Major Changes Coming to the Middle School Admission Process; How to Get Involved

Photo by Allan Foster.

School District 3, which covers the Upper West Side, is likely to change the way it admits students to middle school starting in the fall of 2019. Community Education Council 3 (CEC3), which acts as a parent advisory board for the district, and Superintendent Ilene Altschul want to hear what parents think of the changes.

Middle school admission is a stressful process for many parents. As it stands now, students rank schools based on their preferences and schools rank the children, and then the schools and children are matched up. In District 3, schools can see where the students ranked them, and some will only offer admission to students who rank them in the top spot. That makes the process of ranking schools particularly tricky, as some parents try to game the system so their child gets admitted to a their favored school. It also leads to segregation, critics charge, in part because wealthier parents are better able to improve their odds.

Most districts in the city, in fact, have already adopted a “blind ranking” policy where schools can’t see how students ranked them. This policy will become standard citywide starting in Fall 2019, so it will impact you if you have a kid who is currently in fourth grade or below.

In addition, District 3 is considering another policy designed to make middle schools more integrated by ability — and potentially by race and class. Superintendent Ilene Altschul has floated a plan that would make sure that at least 10% of each middle school’s incoming sixth grade class scored a 1 (well below proficient) on their fourth grade English Language Arts and Math tests, and 15% scored a 2 (below proficient). The scores on the two tests would be averaged.

Demanding more academic diversity is preferable to creating racial or socioeconomic quotas, says Kristen Berger, the head of the middle school committee at CEC3. Choosing students based on race or income could lead to student bodies that are too segregated based on academic performance, leading to a few schools with a large proportion of high-needs students, she notes. In addition, diversifying schools by ability would also diversify them based on race and income, she predicts.

These policies are already being hotly debated — some expect blind ranking to make schools less diverse not more, for instance. Minutes from a meeting earlier this month are linked here and the middle school committee homepage is here. “This change is being decided in a couple of months and now there is really a panic,” Berger said.

Over the next couple of months, the city will finalize these rules, and the district wants to hear from parents. CEC3 doesn’t have a vote on the changes, but will offer recommendations. Below, we’ve listed the upcoming meetings people can attend. You can also email feedback to

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NEWS | 48 comments | permalink
    1. LK says:

      This is getting tricky – do I ask my kid to do well or to tank the tests? On the other hand, there is a good business opportunity… for bad tutors. How stupid do we want to become in the name of diversity?

    2. Mark says:

      Parents and kids who think their kids are being done any favors by getting their kids into a school for which they aren’t academically qualified are in for a shock.
      Once you enter the workforce, your boss doesn’t care if you are black, white, or anything else. You need to get the job done. Kids who got an extra pass getting into the best schools won’t get those special passes at the office.

    3. Sherman says:

      I see these liberal bureaucrats are in favor of lowering standards for admission and proficiency.

      Yeah, this is great for education. This is what nearly destroyed the CUNY system in the 1970s and 1980s.

      I expect all these “progressive” UWS parents will run to the suburbs or send their kids to private schools.

      • Bruce Bernstein says:

        … and Sherman now starts spreading racial myths, in addition to all his right wing economic myths. of course everything he says SOUNDS plausible… but so does everything Sean Hannity says, if you start with a right wing belief system.

        there was a vast influx of non-white students into CUNY with the advent of Open Admissions in the 1970s. However, the Open Admissions/ free tuition era ended very quickly, sadly.

        I graduated from CUNY / Queens College in 1984 and can assure SHerman that it was not “destroyed” due to the changed racial makeup. It remained a superb education. The only attempts to destroy it were the endless budget cutbacks, which reached their height under Giuliani in the 1990s. Giuliani hated the very idea of CUNY and truly did try to destroy it.

        but doesn’t Sherman hate all CUNY / SUNY graduates, since we’re “freeloaders”? we got a subsidized education at a fraction of the cost Sherman paid at whatever private university he went to. unless he, too, is a subsidized freeloader. how ironic that would be.

    4. Carlos says:

      Can we get to the root of the issue here – why is it that by definition kids who get high test scores tend to be rich and white? That is effectively what this article is saying.

      I personally think that classes divided by ability levels are critical starting at the middle school level. At that point students have begun to differentiate themselves and teachers should be able to teach to the needs of the students. Top students will get slowed down by having too much attention focused on slower students, and slower students need the attention that is otherwise being channeled to make sure the top students are sufficiently channeled.

      • Carlos says:

        And I would like to add that being put in a high level or low level class should not be a life sentence – some kids are late bloomers or respond to different types of teaching and should be allowed to move up (or down) if things change or they were initially misjudged.

