The City University of New York has announced plans to eliminate objective testing intended to determine which of its incoming students can do college-level work and which require remediation. Politico reports that CUNY chancellor Félix Matos Rodríguez plans to move the university “away from high-stakes testing” while “reducing its reliance on placement tests students must take to determine whether they need remedial interventions.”
CUNY has been here once before—and the results nearly killed the university. Adjusted for euphemism, the decision points toward a reversal of 1990s-era reforms that pulled the university out of a long period of stagnation and decline. Abandoning testing would represent an effective return to so-called open-admissions policies from the 1960s and 1970s. Those allowed virtually anybody who could stumble through CUNY’s front door to enroll. Eventually, the university’s classrooms filled up with unqualified students, severely degraded the quality of education, and reduced the once-great university to a national laughingstock. CUNY’s rescue, a joint venture of then-governor George Pataki, then-mayor Rudy Giuliani, and others, was not easily achieved—and it will doubtless take some time for the university’s new admissions policy to start showing damaging effects. But that’s just a matter of time.
The new policy is a huge win for teachers’ unions and unaccountable bureaucrats because it greatly relieves pressure on New York City’s public schools to do better. It was achieved with the silent acquiescence of Governor Andrew Cuomo, the only politician in the state who could have stopped it. Back in 2012, Cuomo declared himself the chief lobbyist for New York’s public school students, and for a while, he really was—promoting and protecting charter schools, strengthening accountability for teachers and school administrators, and—critically—supporting student-performance benchmarks. In recent years, though, he’s been silent, standing aside as the Albany legislature refused to allow New York City’s astonishingly effective charter school movement to expand; as hard-won teacher-accountability reforms were peeled away and discarded; and as the state Board of Regents moved to abandon its 150-year-old practice of proficiency testing of high school students statewide. And now CUNY is following suit, embracing a new open-admissions era.