A new puzzle piece has emerged in the fractious debate over how to fairly admit students to some of New York City's most sought-after public high schools.
The city Department of Education on Friday released a 2013 report by a consulting firm it hired to analyze whether the entrance exam for Stuyvesant and seven other specialized high schools was a valid predictor of academic achievement.
Its conclusion: Yes, particularly in math and science, based on accepted students' high school grades, state Regents results and Advanced Placement exams.
Mayor Bill de Blasio's administration wants to scrap the admissions test in favor of a mix of applicants' course grades and state test scores, saying that would find talented students who don't test well, and diversify schools with few black and Latino students.
Supporters of the test of math, reading and writing say it is the most objective, fair method for determining merit.
The Specialized High School Admissions Test was revised for fall 2017, to add more grammar and align questions more closely to the middle school curriculum. It is unclear exactly how much the 2013 analysis would relate to the current exam, which retained many core features.
Backers of the admissions test hailed the report as evidence that a single test can select top achievers.
The report by Metis Associates looked at all eighth-graders who took the Specialized High School Admissions Test every year from fall of 2005 through fall of 2009. The firm followed those who scored high enough to get into the exam schools and those who missed the cutoff, comparing how well each group did through two years of high school, no matter what public school they ended up attending.
The study found those accepted to the exam schools had a mean grade point average of 3.1 after two years, compared with 2.4 for those who weren't accepted.
Accepted students also got higher mean scores on state Regents exams, ranging from 83 to 93 out of 100 points, depending on the subject. Students who weren't accepted had mean scores ranging from 69 to 79. Accepted students also fared better on two Advanced Placement exams that enough students took to analyze.
“It's not at all surprising that a kid who did well on the test turns out to be good high school student,” said Toya Holness, a spokeswoman for the city Department of Education.
“What the validity study misses is the kid who didn't do as well on the test, or didn't take it, but still stands an excellent chance of being successful in these high schools if they had the opportunity.”
Mean GPA after two years for students accepted to exam schools
The mayor wants to admit eighth-graders performing in the top 7% of each middle school in the city. The department says this year those students had an average state test score of 3.9, almost the same as the 4.1 average of students offered specialized high school seats, on a scale of 1 to 4.5.
Officials at Metis Associates couldn't be reached Friday, and had referred previous requests for comment to the department. The study was originally commissioned in response to a civil rights complaint about the admissions method. Reporters requested the study, but the department declined to release it until Friday, saying it had required legal review.
Supporters of the test said the mayor unfairly had suppressed a study that backed their argument. David Lee, education chair of the Chinese American Citizens Alliance of Greater New York, said in a release: “It's an outrageous scandal that Mayor de Blasio hid from the public for more than four years a study proving the validity of the SHSAT, while he led a political campaign to eliminate” it.
Shael Polakow-Suransky, who was the department's chief academic officer in 2013 and now is president of Bank Street College of Education, said the entrance exam was relatively cheap and “you get what you pay for.”
The test differentiates students on a narrow band of math and reading, he said. “It is sufficient to do what it is designed to do, but I don't think it should be held up as indicative of the full capacities you might want from a search for the most talented kids in the city,” Mr. Polakow-Suransky said.
The revised admissions test in 2017 eliminated the unpopular “scrambled paragraphs” that asked students to put a group of sentences in the right order, and the logistical reasoning questions, akin to word puzzles. Critics thought those challenges didn't reflect what students learned in school and were especially susceptible to gaming through test prep.
Scott Overland, a spokesman for the test vendor, said by email that “Pearson works diligently with our state and district partners to create fair, valid and reliable assessments aligned to their needs.”
BY LESLIE BRODY