Went through this same battle some years ago at our own local elite High School, complete with threats of lawsuits from the Federalist Society’s KKK racial enforcement arm, the misnomered Center for Equal Opportunity. Increasingly, educational researchers are proving that high-stakes educational testing is a failure. A number of elite Universities have either discontinued the SATs, or reduced their importance relative to academic selection oriented towards a more holistic view of the complete student profile.
That hasn’t quite percolated down to the High School level yet, where there is a tremendous parent investment in keeping the old, racially and economically biased system.
Justin Hudson, Hunter College High School Graduate and Commencement Speaker
With one of its alumnae, Elena Kagan, poised for confirmation as a justice on the United States Supreme Court, it should be a triumphant season for Hunter College High School, a New York City public school for the intellectually gifted.
But instead, the school is in turmoil, with much of the faculty in an uproar over the resignation of a popular principal, the third in five years. In her departure speech to teachers in late June, the principal cited several reasons for her decision, including tensions over a lack of diversity at the school, which had been the subject of a controversial graduation address the day before by one of the school’s few African-American students.
Hours after the principal’s address, a committee of Hunter High teachers that included Ms. Kagan’s brother, Irving, read aloud a notice of no confidence to the president ofHunter College, who ultimately oversees the high school, one of the most prestigious public schools in the nation.
The events fanned a long-standing disagreement between much of the high school faculty and the administration of Hunter College over the use of a single, teacher-written test for admission to the school, which has grades 7 through 12. Faculty committees have recommended broadening theadmissions process to include criteria like interviews, observations or portfolios of student work, in part to increase minority enrollment and blunt the impact of theprofessional test preparation undertaken by many prospective students.
Eliminating the test, which has remained essentially unchanged for decades, is not on the table, said John Rose, the dean for diversity at Hunter College. The test, he said, is an integral part of the success of the school, which has a stellar college admissions profile — about 25 percent of graduates are admitted to Ivy League schools — and outstanding alumni like Ms. Kagan and Ruby Dee.
“Parents, faculty members and alumni feel very strongly that the test is very valuable in terms of preserving the kind of specialness and uniqueness that the school has,” Mr. Rose said.
As has happened at other prestigious city high schools that use only a test for admission, the black and Hispanic population at Hunter has fallen in recent years. In 1995, the entering seventh-grade class was 12 percent black and 6 percent Hispanic, according to state data. This past year, it was 3 percent black and 1 percent Hispanic; the balance was 47 percent Asian and 41 percent white, with the other 8 percent of students identifying themselves as multiracial. The public school system as a whole is 70 percent black and Hispanic.
When Justin Hudson, 18, stood up in his purple robes to address his classmates in the auditorium of Hunter College, those numbers were on his mind. He opened his remarks by praising the school and explaining how appreciative he was to have made it to that moment.
Then he shocked his audience. “More than anything else, I feel guilty,” Mr. Hudson, who is black and Hispanic, told his 183 fellow graduates. “I don’t deserve any of this. And neither do you.”
They had been labeled “gifted,” he told them, based on a test they passed “due to luck and circumstance.” Beneficiaries of advantages, they were disproportionately from middle-class Asian and white neighborhoods known for good schools and the prevalence of tutoring.
“If you truly believe that the demographics of Hunter represent the distribution of intelligence in this city,” he said, “then you must believe that the Upper West Side, Bayside and Flushing are intrinsically more intelligent than the South Bronx, Bedford-Stuyvesant and Washington Heights. And I refuse to accept that.”
The entire faculty gave him a standing ovation, as did about half the students. The principal, Eileen Coppola, who had quietly submitted her formal resignation in mid-June but had not yet informed the faculty, praised him, saying, “That was a very good and a very brave speech to make,” Mr. Hudson recalled. But Jennifer J. Raab, Hunter College’s president and herself a Hunter High alumna, looked uncomfortable on the stage and did not join in the ovation, faculty members and students said.