    5. AG says:

      I don’t have children, but this sounds utterly ridiculous. Why is it a choice? I didn’t go to school in New York, so I have no idea if it has always been like this, but everywhere else I have lived, you go to the school that your address dictates you go to.

    6. Mark Moore says:

      “Academic diversity” will drag some good kids down. Some middle school home rooms in D3 are already 1/2 special needs 1/2 non-special needs kids, intentionally mixed to help the specials needs kids. But these special needs kids have just as much an effect on the other kids as the other kids do on them. And it happens right when they are at their most impressionable, entering puberty and exploring the world around them. I’ve seen it and it’s not good.

      • dannyboy says:

        “Academic diversity will drag some good kids down.”

        These are PUBLIC SCHOOLS providing PUBLIC EDUCATION.

        Please stop undiversifying…

        • Mark says:

          dannyboy – I’m confused by your comment. Are you saying that all institutions for public education should be open to all members of the public without regard to ability?

          • dannyboy says:

            Public School pre-K to 12 Grade are open to all children.

            Probably guaranteed in the Constitution or some other guaranteerer of rights.

            You against Public Schools or rights?

            • Mark says:

              Yes, all children are guaranteed access to public education. That is not the same as saying that all educational facilities are open to all children.
              Where did you get the idea that I was against public school and/or rights?
              Perhaps adult literacy classes would be beneficial for you.

            • dannyboy says:

              Mark, I questioned you about writing this:
              “Are you saying that all institutions for public education should be open to all members of the public without regard to ability?

              Now about your subsequent inflammatory comment: “Perhaps adult literacy classes would be beneficial for you.” – As background, I attending University for 10 years, most recently graduate studies at Columbia. Currently I chair a muti-national education non-profit.

              Your comments must be some kind of April Fools joke, and not at all serious.

        • Mark Moore says:

          Truth is truth. The current 50/50 system in some D3 homerooms is hurting some kids while maybe helping others. Let your kid be the one that’s hurt, then speak up.

          • dannyboy says:

            My children attended these schools when they were integrated. I know that has been changed by the recent term of parents, but my children BENEFITED from it.

    7. chuck D says:

      How about fully funding the educational system so that every school can be considered good? I know, crazy.

      • pete says:

        We already spend $25K per year per student, with worse outcomes than Catholic schools which spend less than $10K. Perhaps we should stop paying teachers such generous pension benefits?

        • Mark says:

          Yeah, teacher pensions are the problem.
          Let them teach the next generation and carry their guns and be thankful for their luck.

        • sg says:

          You hit the nail on the head, but waded into the taboo space of public sector benefits. Defined benefit plans, loading up on OT for inclusion in the benefit calculation and banking unused sick time for payment upon separation are unheard of in then private sector. I guess as a private sector taxpayer, the expectation of recipients is that I should just shut up and continue to fund this nonsense.

      • Mark says:

        The issue isn’t whether a school is “good”. It’s about special schools for particularly gifted students in which they are surrounded by other gifted students. This allows for a rigorous environment where students aren’t slowed down by other students without the same capabilities.
        Allowing less-qualified students in based solely on their race/ethnicity will lower the standards.
        How about ensuring that parents of students in minority communities participating in their children’s success, enforcing strict standards in their families and communities, and raising the bar?

        • dannyboy says:

          “Allowing less-qualified students…
          How about ensuring that parents of students in minority communities participating in their children’s success, enforcing strict standards in their families and communities, and raising the bar?”

          Managed to blame the children and their parents in one short paragraph. You are the best blamer and deflector!

          • Mark says:

            Dannyboy – is there any chance of you having a discussion without resorting to childish tantrums?
            Do you disagree that parents and children have any responsibility for their academic success?

            • dannyboy says:

              Mark, you know that I “agree that parents and children have any responsibility for their academic success., my children were very successful students.

              What I challenged in your statement was that parents and children need to improve, not the system of allowing children into schools. That was just your way of ensuring that nothing changes in the segregated schools.

              And, as to your other comment: “is there any chance of you having a discussion without resorting to childish tantrums?” I NOW KNOW THAT YOU WILL DO ANYTHING to deflect attention away from changing the school admissions process, so now understand all of your ulterior motives, including name-calling.

    8. Toomanydogs says:

      Why cant we just go to the middle school closest to our home.

      • dannyboy says:

        Have you met the parents of these children? Just read some of their Comments here. They’re not “Community School” oriented.

