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One college admissions officer at a large public university described how test-optional admissions had spurred more disagreements in his office. A third reader on an application was often called in to break a tie when one staffer said ‘yes’ and another said ‘no.’ Without SAT and ACT scores, he explained, the job of admitting students had become more subjective and more time-consuming. “I feel like everyone who reviews applications has their own perspective or opinion,” he said.
This sobering anecdote comes from a research project led by Kelly Slay, an assistant professor at Vanderbilt University, who has been conducting in-depth interviews with admissions officers in 2022 to understand how the elimination of SAT and ACT testing requirements has been playing out inside colleges and universities. According to Slay, admissions officers often described a “chaotic” and “stressful” process where they lacked clear guidance on how to select students without test scores. Admissions officers at selective colleges were also “overwhelmed” by the volume of applicants that test-optional policies had unleashed.
“One of our key findings were the tensions that were emerging around these test optional policies,” said Slay. “There’s a struggle on how to implement them.”
Slay’s work gives us a rare, unvarnished glimpse inside college admissions offices. It’s especially significant now because a college admissions case is currently before the Supreme Court that could strike down affirmative action, a practice that gives preferences to groups that have been discriminated against. As colleges experiment with alternative solutions, these interviews help shed light on why test-optional policies haven’t been helpful for increasing diversity on college campuses.
Earlier quantitative studies found that the test-optional movement, which has spread to over 1,700 colleges, failed to substantially raise the share of low-income students or students of color. For example, one study published in 2021 found that the share of Black, Latino and Native American students increased by only 1 percentage point at about 100 colleges and universities that adopted the policy between 2005-06 and 2015-16. A separate study of a group of selective liberal arts colleges that adopted test-optional policies before 2011 didn’t find any didn’t find any diversity improvements on those campuses.
Before the pandemic, the move to test-optional admissions was already gathering steam as concerns mounted over the fact that wealthier students could hire tutors, take the tests multiple times and post higher scores. Other critics said that the paperwork to waive testing fees was a barrier for many low-income students. Then, during the pandemic, it became nearly impossible for students to sit for exams and the vast majority of colleges eliminated testing requirements. Some have since restored them, but many haven’t.
Slay’s research is still ongoing, and she presented her preliminary findings at the 2022 annual conference of the Association For Education Finance & Policy. When I interviewed her in October 2022, she and her research team had interviewed 22 admissions officers from 16 colleges and universities. All were four-year institutions, but they ranged from public to private, large to small, and religious to nonreligious. Four of the colleges had dropped testing requirements in the years before the pandemic with the remaining 12 doing so during the pandemic.
It’s not surprising that colleges that went test-optional during the pandemic were suddenly scrambling to decide how to review applications without standardized tests. But the researchers learned that even colleges who had years of experience with test-optional admissions were still working out the details of how to implement it.
Admissions officers panic that their colleges were replacing standardized tests with metrics that were even more biased toward wealthier and white students, such as letters of recommendation and expensive extracurricular activities. One college purchased a data service that ranked high schools and factored those high school rankings into each application. Students from underserved high schools received a lower ranking, an admissions officer explained. It wasn’t a fair process.
Many admissions officers said that they were struggling with how to select candidates fairly and didn’t know how to weigh an application with test scores against one without. “I think the students that do have the strong test scores still do have that advantage, especially when you have a student that has strong test scores versus a student who doesn’t have test scores and everything else on the academics is more or less the same,” an admissions officer told Slay.
“It’s really hard to ignore test scores if that’s the way you were trained to review applications and think about merit,” said Slay. “If the standardized test is there in the file, it might still bias you in ways that you’re not aware of. It’s an anchoring bias.”
Admissions officers also described how they struggled to answer a frequent, but basic question: are you really test optional? Students wanted to know if they would have an advantage if they did submit a test score. Slay said admissions officers wished they had better guidance on how to answer this question. Since college entrance exam scores could also be used for certain scholarships and determining course placements once admitted, it was difficult for admissions officers to say that the test wasn’t still important.
Larger workloads were a common complaint. College admissions officers said they were spending more time on each application in an effort to be diligent. Plus, the volume of applications had increased “a lot” at selective schools, Slay said. Meanwhile, many offices lost staff during COVID. Some employees resigned amid the strong job market. Budget cuts at some schools led to layoffs and furloughs. Slay said that some admissions offices were operating with a “skeletal” staff.
