The Latest

THE LATEST

THE LATEST THINKING

THE LATEST THINKING

The opinions of THE LATEST’s guest contributors are their own.

A Most Controversial Test: New York City's "SHSAT" and Educational Opportunities

Ellen Levitt

Posted on October 22, 2018 15:18

1 user

Each year in New York City, several thousand eighth graders and ninth graders sit for an exam called the SHSAT, the Specialized High School Admissions Test. And each year this exam sparks more and more controversy. This is a tale about education, ambition, hopes and dreams.

The phrase "Only in New York" rang true this past Saturday and Sunday mornings, October 20th and 21st, when several thousands of eighth and ninth graders took a high school entrance exam called the Specialized High School Admissions Test. Most New Yorkers call it the "SHSAT" (pronounced "shi-zat") and this test is used to determine admission to eight elite public high schools in New York City. 

Nervous young teenagers and their families, as well as their teachers and guidance counselors, invest much hope in this test and in their chances of obtaining admission to a group of highly esteemed, academically rigorous schools. The three oldest and best known of these schools are Stuyvesant High School (1904), followed by Brooklyn Technical High School (1922) and Bronx High School of Science (1938). (Each of these was all-male for many years.) More recently five other schools were founded: Brooklyn Latin; American Studies at Lehman College; Staten Island Technical; Sciences at York College; and Math, Science and Engineering at City College. 

Although "Stuy" and "Bronx Sci" had used entrance exams since the 1930s, this uniform exam was established by law in 1971 with the Hecht-Calandra Bill. Students who take the exam also rank their preferences for the schools, and each year the cutoff scores for each school vary somewhat. 

The 2018 SHSAT was three hours long, consisting of 114 questions of multiple choice and grid-in questions. Half the test is math and half verbal/English Language Arts. In certain ways the exam resembles the SAT, Scholastic Assessment Test, but there are differences (putting sentences of a paragraph in order, for example). 

While this may seem innocent enough on paper, a meritocratic endeavor, it has long been controversial for a variety of reasons. First, because it is the sole criteria for entrance to these schools; a student who has a "bad day" may not do well enough for her or his first choice or any choice on this list. Second, it has been perceived of as a discriminatory tool that has allowed a relatively small percentage of Black and Latino children to gain entrance to these schools. Asian and Caucasian students have long received the bulk of admissions offers to the Elite Eight.

Thus in the past few years many New Yorkers have hotly debated the merits of the SHSAT. Even with tutoring programs and prep classes provided for Black and Latino students, their percentages have barely improved; in fact they have decreased since the 1980s. Mayor Bill di Blasio, School Superintendent Richard Carranza, educators and other people have been highly critical of the test. But other people especially alumni of these schools, are strongly in favor of retaining the SHSAT. 

This debate touches upon many topics: educational opportunities, ethnic schisms, perceived elitism, public school resources, and more. Some New York families act as if these are the only worthwhile schools around. But they aren't.

Opportunity and education inspire anxiety on many levels; the SHSAT debate makes it ever touchier. 

Ellen Levitt

Posted on October 22, 2018 15:18

Comments

comments powered by Disqus
Source: Metro

New York City alone last year saw 84,720 tickets issued by police for texting while driving.

THE LATEST THINKING

Video Site Tour

The Latest
The Latest

Subscribe to THE LATEST Newsletter.

The Latest
The Latest

Share this TLT through...

The Latest