Dominion of New York

Social Justice

October 8, 2012

Is the NYC High School Admissions Test Racially Biased?

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Written by: Carolyn Edgar

because of this pre-test ranking requirement. My daughter received instruction from her prep course instructors on how to use the pre-test rankings to maximize her chances of getting into one of her top choices.

The scoring system for the SHSAT is not made public, and each of the eight specialized high schools sets its own cut-off score, which changes year by year. So, my daughter’s prep course instructors told her what the likely cut-off scores for the top schools would be the year she applied, and she used this information as a guide when taking practice tests.

Kids who don’t attend private schools or gifted and talented public schools appear to be given little information about how to apply to the specialized high schools. My daughter attended a public middle school where her guidance counselor only informed her  about the SHSAT test dates. She didn’t – or couldn’t – guide my daughter on how to rank schools, or about test score targets.

By contrast, at the elite private school that my daughter attended when she was younger – and even at the gifted and talented public school that my son attended when he was younger – students applying for admission to a specialized high school got the help they needed. It’s as if students outside of the elite public and private school feeder programs have almost no shot at making it, so why get their hopes up? This message is, of course, the exact opposite of the one New York City’s Department of Education now wants to convey in the wake of the NAACP LDF complaint – namely, that the SHSAT guarantees that all middle school students have an equal chance at admission to a specialized high school, since admission is based on the results of one test.

The current specialized high school admissions process does discriminate against black and Latino students, but the process can be improved without getting rid of the SHSAT. If the SHSAT remains the sole admissions standard, New York City’s Department of Education needs to level the playing field by offering free SHSAT test prep to all interested NYC middle school students, regardless of need. NYC DOE also should be required to publish information about fee-based test prep courses and tutors, and those tutors and prep courses should be required to offer full- and partial scholarships to low-income students. Moreover, school guidance counselors and the DOE should be students’ primary source of information about the process, not the test prep industry.

Until these and other changes are made, the specialized high school admissions process will remain neither merit-based nor equal opportunity.


About the Author

Carolyn Edgar
Carolyn Edgar is a writer and lawyer who lives in New York City. She writes about social and political issues on her blog Carolyn Edgar. Follow her on Twitter @carolynedgar.


A student at Ocean Hill Collegiate Middle School. Photo by Jessica Campbell
The outdoor plaza at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Photo courtesy of OlivierJD.
Photo courtesy of Flickr/Renato Ganoza

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