The stress and pressure of being short-staffed and confused could affect anyone’s decision making. The conditions were ripe for amplifying implicit biases – exactly the opposite of the intent of the test-optional policy.
Slay is hearing from colleges that test-optional policies have increased the diversity of the applicant pool, but it may not translate into a more diverse student body.
“One of the things we concluded is that test optional does not mean an increase in diversity – racial diversity or socio-economic diversity,” said Slay. “If we haven’t figured out how to review students who come from diverse backgrounds who come from schools where they may not have the same access to AP or IB courses, then that could mean that these students still aren’t going to be admitted.”
This story about test optional admissions was written by Jill Barshay and produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education. Sign up for the Hechinger newsletter.
This past week ACT, the Iowa City-based college admissions test publisher, released its annual performance report with the headline “Average ACT Score For the High School Class of 2022 Declines to Lowest Level in More Than 30 Years.”
This framing predictably sparked a media cycle stating plummeting scores have reached rock-bottom levels. As is far too common when test results are reported, these articles failed to look past the splashy headline and provided no underlying data-informed analysis of score changes. The resulting reporting predictably either parroted the ACT press release or joined the popular narrative of youth in academic decline and failing public schools.
The problem is that the data doesn’t actually show learning loss so much as it demonstrates ACT’s learner loss.
While the national average ACT score has fallen, the explanation for the score drop is far more nuanced than ACT’s press release encourages the media to report.
Yes, for the class of 1991 the average ACT composite score was 22.1 (out of 36) and for the class of 2022 it was 19.8. But for that number to mean the nation has a learning problem, as opposed to ACT having a problem, the examination of test scores must look at the pools of test takers over time and whether they are truly comparable.
Turns out the number of test takers and the demographic composition have shifted in a way that could explain the decline. Unfortunately, most media chose to ignore these shifting demographics (and the rank socioeconomic inequality in the k-12 school system that was recently exacerbated by a pandemic) and imply that students are failing to be taught or to learn.
A bit of history is in order.
The ACT was created in Iowa in 1959 and primarily required by colleges in the Midwest through the 1980s.
In 1990 roughly 35% of U.S. high school graduates took the ACT and many colleges wouldn’t accept it, instead preferring the SAT. It wasn’t until 2007, when Harvey Mudd College finally accepted the test for admission that all colleges in the U.S. accepted the ACT, as equivalent to the SAT.
As more colleges accepted either test for admission, ACT’s share of students increased. From 1990 onward, ACT saw a steady growth in test takers (particularly in coastal states), surpassing the SAT in number of test takers in 2009.
However, since ACT hit its peak participation in 2016 (with 64% of high school graduates taking the test), the company has been shedding test takers and scores have been falling.
ACT says it's a lack of knowledge and skills. But, maybe the answer lies in who has opted out of taking the test. The demographics of students taking the test has shifted.
States with high scoring students have abandoned the ACT at a much faster rate than states with historically lower scoring students. In fact, of the 10 highest scoring states in 2016, the number of ACT test takers dropped by 20,000 more than from the 10 lowest scoring states.
From 2016 to 2022, the lowest scoring 50% of the country shed 296,000 test takers while the highest scoring 50% saw a drop of 444,000 students. These shifts will lower the average test scores no matter what is actually happening in schools under the mantra of “college readiness.”
These changes are in part because states like Illinois, Michigan and Colorado have switched their contract for testing from ACT to the College Board’s SAT.
In other cases, students are opting to apply to college under test-optional or test-free admissions policies. More than 900 colleges offered test optional or free admissions in 2019 and that number spiked to more than 1800 since 2020.
In states, like California and Oregon, where all public colleges are either test-optional or test-free the decline in test takers is particularly drastic, with declines of 74% and 79%, respectively, since 2020.
Why isn’t ACT following best practices and encouraging good data science and good reporting? ACT’s own document warns that “best practice is to compare states where the same or similar percentages of graduates were tested” yet their press release ignores this advice.
Rose Babington, senior director for state partnerships for the ACT, rightfully said “Now more than ever, the last few years have shown us the importance of having high-quality data to help inform how we support students.”
But, what she neglected to emphasize the importance of and provide was high-quality data interpretation.
