Inside NYU Steinhardt: Taking a Closer Look at NYC’s High School Match Day

On March 1st, thousands of New York City eighth graders will learn what high school they will be attending next year and whether they will be matched with their first choice school.   Lori Nathanson, a research associate at the Research Alliance for New York City Public Schools, answers questions about high school match day.

What is the history behind high school match day in New York City?

The current high school application process began in 2004 and provides a centralized system through which students receive one match. The majority of rising 8th grade students learn which high school they will attend on a single day. In the past, only a fraction of rising 8th graders would have engaged in high school choice and with each school running its own selection process and students found out whether or not they were matched at different times. Some students received multiple offers while others did not match to any of their choices, leaving them with their default zoned school as their public school option. Now, even the fraction of students who are not matched to a high school on match day have another opportunity to rank programs and participate in a supplementary matching process. However, the majority of students will be matched to a school that was among their 12 choices, and a good number of them will receive one of their top choices. Each year, the distribution is different as students’ preferences and the schools available change.

Can you explain the high school match day methodology and structure?

The high school application process is complex and accommodates approximately 80,000 students and 700 high school programs annually. On the student side, almost all students rank up to 12 high school choices. The school side varies because there are different types of schools — selective, unscreened, zoned, to name a few. Selective schools rank students based on test scores, grades, attendance or auditions.  Limited unscreened schools do not rank students, but group students according to two criteria: whether a student attended an open house, or similar event and whether a student is in a “preferred” geographic area. Ultimately, students and schools are matched using a combination of students’ rankings of schools and schools’ preferences according to the type of school.

Is the Research Alliance for the New York City schools studying high school matching?

Steinhardt Associate Professor Sean Corcoran, and the Research Alliance are working together on a study about the impact of high school choice on mediators of student success, namely, student engagement in school. For example, we ask if students who are successfully matched to their first choice school are more engaged (based on self-report measures) or have better attendance than students matched to their second (or lower) choice. Knowing whether such effects exist is interesting not only for its own sake, but is also an important step toward understanding how school choice might affect academic achievement.

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The Research Alliance was founded in 2008 as a research center housed at New York University’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development.

(Photo:  Lori Nathanson.)