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Ahead of Philadelphia selective admissions deadline, group says applications are down

Exterior of The School District of Philadelphia building.
School District of Philadelphia
Emma Lee/WHYY

Applications to the city’s special admissions high schools are down this year, according to the Philadelphia School Partnership (PSP), the organization that runs the annual high school fair.

This is the first time the group has warned so starkly about a lag in applications. Eighth graders have until 11:59 p.m. Friday to apply to selective and citywide admissions high schools for the next school year.

Superintendent William Hite said Thursday that admissions numbers won’t be available until after the deadline has passed. He stressed that since the application process is all online, it should be easy for students to complete, adding that “there is no expectation that a child needs to visit a school.”

In an email to parents, PSP said most special admissions schools are seeing “significantly lower application numbers than they have during this time in previous years.”

The group, which in addition to the fair runs the GreatPhillySchools website, suggested that this could provide an opportunity for students to be accepted even if their test scores and grades don’t meet a school’s requirements.

“Due to this, we are highly encouraging students to apply to special admissions high schools that they may have previously considered ‘reach’ schools,” the email said.

Ted Domers, principal of the George Washington Carver High School of Engineering & Science, said he could not tell if applications were running behind the pace of prior years. He said there is always a late surge. “Everyone puts in at the last minute,” he said.

Students, counselors, and parents interviewed last month said they were hampered this year because they could not visit schools and shadow students, which many said figured crucially in their decision-making process. They said virtual “open house” events could not compare.

And counselors who relied on seeing students every day to set up appointments to advise them and help them complete applications have had a harder time doing this.

The district has an array of selective admissions and citywide admissions high schools, and other special programs, including about 40 career and technical education options. Students, even those who plan to attend their neighborhood school, are encouraged to apply and rank five choices.

The pandemic has forced other changes in the process. Because the state standardized test was not administered last spring, the district said it would consider fifth and sixth grade scores instead of seventh grade scores. The application process relies heavily on test scores and grades, especially for the most selective schools.

But PSP suggested that because of the falloff in applications schools will be “looking more holistically” at students rather than relying on test scores.

David Saenz, a spokesman for the group, said high schools “have been heroic” in conducting virtual open houses and participating in the High School Fair, which was all virtual this year. Saenz said it has received 13,000 visitors.

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