Does Admissions Exam for Elite High Schools Measure Up? No One Knows

Many parents and teachers have long contended that the SHSAT is an assessment of students’ test-taking skills, honed by extensive test preparation, more than their potential to succeed at the specialized schools.

Pian Rockfeld, an English teacher at the High School of American Studies at Lehman College in the Bronx, one of the smaller specialized schools, has proctored the SHSAT. She said she could always tell who had taken prep courses. The students would draw diagrams to decipher confusing questions that left others stumped, or if they were good in math, they would start midway through the test on the math section to take advantage of a quirk in the scoring process that rewards students who score extremely high on one part of the exam rather than those with high but more balanced scores across subjects.

“The test does not assess at all how hard a student works, or the creative and independent thinking that a student would need to thrive in our high school,” Ms. Rockfeld said. “I’m always wondering what kids we’re missing by using this test.”