Decline in Hispanic, Black Students’ Admission to NYC Elite Schools Sparks Debate over SHSAT

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NEW YORK — Specialized High School Admissions Test (SHSAT) results for the 2021-2022 school year admissions show that the share of acceptance offers that went to black and Hispanic students saw a decline over both 2021 and 2020, prompting renewed calls for diversity in specialized public high schools. 

After a year of profoundly disrupted learning for NYC students, the city announced that the admission offers made by elite schools for black and Hispanic students dropped from 11 percent last year to 9 percent this year, despite nearly 70 percent (NYC Council) of the city’s student population being black or Hispanic.

The NYC officials administered the SHSAT among eighth-graders earlier this year amid the pandemic. Among 23,528 test-takers, only 4,262 were offered admission into the city’s acclaimed specialized high schools.

The number of black and Hispanic students that gained a spot in one of the eight specialized NYC schools — which have admission systems that hinge on the SHSAT — dropped from 506 to 384 this year, according to data from the city’s education department.

For Schools Chancellor Meisha Porter, the dwindling numbers of black and Hispanic students admitted to elite schools point to a glaring issue of race and socioeconomic disparity in the nation’s largest school system.

The administration of Mayor Bill de Blasio also expressed concern over the low acceptance numbers. In an effort to desegregate specialized schools under the current admissions system, de Blasio has previously advocated for throwing out the admissions test. In its place, the mayor wants to admit the top 7% of students from each middle school.

However, the mayor’s support to use alternative admission metrics did not earn the approval of the legislature, but rather gained criticism for being ineffective and unconstitutional. 

Schools like Stuyvesant and Brooklyn Technical High School, considered the crown jewels of the system, admit students based on an objective SHSAT — a purely meritocratic approach that measures a student’s capabilities and merits rather than their wealth or social background. Most state lawmakers have shown no interest in eliminating the said admission test.

José Pérez, deputy general counsel for LatinoJustice PRLDEF, said in an interview with NBC News that while he supported the mayor’s initial efforts for the expansion of the Discovery program, the diversity efforts were clearly not sufficient. 

“If they want to engage in the support of community residents and civil rights groups, they need to come to the table with something more substantial,” he said.

The supporters of SHSAT argued that the city should keep the test and focus on providing gifted programs and test preparation for black and Hispanic students, instead of eliminating the test. 

Glyn Caddell, CEO of Caddell Prep, said, “The test is not the problem. Brooklyn Tech was drastically different in the 80s and 90s with more Black and Latino students. The percent of students drastically changed after the elimination of gifted and talented programs in Brooklyn that served those populations. Rather than point to the test as the problem, we should try to help students by providing them with better resources. Not only will we see more Black and Latino students in the Specialized High Schools, but we will also help an even larger number of students.”

About the DOE’s and mayors work the past years, Caddell continued, “If the DOE added gifted and talented programs in 2014 when the issue was brought up, there could have been Black and Latino students with five or more years of advanced education who sat for the test last January.”

In an interview with Times, black and Hispanic students who were admitted in Stuyvesant suggested more pragmatic and local solutions to help the minority do better on the test. They expressed that the expansion of test preparation classes, which many of them had benefited from, to low-income neighborhoods may help boost the diversity at the city’s elite and hyper-segregated high schools.

Former Time Warner CEO Richard Parsons also shared his support for administering the SHSAT. “Greater diversity in our schools is imperative, but the battle cannot be won simply by lowering standards,” he said in a statement.

With this development, The SHSAT will continue to be the single standard for specialized high school admission not to compromise the overall quality of the schools that provide the students of NYC with world-class public education.

 

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