THE BLOG
09/18/2014 01:06 pm ET Updated Nov 18, 2014

The Problem With Sweeping Reform

It was just announced that New York City is creating a new and "improved" version of the SHSAT, the sole admissions test to NYC's esteemed specialized high schools. A Request for Proposals was just posted on the Department of Educations's (DOE) website giving interested companies just over a month (just one month), to reinvent a standard that's been used, many feel successfully, for years. No, the current test is not perfect but, because of its right/wrong structure results are unbiased and objective. There's no room for personal interpretation, favoritism, or different standards for different cultural groups.

The mayor wants to change this. But he's on shaky ground.

This morning the New York Post mentioned that the revised test would remove the advantage of private test prep courses that many students take. As co-president of the Brooklyn Tech PTA, I'm going to use Tech, the largest high school not just in the city but the entire country, as an example. Sixty-five percent of Tech students last year qualified for free or reduced lunch, putting their families at or below the poverty level.

According to the City's Request for Proposal: The assessment will cover mathematics and English Language Arts (ELA) skills at the highest level of performance for students who have completed 7th or 8th grade. These skills will include critical thinking and problem-solving skills that are part of the Common Core Learning Standards.

Right. Those Common Core learning standards very recently introduced into schools, and which students are still struggling to attain. Test scores dropped significantly the first year they were part of the New York State ELA and Math exams. Despite a revised curriculum stressing these new standards, this last round of tests didn't show a significant improvement.

Oh, and the new teachers contract that all but eliminated mandated time in the school day for tutoring? Hard to see where students are being supported in this scenario.

Another proposed change would be to make it easier for students not as well versed in the English language to succeed. For the record, Tech is hosting its second annual First Generation College Night. This event is largely geared towards families not well versed in the English language, but whose kids got into a specialized school and plan to attend college. At Brooklyn Tech, the number of families that speak English as a second language, or do not speak English fluently at all, exceeds those that are natively English speaking.

The Post also mentions the test would be vetted to prevent bias against blacks, Latinos and other minorities.

Who said the test was biased?

According to a New York Times article written in 2012, at the time charges were filed that that black and Hispanic students weren't equally represented at these schools, "The complaint does not claim the test is culturally biased."

By stating this new test will be vetted to make sure it's not biased against black and Latino students you're alleging that the current test is.

How?

Seriously, how?

And by whom?

This is merely rhetoric and word bombs. It's reminiscent of Fox News and their remarkably effective talking points.

Lastly, the Post notes the City wants to include an essay. Which introduces bias. Subjectivity. Lack of equitable standards.

Which leaves me wondering:

Who will be overseeing the grading process and who will be grading the 30,000 essays that will accompany these tests? Recently, two Brooklyn Tech teachers, scoring regents exams at another high school, claim their grades had been thrown out for being too hard.

Is this the best use of taxpayers' dollars? We're facing budget cuts at schools. The raises the new contract provides to teachers come directly from individual school budgets, without any extra money from the State or City to pay for this major, added expense.

How long will it take to get the already anxiety-ridden 8th graders their high school admittance information? As the parent of a current 8th grader, I know the stress and pressure of the complicated and unwieldy New York City high school admissions process. The changes, as proposed, however, will only exacerbate the problems already inherent in the system.

Where's the input from the principals, alumni and teachers of these institutions? Why weren't they consulted about these changes? It seems they would know, far better than anyone out there, how to formulate an effective test to find the most appropriate students.

Lastly, how will these changes support younger students? Kids in failing schools, who, thanks to the new teachers contract, are now largely without extra academic assistance and tutoring? You want more students to have a shot at an exceptional education? Perhaps instead of making sweeping changes without taking time to thoroughly investigate potential ramifications, investing in schools, supporting teachers, and making sure administrations have what they need to create/maintain successful academic environments would be a better tact.

These proposed changes seem arbitrary and short sighted when looking at the bigger picture. These renowned schools, which have recognized and inspired thousands and thousands of high-achieving students for decades, must not be changed at the whim of a single politician.

Perhaps Mr. Mayor, time, energy, and resources should be spent on actual problems first before dismantling the admissions process for a group of specialized school that has produced more Nobel laureates than many countries.