There are several admissions criteria that high schools in NYC use to comb through the multitudes of kids who are applying to them. In the past and probably near future the Specialized High Schools use the SHSAT test. Screened programs use a combo of attendance, grades and test scores and they often end up with a narrow range of high performing students; thus their generally high 4 yr. grade rates. Audition programs like to see your academics but you will also audition or present a visual art portfolio to them, so they will gather motivated students with at least a good work ethic, and possibly other lovely academic and artistic skills. Some families live in the zone of schools that they prefer (Sorry Manhattan, no zoned schools for you) and at the very least, they get convenience and community. Last year there was a system called "Limited Unscreened" that gave priority by lottery to students who had visited the school on a tour or open house. There were several issues with this system including: no 'carrot' to attract the high performers and difficulties for families in attending so many open houses.
One of my favorite admissions methods (is it ridiculous that I gaze at the summer clouds and dream about admissions methods? someone has to do it!) is the curious and opaque "Ed Opt" (Educational Option) system - but I LOVE it. Ed Opt is engineered academic diversity. 16% of the population is gathered from high scorers on the 7th grade ELA test. 68% is gathered from the middle and 16% from the lower scorers. This creates academic diversity which happily brings with it racial and socioeconomic diversity. State test scores often come from affluence, even though there are plenty of dumb rich people (the exception is the SHSAT test where many poor and middle class Asian families have done whatever is necessary in prep to ace that singular test). Affluence and race are often (not always) linked, so when placement by test scores is engineered it turns out that diversity is as well. The other great thing has to do with the fact that not all 7th graders are bringing it. What were you like as a 12 yr old student?! If your access to a high performing screened school (if they weren't high performing after skimming the high performers - there would really be a problem) was based on a less than stellar year when you were a goof ball - wouldn't you be sad? But what if you were in that middle 68% or lower and then later, you got the 'fire in the belly' academically? or you got a better hair cut so you could stop worrying and concentrate on your book, or you got a better girlfriend and you did your homework together, or you figured out how to catch the bus on time. Then wouldn't it be great to be in a school that not only had demographic diversity but also ACADEMIC diversity? You could have access to that AP class that the 16% were accessing!
This year, the DoE has mostly gotten rid of "Limited Unscreened" and replaced it with either Ed Opt or Open (which is just a plain old lottery). I rejoice. No more required tours!! Nowhere, nohow! If any school tells you that you must tour to get priority- email HSEnrollment@schools.nyc.gov and rat them out. It is unfair for everyone. You need to vet the schools more than just their data, but how you do that is on you.
Some noteworthy schools that have gone from Limited Unscreened to Ed Opt are:
Pace High School (Lower Manhattan)
City Poly Tech (Metro Tech Brooklyn)
Harvest Collegiate (Manhattan High Line)
Williamsburg Prep (Williamsburg of course)
Brooklyn School for Collaborative Studies (Carroll Gardens Brooklyn)
Academy for Software Engineering (Union Square)
UA Maker Academy (Two Bridges - did you know that was a neighborhood?)
UA Harbor School (Governor's Island)
When you look at some of those schools stats they may not look high. Why? They were lottery based last year. You simply can't compare them demographically to a school with an academic screen. Does this mean that they are not bringing it? NO! Does it mean that your strong kid will be disadvantaged? NO! Not if your kid brings it. Being the valedictorian of a school, even one that is not historically high achieving, is a big friggin' deal. There are great educators there, desperate for kids who want to come to their school and achieve. In a popular and established Ed Opt program like Edward R. Murrow's program, high performers are at a bit of a strategic disadvantage because even though the population is large, 16% is not a lot of people. But in the worthy schools that have just changed over to Ed Opt, there may be an advantage for those in the 16% (the 68% already has an inherent numbers advantage). The stats may look luke warm, the high achievers will not be racing there in great numbers and they probably won't get wise for a few years yet. This blog is well read, but I don't flatter myself - you guys are in the know and the rest of the City, generally is not.
I suggest you enthusiastically embrace the mysterious Ed Opt, particularly the new ones. Where there is disruption there is opportunity!