The Civil Rights Wrong of Blaming The Elite High School Admission Test

By | November 26, 2012

I am thinking hard and critically about a “civil rights” complaint taken to the United States Department of Education by the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund (LDF) and two other legal groups accusing New York City of practicing racial discrimination against black and Latino students by means of administering a single admissions test for its specialized high schools. According to the LDF complaint, such elite public high schools as Stuyvesant are discriminatory because not enough black and Hispanic students score high enough on the admissions test to gain admission.

The complaint sounds familiar–but it doesn’t ring true.

That’s because the overwhelming majority of students (over 70%) at Stuyvesant–the most elite of New York City’s specialized public high schools–are not whites but Asians. Citywide, of the 28,000 students who took the Specialized High School Admission Test (SHSAT) last year 5% of African Americans received offers; 6.7% were Hispanics; 30.6% were Caucasians; and 35% were Asians. Whites admitted to Stuyvesant scored far behind and below Asians, followed by Hispanics, followed closely by black admittees. That disproportionately higher admission rate for Asians (in a school system that is over 70% black and Hispanic), where the score on the single test is the admission ticket–is discriminatory against blacks and Hispanics?

If so, discrimination ain’t what it used to be–even within the testing industry. Growing up black I learned early on about how tests were used to deny blacks equal access and their constitutional rights. My mentor Roy Wilkins (who headed the NAACP for 22 years) told me about the “bubbles in a bar of soap” test. In the years of literacy testing for qualifying voters, blacks were asked: “How many bubbles are there in a bar of soap?” That was unadulterated, standard racism. Intelligence tests, too, Wilkins explained, were misused to place black students into classes for the “mentally retarded” and used by guidance counselors to tell blacks they should pursue non-intellectual careers. Even in the non-intellectual fields, blacks were disadvantaged in the work place by job tests that did not actually test for the skills needed to do the jobs. The courts, including the Supreme Court, KO’d such discriminatory tests. The High Court in Griggs v. Duke Power Company, for example, concluded that the company’s promotion test for coal handlers was not “job-related.” (Huffington Post)

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