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Fewer black and Hispanic students admitted to top high schools

During a year when the racial composition of the student bodies at the city’s most selective high schools came under harsh new scrutiny, the number of black and Hispanic students admitted to the schools fell sharply.

Of the 5,229 students accepted to the city’s eight specialized high schools this year, 618 were black or Hispanic, according to data the Department of Education released today, the day that eighth-graders learned their high school placement. Last year, the schools accepted 733 black and Hispanic students, more than in the recent past.

The sharpest declines came at the city’s most selective schools. Out of 963 students accepted to ultra-elite Stuyvesant High School, just nine are black and 24 are Hispanic. Last year, the school accepted 51 black and Hispanic students. At Brooklyn Technical High School, the largest of the specialized schools, the number of black and Hispanic students accepted fell by 22 percent.

The declines outpaced another sharp drop-off, in the number of black and Hispanic students who even took the admissions test that is the single determinant of whether students can attend the specialized schools. The number of white and Asian students who sat for the exam increased slightly, but 550 fewer black students and 384 fewer Hispanic students took the test.

Overall, black and Hispanic students received 12 percent of specialized high school offers, down from 14 percent last year but up slightly from 11 percent in 2011. They made up 45 percent of test-takers and make up about 71 percent of students citywide.

“It’s disappointing that the amount of students in Stuyvesant are not reflective of New York City public schools,” said Karim Camara, chairman of the state Assembly’s Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic and Asian Caucus. “Obviously, there needs to be serious efforts to increase enrollment of black and Latino students in these schools.”

Camara has proposed legislation that would require specialized schools to base admissions on multiple measurements, the central demand of a civil rights complaint filed last year by the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. The complaint, which the federal Office of Civil Rights is considering, says admission to the schools would be more fair if students’ grades, teacher recommendations, extracurricular activities, and life experiences were considered.

“This year’s admission numbers represent the continuation of a trend of unfairness and acute racial disparities in admissions to New York’s eight specialized high schools that has been going on for years,” Damon Hewitt, LDF’s legal director, said today. “We will not see a reversal of this trend until the schools’ admissions policy changes once and for all.”

City officials have consistently defended the admissions process — which would require legislative approval to change — and did so again today.

“We take efforts to ensure our system of great schools is diverse, but ultimately for the specialized high schools, we believe the SHSAT is the fairest measure for admission,” said Devon Puglia, a department spokesman.

The specialized high school admissions data came out at the same time as overall numbers about this year’s high school admissions process. According to the Department of Education, 90 percent of the 75,690 eighth-graders who applied to high school this year were matched with a school during the first round of the city’s admission process, 47 percent to their first-choice schools.

But for the third year in a row, one in 10 did not get into any school. The 7,225 students who weren’t matched to any school now have several weeks to apply to schools that still have space or to two dozen new schools and programs opening this fall. Many of the schools with open spots are struggling, and some of the new programs are housed in schools that the city tried unsuccessfully to close last year. For example, John Adams High School is adding selective art history and engineering programs, according to a guide to the new schools and programs that the city released today.

The admissions decisions, which schools distributed to students today, come two weeks later than the city originally intended. That’s because the city extended the deadline after Hurricane Sandy hobbled the city a the month before applications were due in December.

Students who were matched to a school this week can also apply in the second round for schools with open spots. But if they are matched to a school in that round, they’ll give up their first-round spot. Insideschools has published a guide to schools that still have seats, and the city will hold a fair for students still looking for schools in April at Manhattan’s Martin Luther King Campus.

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