Mayor Proposes Changes on Specialized School Entry Exam

Mayor de Blasio announced plans to remove the admission exam for New York City’s specialized high schools, the highest-performing in the public school system. Currently, prospective students to specialized high schools are admitted by one test, the Specialized High School Admissions Test (SHSAT). Almost 30,000 students take this exam to earn one of the 3,000 coveted seats of these nine schools. The statistics speak for themselves, with the nine specialized high schools achieving graduation rates of 94% and higher, college enrollment above 90% and average SAT scores well above 2,000. The SHSAT determines if they require this exam for entrance, but that’s Mayor de Blasio problem with the concept of these schools.

As part of the announcement, de Blasio declared that “the Specialized High School Admissions Test isn’t just flawed — it’s a roadblock to justice, progress, and academic excellence.” De Blasio believes that the SHSAT is extremely unfair to students that may not have the means to partake in expensive tutoring or practice exams — especially black and Latino students, in comparison to their Asian or white counterparts. Even though NYC public schools are made up of 67% of black and Latino students, only 10% of those students are usually provided access to these specialized high schools, based on last year’s admission reports. A bill to change that is currently in the works in Albany. Even though De Blasio has the power to eliminate the test in five of the nine school, he has declined to take that option. De Blasio’s solution for eliminating the test is to guarantee that the top 7% of middle school students apart of the NYC public school system (with a minimum GPA of 3.7) to receive an offer via a lottery system.

“We will actually get a student body that not only looks like New York City, but brings a much richer talent base that actually has proven their talent, not just in one room, in one test, in one day, but over years and years,” said De Blasio. By creating a new opportunity for students to showcase the talents they’ve portrayed throughout the school, instead of looking a test score schools will finally look at the student. Currently, there are programs in place for lower-income students — such as the Discovery/Dream Program. which offers seats to students who barely missed the cut-off score for entry — but they are not a comprehensive solution. These diversity programs have been around since 1970 and haven’t brought much improvement since they’ve been introduced.

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On the other side, groups of specialized school alumni have been gathering to protest de Blasio’s proposed changes to the SHSAT. Asian-American alumni, in particular, have shown support for the SHSAT, and are saying that it is “racist” for Mayor de Blasio to end the SHSAT exams altogether. Parents are saying that de Blasio never had a problem when Stuyvesant was “all white, but when they see one too many Chinese they say ‘hey, this isn’t right.’” said resident Kenneth Chiu, in an interview with NY1.

Lower income areas, like Far Rockaway, would be affected by this policy change the most due to the lack of services provided to students in middle school to prepare for the SHSAT. On one hand, it provides an opportunity for these schools to focus on their grades instead of an exam score, but on the other, it would affect the students who’ve prepared for this exam for most of their middle school career. There hasn’t been a final decision on the future of this exam, but as far as the public knows it’s split in the middle and up to the politicians in Albany and Mayor de Blasio on the inevitable change to the education system. Since the changes that will be made have the possibility of drastically changing the demographics of the nine specialized high schools.