Improving Equity with Hecht-Calandra Compliance

The NY State Hecht-Calandra Act introduced legislative language for the purpose of defining the admissions process of 3 named New York City public schools. Many have argued that the Hecht-Calandra Act of 1971 was created with the intent to reduce Black and Puerto Rican students’ admission into these specialized high schools.

Fifty years later, it is clear that the Hecht-Calandra Act did exactly that. Currently, Stuyvesant High School has a Black student population of <1%, while these students make up over 20% of New York City’s public school population.

But many of the harmful “rituals” held every year by the NYC Department of Education are NOT stipulated by the New York State Hecht-Calandra Act. These policies are directly controlled by the NYC Schools Chancellor alone and can be changed at any time while we wait for a Hecht-Calandra repeal.

Discovery Program’s Size

Nothing in the Hecht-Calandra Act specifies the size of the Discovery Program. A program that allows the NYC Department of Education the ability to give admissions to poor students. The NYC Department of Education can set aside 100% of specialized high school seats for poor students if it wants to.

Recommendation

We recommend increasing the discovery program allocation to 50%, then inviting the top-performing students from high-poverty schools across the city to the Discovery program.

Inviting the top 1-3 performing poor students from middle schools across the city would greatly improve student diversity without reducing test scores.

Hecht-Calandra Does not Specify a Single Seating

The act specifies “Admissions… shall be solely and exclusively by taking a competitive, objective and scholastic achievement examination,…” Nowhere does it say that the exam has to be given to a student only once per year.

Recommendation

Provide the SHSAT exam multiple times per year.

More chances to sit and retake the exam would benefit students who may not have heard about the exam the first time.

Students Should take the SHSAT at their Middle Schools without Registration

The Hecht-Calandra Act says nothing about test location nor ease of applying.

Recommendation

Students should be offered the SHSAT exam at their school. They should not require registration. And the exam should be offered to them multiple times throughout the year.

This will help students who hadn’t heard of the SHSAT exam and the impact it could have on their academic careers.

Publish SHSAT Exam Topics

Believe it or not, no one really knows what topics could turn up on the SHSAT exam. The NYC Department of Education does not have a published list of topics or a Skills Plan for the SHSAT.

Even the SAT has a document detailing the list of topics the student may be expected to master.

This hurdle is easily passed by students who pay thousands of dollars for specialized instruction but proves to be a roadblock for many poor students. At least those whose families won’t invest 10% or more of their annual family income into prep for a single high school entrance exam.

An example of SAT topics and their weights

Recommendation

Release a detailed list of all subject topics and a skill plan for the SHSAT exam. Include specific syllabus alignment and weights.

This new policy will allow poor students who can’t afford prep courses to prepare more competitively. This SHSAT Skill Plan can be aligned with online tools such as IXL and Khan Academy. Giving students a complete turnkey system for studying for the SHSAT that’s exhaustive and free.

Release at Least 50% of Past SHSAT Exams

The SHSAT exam is one of the few public and high-stakes exams that is not released at all. Many exams may withhold a few exams for reuse, but in general, a large number of their exams are released to the public.

Recommendation

Release at least 50% of past SHSAT exams to students.

This will help poor students who cannot afford paid prep to be more competitive.

Audit and Release Psychometric Studies

Not only do we not know what’s on the exam, but we also don’t know how these questions correlate to demographic trends. As a high-stakes exam that’s sat by about 30,000 middle-school kids, this information should be analyzed and shared by the NYC Department of Education.

Recommendation

Audit the SHSAT every 5 years

Carefully measured psychometric evaluations will help us find and fix biases. School outcomes by topic may also uncover useful data.

Equivalent Scores

The Hecht-Calandra Act says nothing about students who receive equivalent scores. This has been an issue for the NYC Department of Education because many, many students test equivalently at 12 to 13 years old. The department has responded by grading the exam and using its scores without regard to the exam’s psychometric limits, e.g. the SHSAT’s Error of Measure for instance.

Recommendation

Measure and respect the SHSAT’s Error of Measure, but break student ties using the students’ school economic need data. E.g. In the case of a tie, the student from the school with the higher Economic Need Index has the advantage.

Students at higher Economic Need Index schools have fewer resources. E.g. these schools have higher homeless student populations for instance. Taking that into consideration and in case of a tie, the student with the higher ENI school would have had access to fewer resources on average.

This rule would undoubtedly be challenged in court, but it is an open legal question since the Hecht-Calandra Act simply did not specify what to do in the case that students are psychometrically measured the same.

The New York State Hecht-Calandra Act

Hecht-Calandra-Act