Are High School Admissions Test Racist?

By Brian Kohaya
I grew up in Sacramento, California, a city that prides itself in its cultural diversity, and attended C.K. McClatchy High School’s prestigious Humanities and International Studies Program (HISP). HISP focused on teaching its students about how to be global citizens and bragged about its college acceptance rate. Though this program focused on teaching students about the culture, arts, and politics of regions across the world, the irony was how the curriculum taught was not representative of the students in the program. HISP was and currently still is dominated by middle and upper-middle class white and East Asian students, many of whom commute in order to attend. During my freshmen year, only one African American student was in the program and only a handful of Hispanic students. While these numbers did improve as I progressed in high school, the numbers never reached a representative number. Clearly, the admissions process into this program has undying issues that are preventing many communities of color from obtaining a top education.

While C.K. McClatchy High School has over 2000 students less than 25% of these students are in HISP. In order to get in, HISP requires students to take a writing test and submit grades and CST scores, two letters of recommendations from teachers, and a personal statement similar to the college application process. Due to the writing test requirement, HISP expects students to already by at a certain level of education, but for many students this is an unreasonable request. Areas of Sacramento that have larger African American or Hispanic communities tend to have lower quality schools than East Asian or white areas. By no fault of their own, students who have the potential to succeed are left out because their current academic level is lower than others.

This whole situation begs the question, would eliminating or considering other aspects of a student improve the numbers. While the data on demographics of students is not released, it would be likely that if the background of a student were taken into consideration that the number of students of color would increase. This would follow the trend of the UC system from when affirmative action was implemented and also when Proposition 209 was passed which decreased student of color enrollment (Poon). Of course even if students were admitted, it would be uncertain if students would be retained through the program. In my experience in HISP, there was a minimum expectation of knowledge and academic knowledge that was expected by all students. Most of these teachers also are unfamiliar with the issues that many of students from lower incomes faces, so while students may be getting into the program, they could institutionally be pushed out.

While I’ve never heard of any student trying to go cram school to get into HISP, students are still pushed extremely hard by both the schools and their parents at more resources middle schools. A student at a program with a similar application process said, “You know: ‘You’re Asian, you must be smart” (Spencer). Asian American students, especially East Asian students, are expected to perform well and get into these programs. Even though Sacramento has a large Hmong and Vietnamese population, they are not held to the same standards. When looking at the demographics of HISP, most of the Asian Americans are either of Chinese or Japanese descent with very few descending from any other Asian country.

In my own personal experience, I learned a lot from HISP and believe it is a great program, but I could not help but notice the racial disparities in it. When we would have class discussions about Africa or African Americans, there would be no one from that community to talk about their experience. While no person should ever be held as a spokesperson for their race, it would still have been helpful to hear the perspective of those who actually face different forms of racism. My hope for HISP is that they change the ways they allow students into the program and reach out to more disenfranchised communities in order for them to receive the same quality education that other students are able to have.

Poon, Oiyan A. “Haunted by Negative Action: Asian Americans, Admissions, and Race in the “Color-Blind Era”.” (n.d.): n. pag. Web. (The article was lacking much of the information needed to cite)

Spencer, Kyle. “For Asians, School Tests Are Vital Steppingstones.” The New York Times 26 Oct. 2012, A18 sec.: n. pag. Print.


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