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Pressure on top high schools shuts more eighth-graders out

More eighth-graders applied to New York City’s highest-performing high schools this year, forcing the city to deny more students their top choices than in the past.

Data released on high school admissions by the Department of Education today shows that while fewer eighth-graders applied for seats in public high schools — down from 80,412 last year to 78,747 this year — the process has become more competitive. Fewer students were matched to one of their top five choices and more of them weren’t matched to any schools at all.

City officials’ explanation for this shift is that more eighth graders’ top choices were concentrated in the same set of schools. With so many students vying for the same schools — many of them among the city’s top-performing — fewer students got what they wanted.

This year, 83 percent of students landed one of their top five high school choices, down from 86 percent last year. The number of unmatched students — eighth-graders who weren’t paired with a high school and who will have to reapply to schools with open seats — swelled from 6,694 last year to 8,239 this year.

DOE officials attributed the sudden popularity of some schools to the city’s decision to include schools’ graduation rates in the high school directory. Schools with graduation rates above 90 percent saw a 30 percent rise in applications, while schools whose graduation rates are below 50 percent received 34 percent fewer applications.

The school with the highest number of applications, Baruch College Campus High School, is listed as having a 100 percent graduation rate. It received 7,606 applications, 61 percent more than last year.

“What we see is that when families have more information, especially with regard to graduation rates, they naturally gravitate toward those better options for their kids,” said Deputy Chancellor Marc Sternberg in a statement. “So we need to keep providing families with more high quality schools.”

Another possible explanation for the increase in applications to top schools is that students might have been deterred from applying to schools the city said it would try to close, in part because of the schools’ low graduation rates. Earlier this year, the citywide school board voted to close 14 high schools starting this summer. Students who had applied to the schools couldn’t be matched there, making it more likely for them to wind up without a placement at all. In contrast, last year, a lawsuit required that students be assigned to schools the city had tried to close.

Not all students learned which high schools they’ll attend next year. In addition to the over 8,000 eighth-graders who were not assigned to a high school, some schools sent acceptance letters to students’ homes. While these letters will take a few days to arrive, other students were told directly by their guidance counselors today. Eighth-graders who were not matched must apply by April 15 to schools that did not fill up in the main round of admissions. They’ll find out by the end of May where they’ll enroll in September.

Here are the 10 most-applied-to high schools this year: