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Stuyvesant High School is one of the city's most sought-after specialized high schools.

Stuyvesant High School is one of the city’s most sought-after specialized high schools.

Alex Zimmerman

State rejects claims that students were unfairly denied admission to NYC’s elite high schools

The state education department has dismissed an appeal challenging New York City’s integration plans for its elite specialized high schools. 

Seven students who were denied admission to the schools had asked the state to intervene, claiming they didn’t get in because the city had increased the number of seats reserved for disadvantaged students. They argued that the city’s expansion of the Discovery program — which offers admission to the specialized schools to students who scored below the entrance exam cutoff — violated city rules and state law. 

In the state’s decision, education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia rejected claims that expanding Discovery would water down the quality of education in the specialized high schools by admitting students who were not prepared for tough coursework. She pointed to the city’s assertion that students admitted through Discovery would still have high state test scores and grade point averages ranging from the “high 80s to low 90s.”

“I find this claim is entirely speculative and rests upon assumptions that are not borne out by the record,” she wrote. 

Eight of the city’s specialized high schools, including Stuyvesant and Brooklyn Tech, admit students based solely on the results of the Specialized High Schools Admissions Test. This year, the city doubled enrollment through Discovery, and plans to increase the program to account for 20% of seats in the specialized high schools next year. Previously, low-income students were eligible for the program, but the city also changed the requirements so that students attending middle schools with mostly low-income peers could participate.

The education commissioner found that the city was within its rights to change the definition of which students can participate in Discovery, and to significantly expand it. 

The city’s integration plans also face a federal legal challenge that is still pending, though a judge ruled that the Discovery expansion could move forward as the case makes its way through the court. 

In the federal case, the Pacific Legal Foundation is representing a group of Asian-American parents who say the changes to Discovery discriminate against their children. Asian students make up a majority of enrollment in the specialized high schools.  

On Friday, the lead attorney for the plaintiffs said the state decision has “no impact” on the case. 

The decision was handed down just before Elia’s last day as commissioner, after surprising the education world in July by announcing her resignation. Her last day is Aug. 31. She is expected to join a national firm that supports districts in crafting school turnaround plans, but has not publicly named the firm or described her new position.