ACT could have encouraged the media, public, or policy makers to compare ACT score changes to SAT score changes.
SAT scores, which range from 400 to 1600, dropped only 11 points since 2021 and are essentially equal to 2020. Perhaps looking at college admissions tests as measures of national academic progress is not the right data or right use of available data. Looking at test score changes and ignoring underlying demographic changes has never been the right approach.
The misinterpreting of declining SAT scores from a College Board sponsored study, undermined faith in public schools in the 1970s and was used as the basis of the 1983 “Nation at Risk” report that spurred thirty years of test-based “accountability” that hasn’t appreciably benefited public education.
What incentive could a test publisher, especially one losing market share and customers, have to overlook interpretations beyond learning loss and school failure? Babbington may have provided some insight into that as well when she said “I think it also speaks to the need for earlier opportunities for assessment, for instructional improvement, and for conversation.”
ACT and other testing companies would have you believe that if you weigh the pig more frequently, the pig will get fatter. But it doesn’t work that way. You have to feed the pig.
We, the public, need to be wary of simplistic interpretation of complex data. Even if ACT (and SAT) performance wasn’t such a highly coachable socioeconomically correlative phenomenon, giving the test sooner and getting more data won’t Improve K-12 education or college readiness. Investing in quality teaching, curriculum, facilities, after-school activities and the tools to combat poverty will Improve academic outcomes.
Feed the pig, not the scale.
Last year, we began our work to shift toward a standards-based grading model that will ultimately be used at all Eagle County School District schools. This year, a number of our schools are piloting programs to help achieve our end goal while others are taking a slower approach and only piloting with certain classes.
Research shows that standards-based grading provides a more consistent and meaningful understanding of where a student is on the learning path. Traditional grading practices often punish students for behaviors and factors beyond their control. Grades based on academic proficiency more fairly reflect student achievement.
This work is rooted in our pursuit of equity and promotes the most aspirational thinking of what our students are capable of as learners, regardless of their race, first language, family’s income, or their previous educational experiences. Grading in Eagle County School District dignifies our students by telling them exactly where they are academically and what they need to be successful.
However, some have voiced concerns about how these changes will impact their child(ren) and specifically their goal of attending top colleges. Know that these concerns about standards-based grading’s effect on the admissions process don’t fall on deaf ears, and we are here to answer your questions.
I recently attended the Colorado Western Slope College Fair in Aspen. It was a unique opportunity to speak directly with admissions representatives from over 250 schools. And while I wasn’t able to speak to each of them, I did make my way around the fair and spoke with as many as I could asking them similar hard questions that have been asked of me. What does your school think of standards-based grading systems? Will making this switch disadvantage students as they look toward college admission? In the selection process, how does your school weigh and compare school districts that utilize standard-based grading systems?
The answers were all extremely similar: standards-based grading does not negatively impact students during the college admissions process. Each admissions officer I spoke with talked about how schools across the country use varying grading scales, from 0-4 scales like Eagle County School District, to more traditional A-F scales, to districts that simply do not grade at all. Some even use 0-10 and others 0-12.
Colleges and universities have grown accustomed to and account for these differences when comparing applicants. Furthermore, most representatives shared that their institutions consider grade point average, so for students coming from a district that uses a 0-4 grading system, it’s one less calculation that the admissions counselors need to make.
Another sentiment that rang true among higher education representatives was that it’s important that school profiles clearly explain the grade scale. Most also referenced the importance of students taking challenging courses. Transcripts that show Advanced Placement or concurrent enrollment classes demonstrate that students are interested in challenging themselves with tougher expectations.
Hearing directly from admission officers at the collegiate level was definitely reassuring, but I understand that it may not alleviate all concerns parents have. If you have additional questions, reaching out to your school principal, myself, or one of our assistant superintendents is always a communication channel available to you.
I see the concerned comments on social media and hear them throughout the community, however, I find the majority of these concerns to come across as misleading or simply have a misunderstanding of what standards-based grading really is.
Please do not hesitate to reach out to me for a clarifying conversation. Visit our website to review a myriad of resources available and remember, my door is always open and I am more than willing to sit down with any parent or community member to discuss what standards-based grading is, what it is not, and why we firmly believe that it is a positive shift throughout the district that will provide long-term benefit for our students.