    9. LKTMOTW says:

      No matter how much money you throw at underachieving schools they will never be equal. Liberals keep telling us these schools are underfunded, the realty is that government already spends a lot more money on these schools than they do on good schools. When my child was in elementary school they cut the budget at my child’s school to add funding to an underachieving schooling the district . In a weird way my kids school was penalized for doing well.
      I do understand that good schools tend to raise lots of money through fundraising, that poorer schools aren’t able to do. But that’s the way the world works.
      What the poorer schools needs is more mentors, so why don’t all you bleeding heart liberals go to these poor schools find a student that is failing and become their mentor.

      • dannyboy says:

        “poorer schools aren’t able to do. But that’s the way the world works.”

        Sounds like you’re all good that poorer people get disadvantaged.

        Not so nice LKTMOTW.

        • Mark says:

          Oh look – here dannyboy bashes another person with whom he disagrees. When one can’t argue a point, one attacks a person.

          • dannyboy says:

            This is now your THIRD CONSECUTIVE bash of me. So in addition to your wishing to deflect every constructive comment, you exhibit no self-awareness into which to Reply constructively.

    10. UWS Craig says:

      I applaud these moves to create equality in our schools. Hopefully they will make congruent changes at the high school level as well. Stuyvesant is less than 1% African American and less than 3% Hispanic. At least 25% of seats should be allotted to those groups to reflect their proportionate share of the city population. Anything less is discrimination – we should strive to have a color blind society where all groups are represented equally, regardless of skin color.

      • Mark says:

        Craig – you are contradicting yourself by saying that we should have a colorblind society but that certain proportions should be maintained based on race.
        It seems that you are really saying that students of color can’t achieve academic success so they need special quotas.

      • mr_westside says:

        You seem to be putting a high priority on skin color as one of your requirements to get into the specialized high schools.

        Getting into a specialized high school is one of the very few merit based accomplishments a middle schooler can achieve. Nobody looks at your skin color or how much money your parents make.
        Did you know that Stuyvesant HS is a Title 1 school? It has nothing to do with football – it means that the majority of students qualify for free meals due to household income.
        What we need is better preparation for all students in every neighborhood of NYC.

      • ConcernedUWSparent says:

        Um, admission to Stuyvesant IS colorblind. It’s based entirely on test results. 51.7% of offers this year went to Asian American students. Only 11.8% of residents of NYC are Asian. So you’re saying this test is extraordinarily biased in favor of Asians? That’s absurd.
        You may not like the demographics of the city’s premier high school, but that doesn’t mean admissions are racist!

        • dannyboy says:

          My daughter attended, and she thinks that people who judge by race are ridiculous and low people.

      • D3 Teacher says:

        Part of the challenge with diversity at the top specialized schools is that many high-performing students or color don’t want to go to those schools *because* they don’t have any black or latino students. My students who aren’t white or Asian won’t even rank Stuy when they take the SHSAT.

    11. Jude says:

      “… some parents try to game the system” is a very popular, and derogatory way to take the confusion that is the NYC DOE and blame parents. Someone at the DOE must have used that term, and I’ve seen it in countless news articles for years.

      In our many, many years as NYC public school parents, we followed the steps proscribed by the DOE to move the kids through K-12 as did all the other parents we knew. No one was cheating. No one was “gaming.” The rules changed every few years and families just tried to keep up. Rather than blithely demeaning public school parents, please explain what is meant by “gaming.”

    12. AC says:

      Meetings at 9am during the week? The DOE and DOE employees in District 3 will do this no matter what the people say. And it seems, from the quotes from the chair of the middle school committee, that committee is also in favor of these changes. Like another comment below.. we are forced to engage in the conversation of evaluating this idea instead of making all the schools better. Once again the DOE gets away with making the schools better AND they force the conversation to be about race, instead of creating quality schools. Parents can’t even vote on this. Terrible way to go about finding solutions.

    13. scott says:

      We have officially jumped the shark here. The current administration is looking for a quick fix to improve statistics in the short term, rather than actually focusing resources on, and coming up with, a long term solution.

    14. UpperUpperWestSider says:

      I attended the meeting last night and as much as I like to blame the DOE for everything under the sun, this most recent proposal is coming from the District 3 superintendent. She is the sole decision-maker and the one who came up with this asinine idea of academic diversity floors. While the CEC is there to provide input and to collect community feedback, it is not their nor the DOE’s decision.
      Interestingly that same superintendent did not show up last night, nor did she send a representative. So much for collecting feedback from parents…

    15. Jen says:

      I don’t understand the concept of academic diversity and would appreciate if someone can try to explain it to me calmly, in a polite manner, without bashing the opponents or proponents of the issue.

