BAY RIDGE — A group of southern Brooklyn parents have said their assemblymember is looking to scrap the Specialized High School Admissions Test. Now, that pol says she’s working to clear the air on her “nuanced” stance.
Assemblymember Mathylde Frontus released a lengthy statement last week detailing her position on the controversial exam, which she claims has come into question after an email containing “several falsehoods” went out around Thanksgiving.
The email — sent to parents, media outlets and other local stakeholders by a group called District 20 Parents for Excellent Schools — alleged that Frontus has “come out” against the SHSAT, and in support of an Assembly bill which would repeal it.
“To begin, I have not ‘come out’ against the SHSAT,” Frontus’ lengthy statement began.
The lawmaker, accused of being all-in on the exam’s appeal, said in her statement that the last time she even discussed the exam was in a June 18 Facebook post. In the post, Frontus says she wrote that she was “leaning yes” towards Assembly bill A2173, which would repeal the exam, but that she also wanted input from her constituents.
The SHSAT is the sole means of admissions for most of the city’s nine specialized high schools. In recent years, it has served as a point of contention for the mayor and schools chancellor, who have been working to get rid of the test, as well as to parents and educators hoping to keep it intact.
Mayor Bill de Blasio and Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza have claimed that legislation to do away with the SHSAT would increase racial diversity in top high schools like Brooklyn Technical High School and Stuyvesant High School, which currently enroll disproportionately low numbers of black and Latinx students.
The pair have received both political and parental pushback on their proposal for a new enrollment system, which would allow the top 7 percent of students in each of the city’s middle schools to gain admission to specialized high schools. Opposition has primarily been from parents, some of whom have argued that the administration’s plan is an attack on kids who already work hard to ace the SHSAT.
However, Assemblymember Charles Barron, who sponsored the bill to eliminate the test in the Assembly, has said he won’t be resubmitting A2173 in the new session. Instead, he has said he will try to repeal the section of the education law requiring the SHSAT, as opposed to amending it — taking the state out of the city’s school admissions process altogether.
Frontus represents Coney Island and Sea Gate, as well as parts of Bay Ridge, Dyker Heights, Bath Beach, Brighton Beach and Gravesend. Her district includes school districts 20 and 21. District 20’s Community Education Council President Adele Doyle has maintained a pro-SHSAT stance and called for additional resources, like an increase in gifted and talented programs, instead of ditching the exam.
Doyle told the Brooklyn Eagle Monday that the council played no part in the email.
“CEC20 had no involvement in the dissemination of any email pertaining to Assemblywoman Frontus’s position on the SHSAT,” she said in an email. “We as a council are not familiar with Assemblywoman Frontus’s views on the SHSAT as she has not directly addressed our council regarding this matter and does not attend our regularly scheduled meetings, although we have invited her to do so. We look forward to speaking with her more on this issue as we seek to most effectively represent the families of the 40,000 students of District 20.”
Frontus maintains that, while she doesn’t agree with the concept of a single-test system, she plans to hold roundtable discussions with constituents across her district before coming to a decision. She also denies delivering a speech in Albany against the SHSAT — another allegation made in the parent group’s email — and that she called it “racist.”
“I have not commented on bill A2173 other than my post on June 18th asking my constituents for their opinions,” Frontus said. “I did not refer to the test as racist. This is entirely made up.”
“My views on the SHAST have always been nuanced,” the pol went on, contending that she has concerns on both sides of the argument.
“During a parent town hall on May 2 at [McKinley Junior High School], I stated that I have long been uneasy about telling students of color that they are not able to take tests, because I fear this reinforces long-standing stereotypes about their inability to succeed academically. However, I have also expressed concern about the idea that a single criterion should be used to determine admissions to our Specialized High School,” she said.
“We are the only state in the U.S. which utilizes a single criterion, and I’ve often wondered if our current system allows for students without well-rounded portfolios to simply ‘study to the test’ and gain admission, as opposed to evaluating a range of admissions criteria such as student grades, personal statements, records of community service and other achievements.”
Frontus says she plans to begin the 2020 legislative session with a “fresh set of eyes and ears” and that she will continue to speak with constituents about the issue.
In the meantime, it remains unclear who is behind the email. Requests for comment sent directly to the address associated with the email have not been returned.