In 2020, one of the nation's best public high schools abruptly changed its admissions policy from merit-based to a lottery system. According to district data, when academic ability was no longer considered, the admitted students ended up with significantly worse grades—and the school tanked in national rankings.
San Francisco's Lowell High school has long been regarded as one of the best public high schools in the nation. Historically, admission to the school was gained through a complex, merit-based system, wherein most students were admitted based on middle school GPA and test scores. However, in 2020, San Francisco Board of Education members voted to temporarily make admissions into the school lottery-based for the 2021–22 school year, citing COVID-related barriers to grades and test scores, as well as diversity concerns. The school board then voted in February 2021 to make the admissions change permanent.
Following a contentious debate, the school board finally voted in June of this year to return to merit-based admissions for the foreseeable future. However, the decline in academic performance from Lowell's lottery-admitted freshman class shows the steep consequences of discarding academic ability in order to meet diversity goals.
Last May, the San Francisco Chronicle released data showing a dramatic decline in student academic performance among Lowell's ninth-graders—the only grade attending the school who had been admitted by lottery. Almost a quarter of Lowell ninth-graders received a D or F grade in fall 2021, a threefold increase from the 7.7 percent and 7.9 percent receiving such grades in 2019 and 2020, respectively.
The fact that "half of our student body new to in-person instruction at the high school level and absences among students/staff for COVID all explain this dip in performance," Joe Ryan Dominguez, Lowell's principal, told the Chronicle. "It is important not to insinuate a cause on such a sensitive course at the risk of shaming our students and teachers who have worked very hard in a difficult year."
However, grades 10 through 12 at Lowell showed only mild declines in performance, indicating that the problem is much more pronounced among lottery admits. The Lowell, Lowell High School's student paper, conducted a survey that found that 77 percent of teachers "believe the freshmen class is performing worse academically compared to previous years." Unsurprisingly, students admitted based on chance are less likely to perform as well as classmates who gained admission based on merit.
"I have three times as many students as usual failing—instead of one or two, I have three to six. I have some students who have done no work the whole first grading period," Mark Wenning, a biology teacher at Lowell told The New Yorker. "I don't think some of these students would be doing well at any high school, which makes me wonder why they wanted to come to Lowell."
Under Lowell High School's merit-based admissions process, 70 percent of seats at the school are distributed based on applicants' middle school GPA and test scores. Fifteen percent of seats are distributed based on GPA, a minimum test score, and assessment by a committee from their middle school. The final 15 percent of seats is reserved for those attending "underrepresented" public and private middle schools. These students are admitted based on their GPA and statements from their school principals.
While this system consistently created a student body that gained acceptance to elite colleges and achieved top test scores, it also created one that was noticeably less diverse than other, less-selective high schools. According to the San Francisco Examiner, in 2019 more than 50 percent of the student population was Asian, 17 percent white, 12 percent Hispanic, and less than 2 percent black. In contrast, the San Francisco Unified School District as a whole is 35 percent Asian, 15 percent white, 27 percent Hispanic, and 7 percent black.
Attempts to adjust the merit-based system to gain more black and Hispanic students occurred as recently as 2018. But when the school board voted in October 2020 to switch to a lottery system, controversy erupted among families and students.
"I've been working very hard to get good grades to have a chance to get into Lowell," said one middle school student during an October 2020 school board meeting. "I feel like my rights are being violated."
"If your motivation is defined by an acceptance into a school, you clearly don't value education and learning," said Jessi Yu, Lowell's student body president, during the meeting. "I think this resolution is a huge stepping stone for achieving the equity that Lowell and SFUSD have been looking for."
When the school board voted to make the change permanent in February 2021, it cited the "ongoing, systemic racism at Lowell High School" as the primary motivation.
In addition to declining student grades, Lowell has also suffered in national high school rankings. In 2022, Lowell was ranked the 82nd best public high school by U.S. News and World Report (which publishes yearly rankings of U.S. high schools)—down 28 spots from 2019, and down 14 spots from 2020.
The decline in student performance at Lowell High School is a cautionary tale, showing what happens when merit is sacrificed in favor of diversity. Yes, diversity is good. But discarding merit and casting it as "elitist" allows public school leaders to avoid tackling hard questions about why merit-based systems—systems that judge individual achievement, not immutable characteristics—lead to low racial diversity at specialized high schools.
