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.Many of those who get in have taken months of expensive private tutoring geared toward this one test. The latest student graduation speaker, who is black, made this the focus of his speech:
And there is obviously something to this. Test scores are not an especially good predictor of later life success, and the Ivy League schools use them as only one of several admission criteria. To take only the example close at hand, I have never achieved anything in academic or professional life that would correspond to my very high standardized test scores. On the other hand, by what other criteria are we supposed to evaluate 7th graders? What achievements might they have at age 12 that we could examine? According to the NY Times, suggestions include "interviews, observations or portfolios of student work." Immediately we descend into a realm of opinion and personal prejudice. Who decides what sort of people ought to be admitted? Will interviewers prefer well-spoken, well-behaved kids who know how to flatter grown-ups? Or will they be captivated by kids with a bit of ghetto swagger, who drop in lines about having to dodge gangbangers on their way to school? Surely the losers in such a system would be the nerdy, nervous kids good at nothing but school, and why should we make life any harder for them?
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.
It seems to me that if the school wants diversity they should just use a system that gives extra points to kids with poor parents, or kids from under-performing elementary schools. The notion of interviewing 12-year-olds and picking those most likely to succeed is just too crazy for me.