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Mysterious Middle School Selection Process Forced Out by Open Records Law

By Shaye Weaver | November 9, 2016 5:12pm
 The way middle schools in District 2 have graded fourth grade students on their applications has been unknown until now.
The way middle schools in District 2 have graded fourth grade students on their applications has been unknown until now.
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UPPER EAST SIDE — The middle school application process was something of a guessing game up until this week.

Parents have had little guidance when it came to figuring out how the middle schools in their district selected students during its competitive admission process. It wasn't clear how much weight each school puts on various criteria, including grades, attendance, interviews or how students ranked their favored schools.

While the Department of Education has to approve the requirements, it's up to each school to decide what they include and whether or not to disclose them to families. So, in most cases, parents have had to blindly apply and hope for the best.

Now, just in time for this year's admissions deadline on Dec. 2, District 2's Community Education Council announced that they have finally gotten their hands on the criteria used for 12 out of the 15 middle schools in the district that use this rigorous screening process.

District 2 spans the east side of Manhattan, south of 97th Street, excluding the Lower East Side. It also covers the West Side, south of 59th Street, and Midtown.

Local education leaders have been pushing the city to release the information for years, but it wasn't until they sent a FOIL request to the Department of Education earlier this year that the agency revealed them this week.

According to the records released Tuesday, at least four of the 12 schools require students to put them as their first choice to even be considered. The rubrics apply to the 2016-2017 school year and could be modified for the coming year.

Each of the rubrics assign so many points to student applicants based on their attendance, state test scores and even their personal behaviors, including time management, organization and perseverance.

For instance, Baruch AP awards five points to a student who has zero to five absences and four points to a student with six to eight.

Some of them take into account how well a student does in an in-school interview.

"The application process creates a lot of anxiety for families, especially because there hasn't been a lot of information available," said CEC2 member Eric Goldberg.

"This is the first step to get a level of clarity around how schools are making their decisions. I'm very uncomfortable with schools assessing and selecting 10 year olds, but if they're going to do it, we need to make sure we're treating kids equitably and fairly."

Four of the schools — East Side Middle School, Salk School of Science, the Clinton School, and Lab Middle School — require students to list them as their first choice school if they want to get into their program. 

Two schools, the Manhattan Academy of Technology and Lower Manhattan Community, school, require students put them as their first or second. Baruch AP, Wagner AP, and Hudson River School assign more points to those who list them first and second.

Sun Yat Sen, Life Sciences Secondary School, and 75 Morton Street School did not have rubrics to submit, according to CEC2.

Nine of the schools require an interview and lists it as a criteria for admissions, according to the documents.

By not requiring schools to make their rubrics public, schools are not held accountable for their selection process, and in some cases allow them to go back on their word, parents say.

That's what happened to District 2 parent Marsha Miller and her son two years ago. Her son had listed Manhattan Academy of Technology as his second choice, and the school assured Miller that they did not require applicants to list it as their first choice.

But her son didn't get in. He was only accepted by his third-choice school, Baruch AP — until they appealed to the DOE and ended up getting into his first choice, the Lower Manhattan Community School, Miller said.

"I obviously made a mistake because I did not have enough information about which schools you can realistically put second, third, etc. The schools are responsible for telling you this, but they try to spin it and don't want to give out the information if their school is not a No. 1 choice," she said.

"I wish the schools did not use student choice as part of their rubric or screening process. It makes for unnecessary stress and complicates the process. The middle school process requires too much strategizing with incomplete information."

When analyzing the documents, CEC2 members say they found a general disregard to detail, including simple errors, according to Goldberg. 

Some of the schools had references to fifth grade report cards, when the schools are only looking at fourth grade report cards, he said, though they were later corrected after they clarified with individual schools.

"I can’t believe the schools and the DOE reviewed and approved the rubrics that had errors in them."

"The process is not student-centered. It has morphed into one where schools choose kids, not kids choosing schools," Goldberg said.

To see the middle school rubrics, visit CEC2's website.

More Reading:

► Reveal Secret Middle School Admissions Criteria, Parents Urge DOE

Middle Schools Could Stop Weeding Out Kids Who Don't Rank Them First

 How One School Is Leveling the Playing Field for Middle School Admissions