Rather than doing the hard work of examining how public schools fail poor and minority students, leaving them disproportionately ill-equipped to gain admission to selective high schools, education officials in San Francisco discard merit and disguise the much larger issue of the failure of government schools.
Merit-based admission to schools like Lowell High School has been highly successful at providing incredible opportunities to talented students regardless of their families' resources. While Lowell's return to merit should be celebrated, we should not soon forget the lessons taught by its decline under a lottery system.
Indian students appreciate the quality of education available in the United States, and they often wish to pursue their higher studies at one of the many world-class U.S. universities. However, applying to universities in the United States requires ample preparation and thought, and one should ideally begin the application process 12-18 months before the start date of the course. U.S. universities review an application holistically, and a winning application package usually presents a complete picture of the student. Though each university has its own method for reviewing applications and the application requirements may vary at different institutions, several common factors contribute to a successful application to a U.S. university. This article will explain some components of a successful undergraduate application to Improve your chances of being admitted to your dream university.
Academic performances and markers
To begin, a key difference between undergraduate programs in the United States and India is that the U.S. institutions consider the academic performance of the applicant from the 9th grade through 12th grade, whereas Indian institutions emphasise performance on 10th and 12th-grade exams. While applying to a university in the United States, the applicant is required to submit an academic transcript provided by the school that shows grades for all academic courses taken from 9th-12th grade. By reviewing the academic performance from the 9th-12th grade, universities abroad obtain a better understanding of the academic consistency of the student.
The second academic marker U.S. universities consider is standardised tests. Students can take either the SAT exam or the ACT exam, though some universities have waived this exam requirement in the last two years and only require English proficiency tests. The SAT exam is conducted by the College Board and has English and maths sections, while the ACT exam has three components: English, maths, and science. Ideally, students will take a practice exam of both the SAT and ACT exams, determine which style of test is preferable, and then prepare for that test. Resources to prepare for these exams are available on the websites of the College Board and ACT, and these standardised tests can be taken multiple times. An English test is also required for international students. Some well-known options are the TOEFL, IELTS, PTE, and Duolingo. Remember to check with the universities to which you plan to apply to see which English proficiency test is required as part of the application.What you should know about pursuing PhD in the US
Importance of essays in cracking the admission
In addition to academics, essays form a very important part of the application. Most universities require one primary essay, and some may require additional essays. The essay prompts are designed to allow applicants to showcase their personalities. An essay is a great place for the applicant to explain why they want to pursue an undergraduate degree from a particular university and how it will help their future personal and professional goals. Through the essays, the university admissions officials get insight into whether the student will be a good fit for the university and vice versa.
How your LOR should look like
Letters of recommendation are another key component of the application package. A letter of recommendation is written by a teacher, instructor, or supervisory authority that can vouch for the applicant. At the undergraduate level, letters of recommendation are usually written by teachers and school counsellors. The letter of recommendation is usually a single-page document describing the student’s unique attributes to help the admissions committee have a subjective view of the applicant. Providing specific examples of how a student made a difference in the class or the school strengthens the letter of recommendation. The designation of the person writing the letter of recommendation is usually not as important as the content.
Showcase the ability to be financially sufficient in the US
Financial documents that demonstrate the ability of the applicant to pay for the education are another part of the application package. Students need to demonstrate their ability to pay the costs of university attendance. The cost of attendance includes both the course fee and the living expenses for the duration of the program. While filling in the application form, most U.S. universities will ask applicants whether they would like to be considered for financial aid. Letting U.S. universities know that you want to be considered for financial aid is usually not problematic, though some universities may consider this as a factor for admissions decisions.
Participating in extracurricular activities, a bonus
Furthermore, admission officials are interested in learning that you are more than just a good student. Participating in co-curricular and extra-curricular activities while in school is an excellent way to demonstrate that there is more to you than your strong academic performance. Activities like music classes, debate and elocution competitions, community service, and sports are worth including to show what you do outside of the classroom. Ideally, you should show that you have consistently engaged in the activity for several years.
As the application process can vary from university to university, some universities may require additional documents. You may be required to meet for an online interview, showcase a portfolio if applying to design schools, or submit a video. It is important that you read the application instructions and requirements carefully on the university website to make sure your application is complete, as this will Improve your chances of being admitted to a U.S. university.
