SHSAT: Yay or Nay

Would you want the SHSAT to change for the future? Is the SHSAT a fair evaluation for modern standards of talented students to attend specialized high schools?

Over 25,000 students take the test every year to compete for about 5,000 seats for eight of the nine specialized high schools, excluding Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School. If you’re reading this and attend Brooklyn Tech, CONGRATULATIONS, because you were good enough amongst those crowds of students to get in.

The reason there is controversy surrounding the SHSAT is that there concerns that the current testing system is not supporting a diverse student body at specialized high schools. As of 2018, the city has worked to close the gap between the number of people from each ethnicity.

 

It would appear that there are slight decreases in the distribution of offers in Asian, Latino, and White ethnicities; while students of Native American, Black, Multi-racial, and unknown  racial backgrounds have seen slight increases.

After the Department of Education’s efforts to improve the exam to make it fairer, the 2018 SHSAT results show that while the amount of testers has since increased, the amount of offers has decreased.  

(2017: 27,853 testers, 5,078 offers; 2018: 28,222 testers, 5,067 offers)

 

As of 2017-2018, Asians make up the majority of Brooklyn Tech, with over 60% of the student body identifying as Asian. Over 20% of the student body was Caucasian, and around 10% was Black and Latino, although it is noted that almost 70% of the city’s students are Black/Hispanic.

 

One of the possible causes of such a high percentage of Asians could be that there are high numbers of Asians taking the SHSAT (31.1% of testers in the 2018 Shsat). Asian culture also focuses on having a good education, so Asians attend prep school at early ages and have knowledge of the test.

A way to ensure fairness of the SHSAT is to educate parents and students on the test, registration, and other options beforehand. All ethnicities should know and be able to prepare in advance for the SHSAT, so everyone can truly have a fair chance on it. The 2018 SHSAT results showed that offers to Black or Hispanic students actually declined after the Department of Education’s efforts to change the exam to make it fairer. 

(2017: 3.8% Black, 6.5% Hispanic; 2018: 3.6% Black, 4.9% Hispanic)

According to Amelia Seepersaud ‘20, “They (the DOE) should level the playing field by giving every student, regardless of socioeconomic background, the same opportunities and resources to prepare for the SHSAT. There are so many students who study so hard to get into specialized high schools. And there are many students who weren’t provided with the opportunity or resources to study for it. The fairest way to go about it is to give the same resources, free resources, to all NYC students.”

Another big factor affecting ethnic acceptance rates is economic status, which relates to awareness of the SHSAT. For example, people with more money that would like to attend a specialized high school may be able to pay for a tutoring program to prepare for the SHSAT and have more access to being informed of the SHSAT. Those less fortunate may not be able to afford prep tuition for the SHSAT, which is typically over a thousand dollars, or even be informed of the SHSAT, and therefore have less of an advantage, or not even take the test. 

The solution to this is the Dream SHSI (specialized high school institute) program, which is a free tuition program for 7th graders preparing to take the SHSAT. It aims to help tutor low-income students with potential in preparation for the SHSAT, and it accepts a percentage of students that scored a 3 or higher in their 6th grade ELA and Math state tests by a lottery.

According to the “NYCDOE Non- discrimination Notice” that is also posted on our school’s website, the NYC Department of Education’s policy is to provide equal educational opportunities without regards to race or ethnicity.

However, according to the Daily News article “De Blasio’s attempt to reduce the number of Asian-American students in the Discovery Program is unconstitutional” by Chris Kieser, “Mayor de Blasio and Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza believe that this fair and transparent approach (the SHSAT) has led to too many Asian-American students in the specialized high schools. Carranza even tacitly accused Asian-Americans families of believing they ‘own’ admissions to the schools, while de Blasio called the racial composition of the specialized high schools a ‘monumental injustice.” Both the mayor and schools chancellor are against the high percentage of Asian Americans being in specialized high schools and aim to decrease what those students have earned. 

The discovery program is aimed to help students who scored slightly lower than the cutoff score on the SHSAT. If these students are able to get into the program, they may attend  summer sessions to help earn back points to get seats in the specialized high schools. Over the past two years, about two-thirds of participants in the discovery program have been Asian American. However, to reduce the amount of Asians in specialized high schools, De Blasio and Carranza limited the program to certain middle schools that scored 60% or higher on the city’s Economic Need Index (a measure that estimates the percentage of economically disadvantaged students attending a school), and then expanded the Discovery program to 20% of the seats at each specialized high school, preventing the now ineligible schools from getting the many available spots. 

For example, if you were an Asian student with the same score of 460 on the SHSAT as a Hispanic student, after De Blasio’s changes to the admissions of the discovery program, you could potentially be less likely to be chosen for the program simply because you are Asian, and there are already too many Asians in the specialized high school you want to attend, not because of your actual academic potential. This would be an entirely different version of racism which was “against racism”. You may have heard of an incident similar to this involving Harvard University, in which they are being sued by a group of students over discrimination against Asian Americans that has allegedly been going on for decades.

De Blasio’s plan to scrap the SHSAT includes replacing it with a system in which the specialized high schools would only accept the students in the city with the top 7% in grades. Do grades determine how smart and how much potential someone has? Even so, would accepting students by their grades make the specialized high schools more diverse?

Brooklyn Tech, as well as Stuyvesant, and Bronx High School of Science are specifically named in the 1971 state law creating the enrollment process at the elite schools, and so our admissions process cannot be changed unless there is a legal challenge. However, because the other five specialized high schools are not named in that law, their admissions requirements can immediately be changed. 

Because those five high schools hold less than a quarter of all seats to specialized high schools, changing those admissions would not dramatically increase Black and Hispanic enrollment. Additionally, it wouldn’t make sense to have the specialized high schools have different admissions rules, because it would separate the specialized high schools into different categories.

The fact that all of us took the SHSAT, and scored high enough, unites us. It strives us to compete amongst ourselves to be better. Many of us were top students in elementary and middle school. If the SHSAT were to be changed or scratched out, that would all change. The generations after us would not endure what makes all of us unique. They wouldn’t understand what we had to have been through, and they will have less of a sense of kinship with each other. Our friendly competition is what makes the specialized high schools thrive, and convinces us to become even better.

The SHSAT results even show a correlation with student achievement. According to The New York Times, “The (Metis) study found the mean G.P.A. for students who scored high enough on the test to be accepted to one of the specialized high schools was 3.036 in their first year compared with 2.387 for students who were not accepted to the specialized schools.” This means that the SHSAT is effective in finding students that do actually do well academically and that students that were accepted into specialized high schools are more likely to high a high G.P.A., and even do better on average than students not accepted in during their Regents exams.

We conducted a survey amongst Brooklyn Tech students on whether they supported the current Shsat or not. We found  that out of 971 respondents to the survey, approximately 88% said that they supported the SHSAT.

Would having more diverse specialized high schools have a big impact on the city? Is the test racially biased in favor of Asians because they have scored higher than [statistic]  on it? Changing or getting rid of the test to change the acceptance rate of each race would be trying to conceal the differences of each race, and would not accept what causes these races to have different clusters in scores. 

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