In 2019, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a plan to change the way that New York City admits students into its specialized high schools. Under the current system, students need to take the Specialized High Schools’ Admissions Test (SHSAT) to get into an elite high school in NYC, which tests students on English and math through a series of multiple choice questions.
The test is controversial because mostly Asian-Americans and white students are offered admission to the city’s top nine schools, even though black and Hispanic students make up 67% of the public school population. This year, only seven black students gained admission to Stuyvesant High School, out of 895.
Critics say that most students who score well on the SHSAT and are subsequently admitted to elite NYC schools, do so because their families had the resources to provide them with private tutoring lessons. Some say that more affluent families also have the knowledge needed to navigate the complicated admissions criteria. They say that the SHSAT does not reflect merit, but rather socio-economic backgrounds.
De Blasio is proposing to move from a test based system to a new method that would accept students to these schools based on their rank at their middle school and their scores on a statewide standardized test.
But many agree with the SHSAT system: They feel that the SHSAT is the best impartial way to select the most qualified students who can attend these elite high schools. Scrapping the test, they say, will allow students of less competency to attend these schools, penalizing students who work hard and excel taking the SHSAT.
Noel Negron (15) and Sebastian Acevedo (13) personify the two sides of this dilemma. Negron’s family said they could not afford the expensive tutoring and they had to settle for a more affordable option of hiring a college student to prepare him. He did not get into the specialized school he really wanted to and is advocating the abolishment of the SHSAT system.
Acevedo’s family said they sacrificed a lot as well to afford the $5000 necessary to make sure their son excelled on the SHSAT and get into a top NYC high school.