For more information, students can visit the EducationUSA website (https://educationusa.state.gov), and for individual questions about direct counselling with an EducationUSA adviser, they can write to USEducationQueries@state.gov.
The author is an EducationUSA Coordinator at USIEF Mumbai.
In a Manhattan district with a history of contentious battles over school admissions, two dozen principals have come out against the return of academic screens at district middle schools, according to a copy of a petition obtained by Chalkbeat.
The message to district leader Kamar Samuels from 24 out of 30 elementary and middle school principals in Manhattan’s District 3, which spans the Upper West Side and parts of Harlem, comes as superintendents across the city decide whether their middle schools will once again be allowed to select incoming students on the basis of academic performance.
Admissions screens existed at hundreds of middle schools before the pandemic, but were paused the past two years because of COVID-19 and the shift to remote learning. Schools Chancellor David Banks has given superintendents until this week to decide if and how middle school screens will resume in their districts, with applications set to open for students Oct. 26.
In District 3, where schools are sharply divided by race and class, the debate is particularly fraught. Proponents argue that screens help match high academic performers to schools that can meet their needs, but critics say the competitive admissions standards unfairly divide students at a young age and drive segregation.
“We know that reintroducing academic screens for a few of our middle schools will lead to inequities and a lack of student diversity,” wrote the coalition of 24 principals in a letter dated Oct. 14.
“Ranking and sorting our students goes against a celebration of the rich diversity of cultures and races our students bring with them to the schools across District 3,” the letter continued.
Before the pandemic, roughly 40% of all city middle schools used some form of selective admissions criteria for at least a portion of their students, with 112 schools screening all their incoming students, and 196 using screens for specialized programs, according to the education department.
But the metrics middle schools traditionally used to select kids, including grades, test scores and attendance records, went out the window during the pandemic, leading former Mayor Bill de Blasio to pause screens at all middle schools starting in 2020.
That led to a modest increase in the share of low-income students and English language learners admitted to the city’s 46 most selective middle school programs, according to the education department.
The removal of screens had the potential to make an even larger impact in District 3 because of a district-wide diversity plan adopted in 2018 that required each middle school to prioritize low-income students for 25% of their seats. The original diversity plan did not require middle schools to remove screens. Set-asides for underrepresented students generally have larger effects when they’re paired with the removal of screens, integration experts say. The education department didn’t immediately share how the removal of screens affected demographics in District 3 schools.
Late last month, Banks announced that superintendents could decide whether middle schools in their districts resume screening kids based on their fourth grade academic marks. The education department gave little guidance on how superintendents should make those decisions, other than engaging with the community first.
“It puts the district office in the pressure cooker,” said Naveed Hasan, a parent of elementary schoolers and member of the Community Education Council for District 3.
Education department spokesperson Art Nevins said this year’s process for deciding on middle school screens is an example of the agency’s “commitment … to engaging with families and communities around the types of programs and schools they desire.
“The intention of this process is not to get to any predetermined result, but to have a decision based on a thoughtful consideration of the needs of each district and school community,” he added.
Samuels, who is in his first year leading District 3 and previously oversaw a districtwide middle school integration plan in Brooklyn’s District 13, has held two public discussions with parents and has another planned for Tuesday.
Lucas Liu, the president of the District 3 Community Education Council, said the “vast majority” of parents who have responded to the CEC’s survey have expressed support for some middle school academic screens, though the CEC said the full survey results wouldn’t be shared until Tuesday’s meeting.
One District 3 principal, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the press, countered that the survey demo is likely not “representative of everyone … there are a number of parents in our communities who disagree with screens,” but who may have less “time and energy and agency to come together.”
Liu, who is also the co-president of the Parent Leaders for Accelerated Curriculum and Education, or PLACE, which supports academic screens, argued that the lottery system in place for the past two years has sent lower-performing elementary school students “into competitive schools they’re not prepared for.”
He added that he’s heard from some parents who say they will pull their kids from the district if they don’t find a middle school option they view as sufficiently rigorous.
“You have your letter from the principals, but it’s the parents who decide whether their kids are going to enroll or not,” he said. “It’s the parents who we’re supposed to be serving.”
The principals also pointed out that, according to education department data, 97% of this year’s sixth grade class got into one of their top three middle school choices, and 76% got into their top choice.
The education department declined to make Samuels available for an interview.
Final admissions rules will be made public by the time middle school applications open on Oct. 26.
