In bringing its federal complaint against the Specialized High Schools admissions policy, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund (to which I am an unpaid advisor) is challenging both the effect of the test in diminishing opportunities for bright black and Latino youth and shining a light on the arbitrary nature of the admissions process. How peculiar, to have the state legislature determine these procedures! Normally, such technical matters are left to educators versed in psychometrics and professional judgment. Here, a 40 year-old law trumps everything we know and otherwise practice about academic merit.
That SHSAT scores are highly sensitive to test prep is beyond dispute. Rigid rank ordering creates hair’s-breadth distinctions without substance. The test has never been validated to determine its consistency with actual high school performance so the city Department of Education cannot even demonstrate a relationship between admitted students’ test results and those of others who might have been more successful meeting elite high schools’ demands. Discounting the use of middle school grades, portfolios of student work, and (after substantiated widespread cheating at Stuyvesant) character diminishes merit to a narrow gauge of tutored test-taking proficiency on a given day in an adolescent’s life.