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Decision No. 18,287

Appeal of G.P., on behalf of his child, from action of the New York City Department of Education regarding student placement.

Decision No. 18,287

(June 7, 2023)

Deborah J. Denenberg, Esq., attorney for petitioner

Hon. Sylvia O. Hinds-Radix, Corporation Counsel, attorneys for respondent, Wynee Ngo, Esq., of counsel

ROSA., Commissioner.--Petitioner appeals the determination of the New York City Department of Education (“respondent” or “NYCDOE”) to deny his child (the “student”) admission to one of its specialized high schools.  The appeal must be dismissed.

NYCDOE operates nine “specialized high schools.”  Admission to these schools is highly competitive and governed by legislation commonly referred to as the “Hecht-Calandra Act” (“Hecht-Calandra”).  As relevant here, the principal means of admission into each of the schools is an examination called the Specialized High School Admissions Test (the “SHSAT”).[1]  The pertinent sections of Hecht-Calandra regarding the SHSAT are set forth below:

... No candidate may be admitted to a special high school unless he [or she] has successfully achieved a score above the cut-off score for the openings in the school for which he has taken the examination.  The cut-off score shall be determined by arranging the scores of all the candidates who took the examination and who then commit themselves to attend the school in descending order from the highest score and counting down to the score of the first candidate beyond the number of openings available ... (L 1971, ch 1212, § 1; see Education Law § 2590-h [1] [b]).

Petitioner’s child took the SHSAT in December 2021.  Her scaled score fell one point below the cut-off score for admission to a specialized high school, the Brooklyn Latin School (“Brooklyn Latin”).[2]  This appeal ensued.  Petitioner’s request for interim relief was denied on May 31, 2022.

Petitioner argues that the student was unfairly denied admission to a specialized high school because her raw score was “equivalent” to those of other students who received offers of admission.  Petitioner acknowledges that the raw test scores were normalized but asserts that this process is “inherently unfair to students on the cut-off border.”  He seeks a determination that the student is entitled to attend Brooklyn Latin.

NYCDOE asserts that all SHSAT test scores were scored according to standard psychometric practices.[3]

A board of education possesses broad authority “to prescribe the course of study by which pupils shall be graded and classified, and to regulate the admission of pupils and their transfer from one class or department to another, as their scholarship should warrant” (Education Law §§ 1709 [3]; 2554 [1]).  A board’s decision will not be overturned unless it has acted in an illegal, arbitrary or capricious manner (Appeal of L.S. and M.R., 61 Ed Dept Rep, Decision No. 18,077; Appeal of a Student with a Disability, 41 id. 259, Decision No 14,680; see also Appeals of P.C., et al., 61 id., Decision No. 18,098).  In an appeal to the Commissioner, a petitioner has the burden of demonstrating a clear legal right to the relief requested and establishing the facts upon which he or she seeks relief (8 NYCRR 275.10; Appeal of P.C. and K.C., 57 Ed Dept Rep, Decision No. 17,337; Appeal of Aversa, 48 id. 523, Decision No. 15,936; Appeal of Hansen, 48 id. 354, Decision No. 15,884). 

Petitioner’s argument rests upon the erroneous assumption that all students took the same SHSAT examination.  As respondent’s Director of Data Analytics, Research, and Innovation explains, NYCDOE offers several different versions of the SHSAT examination to account for its administration “at multiple testing sessions across multiple days.”  These versions include both common and unique questions.  To allow for accurate comparisons across versions, test takers’ raw scores—i.e., the number of questions they answered correctly—are converted into scaled scores.  This is done, as the director explains, by “plac[ing] all [test] items on a single, common scale based on student performance on the common items ....”  This process “mak[es] it possible to compare ... scores directly,” which in turn allows respondent to “arrang[e] the scores of all the candidates who took the examination” and determine who is eligible for admission to an a specialized high school.

Respondent’s practices reflect the application of industry-standard psychometric principles of scaling and equating and can hardly be considered arbitrary or capricious.  The New York State assessments use similar procedures where raw scores are converted to scale scores to facilitate consistent interpretations across versions of the test that may differ in difficulty.  To do otherwise (i.e., to compare raw scores directly), would ignore the reality that questions vary in difficulty, and would ultimately hold students to different standards based on the particular test form they took.  Thus, the appeal must be dismissed (see Appeal of Lauria, 46 Ed Dept Rep 288, Decision No. 15,510).




[1] The background of the Hecht-Calandra Act and specialized high schools is more fully described in Appeals of C.K., et al., 59 Ed Dept Rep, Decision No. 17,748.


[2] It is unclear from the record which schools the student applied to other than Brooklyn Latin, if any.


[3] I have accepted respondent’s late answer based upon a showing of good cause.  I have also accepted the supplemental affidavit submitted by petitioner.