Michael Elsen-Rooney is a reporter for Chalkbeat New York, covering NYC public schools. Contact Michael at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A highly anticipated New York City high school admissions update came last week as Department of Education officials announced a policy change that greater emphasizes top performing students within a lottery system.
Under the new system, eighth-graders in the top 15 percent of their schools or citywide with an average GPA of 90 or above will be given first access to screened schools.
“Six months ago, I promised that we would reform our enrollment and admissions policies and expand access to quality schools,” Schools Chancellor David Banks said in a prepared statement last Thursday. “Today, I present changes that take steps toward streamlining our policies, promoting transparency, and making it easier for families to find the right school for their child,” he continued.
The DOE said the move came as a result of community and school feedback. For schools that do not have their own school-based assessment, top-performing applicants from across each middle school and citywide will be admitted, the agency announced.
The move narrows the “top tier” of students from last year when it included students with over an 85 average, accounting for 60 percent of eighth-graders. Now, it will limit that group to about 20 percent.
“I don’t think it’s perfect but I think it’s definitely a step in the right direction,” said Jean Hahn, a Rego Park parent and head of the group Queens Parents United, who would still like to see state test scores returned as admissions criteria.
“We thought they would keep the lottery but tighten the top band because I think the lottery [to them] speaks to equity, and tightening the top band speaks to quality,” Hahn said.
Banks said at a press conference that the revamped process would give “access to communities who have historically been locked out of screened schools” and also reward “those who work hard academically and make it to the top of their middle school class.”
Forest Hills parent Irene Raevsky applauded the decision in a letter to the Chronicle, noting that it is still a lottery but one in which the “pot is three times smaller.” She still hopes further adjustments to the policy are made, however.
“One such adjustment could be adding the 7th grade state test scores as a metric for admission — the state test being the most objective metric,” Raevsky wrote.
She criticized the previous policy for giving students with an 85 average the same chances of getting into a “highly rigorous” school like Townsend Harris the same as those with a 99.
Last week’s announcement also included other updates to the admissions process. Application timelines will be offered earlier. The high school application will open on Wednesday, Oct. 12, and the deadline to apply is Thursday, Dec. 1. Students will receive offers in early March, according to the DOE.
There will be a central open house calendar through MySchools for families looking to learn more about all admissions events.
The waitlist process will be more transparent in part by making the number of offers a program has made in the past available so families can assess their chances of receiving an offer. The waitlist time period will also be extended through mid-September.
The criteria for virtual auditions for schools that accept students that way will be improved.
Middle-school admissions will be left up to superintendents and districts to determine if there should be a screened program.
The Specialized High Schools Admissions Test will be given at students’ home schools on a school day instead of on the weekend, in an attempt to make them more accessible.
The group PLACE NYC applauded Banks for returning to academic screening. Other improvements, the group said, were an earlier application and notification timeline as well as more centralized support for gathering data on prospective schools and submitting virtual auditions and additional materials.
Yiatin Chu, co-president of Parent Leaders for Accelerated Curriculum Education, said, “We formed PLACE NYC to advocate for academic rigor and merit in our schools. We are very pleased that Chancellor Banks has listened to parents and made significant improvements from last year’s admissions process.”
The group continued in its statement, “No student should ever have to rely on random luck or engage in a fight to receive their appropriate education.”
Another key part of the announcement was that a new “accelerated learning academy” will be opened by the fall of 2024 in Southeast Queens, with geographic priority.
Alysa O’Shea, co-president of PLACE NYC and a resident of Southeast Queens, said in a statement that she is excited for the coming addition to her neighborhood.
“Chancellor Banks’ plan for providing learning academies to academically advanced children in underserved geographic areas is the welcome change that families have been asking for,” O’Shea said, adding, “Expanding access to quality schools can be further improved, particularly in Queens, by adding seats to existing accelerated schools. Let’s continue to take what works and expand on it!”
State Sen. John Liu (D-Flushing) reacted with caution.
“At first glance, the DOE’s plan appears to edge away from that widely loathed lottery and place greater emphasis on academic diligence and achievement,” he said in a statement.
“Equity and achievement should never be mutually exclusive, and it remains unclear if the administration’s efforts to narrow the lottery bands, even to 15%, fosters true educational achievement and equity.”
