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School choice; New York City schools; public schools; elite schools; selective schools; standardized tests; affirmative action; diversity


New York City bases admissions to its eight “specialized” high schools entirely upon scores on a single standardized test. This policy, hotly contested when it was codified by state law in 1971, faces renewed political and legal attacks today. Single-test admissions consistently result in alarmingly low levels of African-American and Hispanic enrollment at the most sought-after specialized schools. This brief essay compares today’s debate to that of 1971. It notes two major developments since then. The City now has eight test-only high schools, not three. Moreover, the eight schools now function in the larger context of New York’s system of city-wide high school choice. Given city-wide choice, and notwithstanding the dramatic demographic inequities associated with the exam, the availability of a small number of test-only, academically elite high schools arguably increases the diversity of the City’s high school system taken as a whole.