Eight specialized New York City public schools, including the one I attended, Stuyvesant High School, have recently come under fire for their admissions process which consists solely of a singular examination. Critical members of the NAACP point out that despite the fact that over half of the city’s population is Black or Latino, these races only represented 3.6% of the student body at Stuyvesant (the most competitive of the 8 schools) last year. The NAACP is trying to hold the Department of Education responsible for this appallingly low percentage of racial minorities in some of NYC’s top schools and claims that the test has “breached the Civil Rights Act by having an ‘unjustified, racially disparate impact.'” It remains to be seen what will come of this complaint, however it has definitely stirred up a lot of controversy and is an interesting topic to look at with regards to both legal and moral responsibility.
Regardless of what side you are on, it is important to acknowledge that no test administered to hundreds of thousands of students will be perfect. The test is simply a rough measure of potential academic success and intelligence. It is hard to argue against the fact that for whatever reason Black and Latino students tend to not do as well as, for example, Asian students who make up a majority of the student population in schools like Stuyvesant and Bronx Science; the question is why. It is widely known that many in the Asian community devote much time and effort to studying for this exam- in fact many people I went to school with have been training to take this test for over 5 or 6 years. It is perhaps then not a coincidence that as a group, they tend to do better on this exam.
In an article about this controversy, the legal director of the NAACP is quoted as saying “Quite literally, a kid could have straights ‘A’s from kindergarten to Grade 8, could have won a national spelling bee. But none of that matters – all that matters is the test.” This is true, however it also brings up another point worthy of consideration. Whether or not it does so perfectly, the test gives us a way to compare people from different schools and backgrounds. Not all A’s are created equally and in fact I would argue that a person’s grades often have little to do with their intelligence and potential in life. Whether or not that means they should not be a factor in admissions as they are for this set of high schools is not a statement I am prepared to stand by; however given the fact that these schools see so many applicants and are percentage-wise more selective than the nation’s top colleges- it is not inconceivable that as a practical convenience a test like this may be necessary. Whether or not the NAACP wins this complaint legally, it is not clear whether or not an alternative to raise the amount of Blacks and Latinos would be something that is more morally responsible and fair than the test as it currently exists.
Source for quoted material and for more information