chancellor, that we draw 7 percent of the top students from all the middle schools.”

Assemblyman Barron told the Black Star News the current SHSAT test is not very reliable in predicting academic potential or success.

“So, what happens is they have these specialized test crammed schools where they take thousands of dollars, particularly the Asian students, thousands of dollars to cram,” Barron said. And these are oppressive, anxiety-provoking, and psychologically, you know, cruel to have these students cramming to pass the test. This is why a lot of Asians get in, because they go to these cram schools and the other students don’t. So, my bill will eliminate the test. Because, in addition to what I just said, experts say that the best predictability and reliability for measuring student’s academic potential and success is grade point average, not a specialized test. So, my bill says we’ll get rid of the test, we’ll phase it out in three years. By the fourth year, instead of only nine percent of the Black and Latino students, who make up the specialized high schools, it will go up to 45 percent, when you take the top seven percent from each school, each middle school. So, if it’s an all-Black school, all-Latino school, all-Asian school, mix school, the top seven percent of students will be admitted into the specialized high school. This gives equal access. Egalitarianism instead of elitism. Equal access to every student no discrimination, based upon some test that was designed to keep these schools elite. That’s my bill.”

During the Black Star News’ interview, Assemblyman Barron criticized Black and Latino leaders who are unsupportive of getting rid of the current standardized high school test.

“For the life of me, I can’t understand why a single Black, or Latino leader, would be against us increasing the opportunities of Black and Latino students from nine percent to 45 percent,” Barron said. “For those who think that you’re dumbing down, or, for those who think, that you know, trying to say our students can’t pass the test, of course they can. Because many of the students that did not get admitted into Stuyvesant, and other schools, went on to other high schools and eventually wound up at Yale, and Harvard, and Stanford, and Brown University. So, certainly they can handle Stuyvesant, or, they can handle these elite schools, or, these procedure schools. So, I don’t understand why we wouldn’t talk about getting rid of the test and support the bill.”

Barron was particularly critical of New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams’ stance on this issue.

“And for those Blacks, like Jumaane, [Williams] and others, who say “I passed the test, why can’t they? Please, that’s that capitalistic, individualistic, you know, rugged individualism personal anecdotes instead of looking at the data, looking at what the data is saying that the overwhelming majority of your students aren’t getting in. And it’s not because they are stupid, dumb, can’t pass tests, cause they pass tests all year long that’s why they have high grade point averages. And why not use that? So, instead of realizing that we need to get rid of this test so our children can have an opportunity, and yes we need to fix K to 8, yes we need to do more with the curriculum, African history should be taught, Black history should be taught, yes we need smaller class sizes. All of those things we fought for, for years. But this test it got to go. And everyplace in the country where they use multiple variables for admissions, our presence is at 45, 50, 60 percent. Only New York is at nine percent. You either gotta believe that we are inferior, and dumb, and we can’t get into Stuyvesant, or, something is wrong with the system. I believe something is wrong with the system.”

Assemblyman Barron said he anticipates “a battle” to get his legislation [AO2173] passed. However, he pointed out that “last year, for the very first time, it was voted out of the education committee.”

Update: Mr. Kevin Fagin, in the New York City Public Advocate Office, sent the following response on behalf of New York Public Advocate Jumaane Williams.

"I've been as clear as the data is--our school system, including our specialized high schools, are deeply segregated. But the solution is not to cut off access points, it's to add more, as well as to address the underlying inequities in the system that take hold long before any students sits for a test. Eliminating the test will not solve the diversity in our education system, and I  hope all lawmakers will support a inclusive plan of action."

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