      We are not talking about racial/ethnic diversity as some people on both sides already started equating the two. If we need more racial/ethnic diversity, it could have been some sort of affirmative action where the rules are put in place to make minority groups that’s otherwise eoukd have been excluded, now have a chance to enter the school. I understand this concept and the purpose behind it.

      But academic diversity suggestion completely puzzles me. What are we trying to achieve by mixing different levels of academic proficiency? I do realize that for example you can start learning another language faster if you are thrown in the group of native speakers. But does it apply to math and science for example? If a child has 1 or 2 in math by the age of 11, does it really help him/her to be surrounded by someone who is really good and get assignments at their level? At this point it would seem that a poor grade is because(and feel free to correct me as I’m not trying to make a statement but rather understand the proposal)
      1. Cognitive issues
      2 behavioral issues
      3. Bad teachers at elementary

      I don’t see how being surrounded by higher performing students will resolve that. Looks like all 3 causes are better addressed at elementary school by providing necessary services and then continuing them throughout middle schools. Understood that more funding would be required for something like that, but at least the services will mitigate the issues to some extent. I just don’t understand how academic (not racial) diversity would.

      • Soontobemiddleschooldad says:

        Jen – I will try and explain it as best as I understand it.

        First, admissions based on race or ethnicity is not legally permissible. The DOE cannot by law, include as an admission criteria the race of a child. So, the DOE and the District Superintendent are trying to find another way to diversify the middle schools in District 3.

        Second, a number of years ago (3-4, but I am not positive), District 3 looked at ways to diversify the middle schools by adding some form of socio-economic factors. Apparently, after much back and forth, it was agreed that such factors wouldn’t work either.

        Third, this leads us to where we are today. What you need to know is that for the past however many years, middle school admissions in District 3 have been known as revealed rankings. This means that the prospective middle school students ranks, in order of preference, the middle schools they are interested in. The schools on their list then see how the prospective student ranked them. Starting next year, this revealed ranking is going away. No middle school in our district will see student rankings anymore. This is a DOE mandated change. The DOE believes that blind rankings will allow students to honestly pick schools they want to attend and will increase diversity.

        Fourth, the District 3 superintendent is concerned that blind ranking will actually lower middle school diversity not increase it (even though the DOE says it will) so she has come up with the idea of using academic floors (i.e. a certain percentage of students who average a 1 and a 2 on the state exams must be given spots in all of the middle schools). As has been mentioned by the superintendent, the vast majority of students in District 3 that score a 1 or a 2 on the state exams are black or Hispanic students. Hence, academic diversity will lead to more diverse schools.

        I hope this helps frame the discussion.

        • Jen says:

          Thank you for a very detailed explanation of why academic diversity was proposed.

          Not related to the very good post above – so academic diversity is proosed as means to create socio-economic and racial diversity. How then it helps minority communities to achieve something meaningful if lets say a sudent from a disadvantaged background who scores 3-4 is not given a spot in a high-achieving school, but a student from the same background with a score of 1-2 does?

      • dannyboy says:

        “I don’t understand the concept of academic diversity and would appreciate if someone can try to explain it to me calmly, in a polite manner, without bashing the opponents or proponents of the issue.” – Jen

        Academic diversity means that different children would learn, play and socialize together. You know, like a “Melting Pot”.

        They would learn to live together, you know, like we used to on the UWS.

        They would become citizens who understood and respected each other, you know, like a community.

        Kinda’ puts “Public” back into “Public School”

    16. UWS Craig says:

      The simpler solution is to improve the test so that results do not disadvantage certain groups. The SAT was notorious for discriminatory methodologies. For example, they had a question regarding knowing the definition of the word “regatta”. Also, 25% of incorrect answers on any given test should be counted as getting the answer correct to properly credit diversity of thought.

    17. D3 Teacher says:

      Many people just don’t believe that school integration is a positive good for all children and for the longterm health of our country. White parents fought it in the American south in the 1950s. They fought it in Boston in the 1970s. Now they are fighting it here in the beating heart of American liberalism.

      Oh, they’ll tell you it’s not about race, it’s about ability, it’s about “good schools,” but if you are fighting to maintain the privileges that institutional racism have granted your family at the expense of other families, you are standing on the wrong side of history.

      • Mark says:

        I honestly don’t understand your point. Are you suggesting that elite public schools are not open to children of color?

        • dannyboy says:

          D3 Teacher’s point is: “you are fighting to maintain the privileges that institutional racism have granted your family at the expense of other families, you are standing on the wrong side of history.”