What happens now with admissions?


Ever since Eric Adams was declared the winner of the New York City Democratic mayoral primary in July, parents have been begging me to gaze into my crystal ball and tell them what high school admissions will look like for September 2022 and beyond.

For the 15 years that I’ve been offering public “Getting Into NYC High School” workshops, I’ve been telling families, “This is New York. Anyone who tells you they know what’s going to happen with schools is lying, either to you or to themselves.”

I can’t make predictions, but I can make some educated guesses based on what’s happened in the past, what various politicians have said they’d like to see happen, and what they actually have the authority to make happen.

Let’s start with the Specialized High School Admissions Test, or the SHSAT.
Current NYC mayor Bill de Blasio entered office eight years ago announcing that a single test for admissions was inequitable and unacceptable, though he waited for second term — after his own son graduated from the specialized Brooklyn Tech — before actually doing anything about it.

Changing the criteria for admission to an SHSAT school, however, was not up to the mayor. It was up to the state. In June of 2018, with only three weeks left in the Assembly session, de Blasio sent his chancellor to Albany to agitate for a vote on a bill that would scrap the test.

School Chancellor Richard Carranza, left, and Mayor Bill de Blasio, are seen during an inspection of health safeguard protocols for COVID-19 at Bronx Collaborative High School in New York.
De Blasio visits Bronx Collaborative High School during an inspection of health safeguards August 2020.
AP / Bebeto Matthews

Mayor de Blasio expressed shock when he was told there wouldn’t be enough time to consider his proposal, and vowed to present it again the following year. Which he did. And was turned down again. And again, in 2020.

Mayor-elect Adams has indicated that getting rid of the SHSAT is not on his priority list, so the SHSAT schools seem safe for now.

One specialized school that doesn’t use the SHSAT for admissions is LaGuardia High School of the Arts. At LaGuardia, students are admitted based on an audition, as well as on their grades and standardized test scores. For 2021, due to the pandemic, students auditioned not in person, but via prerecorded video. Will arts schools be able to hold auditions for the coming year?

For 2021 admissions, all public middle schools were unscreened. Which meant that not only could academically accelerated schools not look at grades and test scores, but arts schools also couldn’t hold auditions. Everyone was required to accept exclusively via lottery. There is now a push to make all public high schools follow suit.

The argument is that, due to the pandemic, the majority of middle schoolers didn’t take state tests, so using them as an admissions criteria would be inequitable. Furthermore, many children’s lives were disrupted, which means grades are also an unfair metric.
In the past, many high schools used an algorithm that took into account grades, test scores, and other criteria, like their own exams, essays, interviews, and so on, in order to rank every applicant and offer admissions starting with the top student and working their way down until the class was full.

Mayor-elect Eric Adams
Mayor-elect Eric Adams has indicated that he supports accelerated education, but he has also made it clear that it is not his priority
AP / Mary Altaffer

For 2021, while some high schools continued to employ that model (including those who assessed “soft” metrics they didn’t feel compelled to define or reveal how they were evaluated), others set a floor for minimum requirements — an 85 grade point average and a 3 standardized test score, for instance — and put all students who met that criteria into a lottery. This meant that a student with a 99 average had no advantage over a student with an 85 average.

As a result, many high-performing eighth graders ended up shut out from all of the high-performing public high schools they listed on their application and, instead, were assigned to schools where less than 50 percent of pupils were performing at grade level.

Students at Stuyvesant High School leave after classes in New York.
Students at Stuyvesant High School leave after classes in New York.
AP / Bebeto Matthews

The official reason given for such admissions changes is that it’s unfair for some schools to get all the top performers while others receive the weaker students. If high-performing students are equally divided among all the public high schools, then scores will go up at every school, and low-performers will be elevated along with the high-performers, through the magic of proximity.

As a result, there will no longer be “good” high schools and “bad” high schools,” since all schools will post similar test, graduation, and college placement results.
There are two problems with that scenario.

By NYC’s own (highly questionable) assessment, in 2020, only 57.7 percent of graduating seniors met CUNY’s admission standards (a k a graduated “college ready”).

Assuming some of those attended SHSAT schools and will continue to do so in the future, that means that a little over half of NYC high schoolers can be considered proficient in reading and math. Which means that even if they are distributed perfectly, schools will still, at best, have a slight majority student body that meets academic standards. Is that really enough to magically turn the tide for those students not performing at grade level?

The New York Post special section 'NYC High School Guide.'
The New York Post special section ‘NYC High School Guide’ offers insight into the many questions regarding NYC high schools.

But here is the bigger problem. Last year, when some high performing middle and high school students were placed in schools below their abilities, they didn’t go. They opted for charter schools, private schools, or moved out of the city. Since the start of the pandemic, NYC has lost over 64,000 students, while enrollment in charter schools is up 3.2 percent. If NYC continues to force out the same high-performing students that they’re counting on to lift the scores at all schools, they won’t even be able to reach 50 percent of grade-level performance. There simply won’t be enough high-achievers to go around to make every school a majority passing school.

And as every school’s test scores drop, fewer students will want to attend, or stay in the system at all.

So what is my crystal ball saying about the future of NYC public high schools?

Adams has indicated that he supports accelerated education, but he has also made it clear that it is not his priority. Adam assumes office on Jan. 2, 2022. NYC parents are really hoping that they’ll hear something about how public school admissions will work before then.

Meanwhile, that leaves the decision in de Blasio’s hands, and if he decides to wipe away screening for high schools this year, the way he did for middle schools last year, it may be too late for Adams to overrule him.

It is entirely possible that, come September 2022, the (increasingly competitive) SHSAT may be many students’ only chance for an accelerated education. And, as those who are shut out from formerly academically rigorous schools take flight, it will plunge all of the rest to lower and lower standards, until, as so many would like to see happen (now that their own children have graduated) there are no more “good” and “bad” schools. All schools will become equally undesirable.

Alina Adams is the author of “Getting Into NYC High School” (2016). You can read more of her insights at

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