Liu called on more engagement with those who felt “excluded by previous administrations” and left out of the process.
Councilwoman Sandra Ung (D-Flushing) in a statement commended the decision to abandon the “ill-advised and unjust” lottery system but said she too has reservations.
“I look forward to working with DOE, as well as collecting feedback from principals, students and parents, to continue to make the admissions process as fair as possible for all of our public school students.”
Former Bayside High School Principal Mike Athy slammed the move in a letter to the chancellor, saying, “In short, there was a chance — actually several chances — to demonstrate engagement, transparency and a truly equitable and comprehensive vision for admissions. You blew it.”
Among many points he disagreed with were no changes to the SHSAT, calling specialized high schools “skim schools,” with discriminatory screening processes.
Athy called the retention of zones and geographical priorities “de facto segregation” and said that the “accelerated learning” schools undermine efforts to bring quality academics to all schools.
In a statement, City Comptroller Brad Lander said that middle-school screens will “reinforce segregation in our schools.”
“It elevates the notion that some children deserve ‘good schools’ while the vast majority do not,” he said in a prepared statement.
He continued, “At most, restoring middle school screens will enable a very small percentage of New York City’s students to access schools with high expectations, while the vast majority will wind up with schools with fewer high-achieving students, a greater percentage of students experiencing poverty, lower expectations, and less attention to enrichment in their learning.”
High school students’ ACT college admission test scores fell to a three-decade low in 2022, according to a new report released Wednesday, falling for the fifth straight year as educators grapple with ongoing learning loss made worse by remote classes during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Students in the graduating high school class of 2022 averaged a score of 19.8 out of 36, the lowest score since 1991 on the admissions test, which colleges use to gauge students’ English, reading, math and science skills.
The average score is down from 20.3 in 2021, and 20.8 in 2018, which were down from a latest high of 21.2 in 2007 (SAT college admission test scores have also dropped slightly from 981 in 2007 to 927 in 2021).
Some 32% of 2022 graduates who took the test passed three out of four benchmarks—indicating whether they have a 50% chance of earning a B or higher in English, reading, math and science—down from 36% of students last year and 38% in 2018.
From 2018 to 2022, the percentage of students who passed the benchmark in the English section dropped from 60% to 53%, while students who passed the math benchmark fell from 40% to 31%.
Only 22% of the students met the benchmark in all four categories, down from 27% in 2018.
ACT CEO Janet Godwin said the decline can’t be blamed exclusively by learning disruptions from online learning and missed classes when schools were shuttered during the Covid-19 pandemic, but by “longtime systemic failures” that were “exacerbated by the pandemic.”
“The magnitude of the declines this year is particularly alarming, as we see rapidly growing numbers of seniors leaving high school without meeting the college-readiness benchmark in any of the subjects we measure,” Godwin said in a press release,
Recent studies have linked online learning during the pandemic—when teachers were forced to completely pivot from in-person classes to lessons online—to disruptions in students’ math and practicing comprehension. During that time, students were shown to have connected less with their teachers and classmates, and become distracted more easily while at home. The high school class of 2022 dealt with online learning for more than half of their time in high school, starting in March, 2020. Students who switched to online lessons from in-person classes for just a month missed the equivalent of seven to 10 weeks of math, Harvard University Center for Education Policy Research director Thomas Kane told NPR. The losses held true for younger students, as well. A National Assessment of Educational Progress report released last month found 9-year-olds’ practicing levels suffered the biggest fall since 1990, while math scores had their biggest drop ever.
Disparities between racial groups also increased over that pandemic, with Black students’ math scores falling 13 points, compared to white students’ scores falling five points, according to the Nation’s Report Card. Analysts at McKinsey & Company attribute the difference between races to variation in access to education, with Black and Hispanic students less likely to have access to internet or live interaction with teachers, despite being more likely to remain in remote classrooms.
Washington D.C. students had the highest ACT score (26.9), followed by California and Massachusetts (26.5), while the lowest scores were recorded in Nevada (17.3) and Mississippi (17.8).
1.3 million. That’s how many students in the class of 2022 took the ACT test, or roughly 36% of graduating high school seniors, according to the report.
Pandemic-Era Policies Caused Dramatic Education Decline (Forbes)
Pandemic Set Students’ practicing Levels Back Two Decades—Here’s Where It Dropped The Most (Forbes)