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In student video, American Studies teachers support admissions changes

Teachers and students at many of the city’s specialized high schools haven’t been shy about voicing their opinion about proposals to change the single-test admissions systems for their schools. No, thanks, they’ve said, in alumni newsletters, news reports, and white papers.

But a new student-created video shows a majority of teachers at the High School of American Studies at Lehman College do support changes to the city’s specialized high school admissions system. In the 20-minute video, teachers criticized the test-centered admissions policy, and argue that the test heightens racial and socioeconomic inequalities—echoing criticism lobbied by Mayor Bill de Blasio.

“There is a problem there,” Michael Holmes, a chemistry teacher at the school, said in the video. “It’s not the kids’ fault, and it’s not that the kids should be demonized for coming to specialized schools, but I think the system itself needs to really think about how it selects students for these places.”

The 387-student school opened in 2002 with a focus on the history and language arts, making it one of the few specialized schools to focus on the humanities and dramatically smaller than Stuyvesant High School and Brooklyn Technical High School, which serve more than 3,000 and 5,000 students, respectively.

Chancellor Carmen Fariña voiced support for a bill introduced in the state legislature earlier this month that proposed changing the admissions process to consider attendance, middle school grades and state exam scores, in addition to the Specialized High School Admissions test.

While de Blasio, who has long-supported a change to the admissions process, could approve changes for policies at five of the schools, including American Studies, the state legislature must revise a 1971 law to change the policy at Stuyvesant, the Bronx High School of Science and Brooklyn Tech.

The Brooklyn Tech Alumni Foundation released a 16-page report this spring arguing the city should maintain the test-centered policy because it provided an equal opportunity for all students, but said the city should provide more preparation for all students.

Pian Wong, an English teacher at HSAS, said the schools should consider multiple measures when considering students for admissions.

“Any single measure is not a good way to evaluate merit in students. If we only use interviews, it would be unfair. If we only used grades from middle school it’s unfair. So yes, if we only use the test, it’s unfair,” she said.