While many parents are working to prepare their 8th and 9th graders for entrance into New York City’s specialized high schools, there is much concern over the fairness of the entrance exam and its impact on diversity among these schools.
According to NYC’s Department of Education, the Specialized High Schools Admissions Test (SHSAT) consists of two sections: Verbal and Math. Topics under these sections include scrambled paragraphs, where student must rearrange the order of five or so sentences in the most logical order; logical reasoning questions, and a reading portion, where students analyze and interpret passages through answering questions.
There are also mathematical word problems and computational questions, along with problems in arithmetic, algebra, probability, statistics, and geometry.
The three top specialized schools in NYC are Stuyvesant High School, the Bronx High School of Science, and Brooklyn Technical High School.
Admissions into these prestigious and coveted schools are determined by a single 2 ½ hour multiple choice exam, with no other criteria, such as a personal interview, teacher recommendations, or transcript for review of a student’s overall academic performance, which may contribute to a student’s eligibility for these schools.
As a result, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and other civil right groups filed a formal complaint with the Department of Justice to broaden the requirements for admissions. However, these attempts died out in early 2014, with proponents claiming that the test-only admissions is the most objective way to admit students.
Soohyung Kim, an investment manager and a member of the Stuyvesant class of 1993, said he was concerned that moving away from the test-only process would leave some students struggling and others not stimulated, according to a New York Times article.
Advocates for change, such as David Bloomfield, professor of Educational Leadership, Law, and Policy at the CUNY Grad Center and Brooklyn College, states in his blog article that the SHSAT creates a “rigid rank ordering” that does not necessarily reflect a comprehensive view of a student’s ability and academic achievement through his/her school years.
The NAACP also attributes the exam to racial discrimination. The National Public Radio states “At Stuyvesant, generally considered the best school in the city, [blacks and Latinos] make up less than 4 percent of the total student body – 113 out of 3,296 kids – this school year.” Whereas, blacks and Latino students constitute about 70% of NYC public schools.
Said law is the Hecht-Calandra bill, which passed in New York State Legislature in 1971 under much controversy. Alec Klein, author of A Class Apart: Prodigies, Pressure, and Passion Inside One of America’s Best…, wrote that it was the belief of lawmakers that this exam would preserve meritocracy in these schools.
However, “The test has never been validated to determine its consistency with actual school performance,” Bloomfield said. “[S]o the city Department of Education cannot even demonstrate a relationship between admitted students’ test results and those of who might have been more successful [in] meeting elite high schools’ demands.”
But one must concede that these schools carry a high academic standard and a student’s ability to maintain high achievement at that level is important for his or her success.
“The school is not for everyone,” said Mr. Kim, the president of the Stuyvesant High School Alumni Association in a New York Times article. “I don’t think it’s a great experience for kids that can’t keep up with it.”