Defining Objectivity

objective
[uh b-jek-tiv]
adjective
- Not influenced by personal feelings, interpretations, or prejudice; based on facts; unbiased (from dictionary.com)

- Based on facts rather than feelings or opinions : not influenced by feelings (from Merriam-Webster)

It seems NYC's Department of Education (DOE) could use a vocabulary refresher course, and perhaps a lesson in how laws work.

At the moment the DOE is actively seeking to change the admissions test for NYC's specialized high schools, a test whose integrity is currently protected by the Hecht-Calandra Bill. Passed in 1971 its purpose was to safeguard these renowned schools from political or bureaucratic whims.

Passed at a time when the City's then mayor sought to impose his personal stamp on the high school process, educators and parents fought back, hoping to ensure admissions to Stuyvesant, Bronx Science and Brooklyn Tech would remain objective, devoid of bias or favoritism in perpetuity. The law specifically states:

"Admissions to The Bronx High School of Science, Stuyvesant High School and Brooklyn Technical High School and such similar further special high schools which may be established shall be solely and exclusively by taking a competitive, objective and scholastic achievement examination."

Despite the requirement noted above that the test be objective, ten days ago the DOE released a Request for Proposals (RFP) for a new version of the specialized high school test which leaves room for test makers to include a constructed response and/or essay questions and provides for the test to be translated into 10 different languages.

Both those options would unlawfully introduce subjectivity into the equation. With 30,000 students taking the test, an army of test graders will have to be included in the process, introducing personal opinions and potential bias into grading, removing the consistent level of integrity and standards that now exist. And by offering the test in a variety of languages, no one will be able to say for sure that all test versions will be exactly the same, that all graders will have the same level of fluency in both English and the language they're grading, or that subtleties in vocabulary, and language specific inferences can be whitewashed into a homogenous whole, keeping various versions of the test on a level playing field.

By putting out this request for new testing formats, the DOE is openly flouting the Hecht-Calandra Bill. They are asking for proposals that, if accepted, would violate a current New York State law. And with these potential changes, they are opening the door to a host of lawsuits. A protest is already being filed, on behalf of NYC parents, to challenge including essays/constructed responses and translated versions of the test.

While much is being said in the media about the diversity discrepancies in specialized high schools, no one's saying that the test itself is at fault. So why are the mayor, the chancellor and the DOE working so hard to change it? This is a fundamental misuse of taxpayer dollars, and of elected and appointed officials' time and energy. Perhaps, a better plan of action would be to use money, expertise and initiative to support all students in the NYC public school system instead of tinkering with a system that been in place for decades, enabling some of the finest schools in the country to education their students well.