MANHATTAN — Where you go to middle school is a strong predictor of whether you’ll excel at the state English and math exams or go to one of the eight high schools that require the Specialized High School Admissions Test.
Half of the city’s high performers — those defined as having the top score of 4 on the English or math state exams — come from just 45 middle schools, according to a report released this week from the Center for New York City Affairs at The New School. And 60 percent of all seventh graders who went on to the elite specialized high schools also came from these 45 middle schools, found the analysis, which parsed the data by race.
Several of the top middle schools required an exam for entry or other selective criteria based on test scores, which has sparked concern among critics who fear the process segregates top-scoring students into elite schools at the expense of the general population, as DNAinfo New York has previously reported.
Those schools included highly competitive gifted and talented programs that start in kindergarten including the Upper West Side’s Anderson School and Special Music School, East Harlem’s TAG Young Scholars, and NEST+M on the Lower East Side, as well as schools that expect entry exams or auditions such as Ballet Tech in the Flatiron and Medgar Evers Preparatory School in Crown Heights.
At the other end of the spectrum of the city’s 630 middle school programs, there were 124 schools with no high performing students. These schools sent a mere 0.2 percent — or 9 students — of all seventh graders to the specialized high schools.
The center’s analysis, which was not intended to draw too many causal arguments, does raise questions about when sorting of high-performing students starts, said author Nicole Mader, noting that the sorting does start before middle school.
“Does it start at kindergarten or a little later? And does it start because of where the kids live or because of the choice process and the disparate abilities of families to navigate the system?” she asked.
Advantages — like access to more resources, enrichment and more experienced teachers —are concentrated at the elementary school level, she noted, and those advantages continue to be concentrated in a smaller number of middle schools and then a smaller number of high schools, Mader said.
“I don’t want to stoke the flames for parents afraid of not getting into the right pre-K,” she said, “but it does seem like you’re on an express train if you get into a certain elementary school.”
Once you get to middle school, since so many schools have students who are are predominantly low-performing, it’s hard to differentiate learning for higher-performing students, she noted.