Pathways to an Elite Education Exploring Strategies to Diversify NYC’s Specialized High Schools (2015)

This brief examines students’ pathways from middle school to matriculation at a specialized high school, and simulates the effects of various admissions criteria that have been proposed as alternatives to the current policy. Analyzing data from 2005 to 2013, we found that while the SHSAT is (by design) the most important factor determining who attends the specialized high schools, it is not the only factor. Many students—including many high-achieving students—do not take the SHSAT at all, and some of those offered admission decide to go to high school elsewhere.

Even when comparing students with the same level of prior academic achievement (based on state tests), we noted disparities at each stage of the pathway into a specialized school. For example, among students with comparable prior achievement, girls and Latinos were less likely to take the SHSAT. And girls, Latino, and Black students who took the test were less likely to receive an offer of admission. These findings suggest that there are opportunities to increase access, even within the confines of SHSAT-based admissions. Interventions that ensure that well-qualified students sit for the SHSAT—and have adequate resources to prepare for it—could help make the specialized schools more diverse.