Several new public high schools open their doors in Newark, but only a few students are invited.

The new “specialized” schools, devoted to fashion, data science, and international studies, will use a series of assessments to hand-select their students. Applicants are required to submit their middle school grades, attendance sheets, and test scores. take the district high school entrance exam; and undergo other assessments, including an interview, audition, or written assessment.

Because of the strict admission requirements, schools will only accept a small number of the aspiring ninth graders who submit applications due next week. With the addition of technical schools, 11 of the district’s 17 high schools will now decide which students to admit based in part on their performance in middle school.

That doesn’t go well with some Newark families and student representatives who say high school places should be open to the city’s wider student population.

“They’re sort of saying, ‘These are the ones we’re trying to bring here, and if you can’t live up to our standards, you can’t come,” said Ashley Paris, whose daughter is applying to several Newark High Schools this fall, including one of the new programs. “You should give these kids an opportunity to go there whether or not they meet the requirements.”

All eighth graders in the Newark School District and those in private or charter schools wishing to attend a county college must take the high school entrance exam. Some cities, including Boston and Washington, DC, canceled their high school admission tests this year because they couldn’t be safely personally administered during the pandemic.

But in Newark, where schools work remotely, students will take the test online next month.

“It is extremely important that everyone knows that there is an admission test for one of our high schools,” Superintendent Roger León said last week in an online interview with Project Ready, a Newark-based advocacy group specializing in community engagement and schools focused. “You won’t be personal; All exams will of course be online. “

The new fashion themed high school will use a long list of criteria to select students as outlined in the district’s enrollment guide. Newark Public Schools

The new high schools opening this fall are the Newark School of Fashion & Design and the Newark School of Data Science & Information Technology. You are joining the Newark School of Global Studies, which welcomed its first freshman class this school year.

The district has designated all three schools as specialized schools so that they can screen students and choose which to enroll. The district also named two existing schools, Eagle Academy for Young Men and Newark Vocational High School, Specialized in this year’s enrollment guide.

In addition to examining the testimonials and test scores of students in middle school, the new schools will use other methods to assess them. The fashion school will interview applicants and review portfolios of their artwork. The data science school requires written reflection on technology. And the Global Studies School, previously referred to by the district as the Magnet School, will conduct group interviews and a timed written assessment.

District officials have not publicly stated why they created the new specialized high school category that was tacitly included in the enrollment guide, or why schools are allowed to restrict eligibility. However, the changes affect some proponents who say students already have enough cause for concern during the pandemic without adding to the new admission requirements.

“Students navigate the trauma of racial injustice, loss of loved ones, routine disorder, and social isolation,” said Project Ready chief of staff Nayibe Capellan in an email interview.

“In general, it is difficult to focus on critical thinking skills while trying to survive,” added Capellan, a district parent and former civil servant. “Therefore, these admission standards and criteria should be flexible.”

In an email, district spokeswoman Nancy Deering said that any student is welcome to apply to the new high schools whose admission criteria are available online.

The district already operates six magnet schools that accept students based on their academic records and other criteria. These include some of the city’s most sought-after high schools, including Science Park and Technology, where fewer than 20% of applicants are admitted. Critics say Science Park’s admissions guidelines contribute to an underrepresentation of black students in elite high schools.

With the addition of the new technical schools, there are only six district colleges left that cannot select students, but must train anyone who applies, or the district sends its way. As a result, the traditional high schools serve students with far greater needs than the magnet high schools and face academic and participation challenges.

Some parents and educators prefer the selective high school model, saying it provides motivated students with rigorous education among like-minded people.

However, critics say that the disadvantages of selective schools outweigh their advantages. Research suggests that sorting students by academic ability hurts lower-performing students and may not give a big boost to higher-performing students. Proponents add that the schools selected should not write off students whose attendance or middle school test scores suffered, perhaps because they attended a poorly performing school or faced difficulties at home.

“These children have no control over their external circumstances – their family situations, where they live, how they live, what school they go to,” said Wilhelmina Holder, who leads an advocacy group for Newark parents. “We all know kids who messed up a lot in their elementary school years and turned out to be superstars in college.”

Some parents have mixed feelings about public schools that only accept high achievers. Parents’ attorney, Yolanda Johnson, who graduated from a magnet school in Newark and whose daughter is now attending one, believes the schools provide world-class education.

Still, she wondered why the new high schools will limit their offerings to students who do well in middle school. She wondered, why not take in students who had academic problems but were passionate about school subjects?

“For me, I would pick the most challenging student,” she said. “Let’s accept this student and see how it changes your life.”