Racist? Fair? Biased? Asian-American Alumni Debate Elite High School Admissions

“We used to joke that whoever had the most money to spend on test prep would probably go to Stuyvesant.” That was how Ms. Rahman was introduced to the specialized school debate as a young Bangladeshi immigrant living in Brooklyn.

In high school, she came to believe that the admissions process was about money, not merit. Now, she said, “I feel like that system shouldn’t really exist.”


My journey shows why specialized high school admissions must change

With a sense of tragic déjà vu, reactionary forces are once again pushing back against any proposed integration of prestigious, but largely segregated, schools. This development is so predictable that it would be comical – were it not for the terrible consequences. Already, several irate New Yorkers have called my district office to voice their displeasure with Mayor Bill de Blasio’s plans to diversify New York City’s elite specialized high schools. Many of these phone calls possess the same overt racial animus of years past, with arguments that had served the same purpose then: to maintain the broken status quo.

Stop relying on just one test: Mayor de Blasio is right to try to want to turn away from the SHSAT high school admissions exam

I was the valedictorian of my eighth-grade class and earned a special honor for never missing a day of school, but that wasn’t enough to help me, or others like me, gain admission into schools like American Studies. Instead, a single specialty test was used to gauge my intelligence, work ethic and worthiness.

The mayor’s proposal to admit students based on a more equitable policy has been met with vehement opposition from people with false presumptions about students like me. Many assume that low-income students of color like me are just “too lazy” to prepare for the exam, and that kids who do better on the SHSAT prove they “deserve” to get in.

Overemphasizing a Test, Oversimplifying Our Children: An APA Perspective on Specialized High School Reform towards Educational Equity

The SHSAT is misperceived as an objective, and “colorblind” tool to measure merit. However, an expansive body of research reveals that school screening policies that do not consider race or socioeconomic status do not reduce, but rather contribute to further “stratification by race and ethnicity across schools and programs.”


In the field of testing, known as psychometrics, a single measure like the SHSAT violates the universally accepted norm and consensus in favor of multiple measures.[19] Having a single-test as the admission policy in no means takes into account the wide range of diverse experiences of all students and their families in New York City.

Whose Side Are Asian-Americans On?

Hsin, the sociology professor, told me, “If you were to put aside any concerns about goals of diversity at all and you just wanted to come up with mechanism for identifying the most talented individuals to be admitted to specialized high schools, you would never come up with the admissions policy you have now.” Grades, which are repeated measures over time, are considered better indicators of academic acumen. It’s also been shown that they are better than standardized test scores when it comes to predicting success for black and Latinx students.

Hey DOE: Revamp the SHSAT The current exam doesn’t accurately measure ability

Part of the reason for this disparity is that many kids don’t find out about specialized high schools and the SHSAT early enough, if at all. “In my middle school, my class didn’t know there was an SHSAT. We were considered the dumb class because we didn’t test well in elementary,” says Angie, currently a senior at Bronx Studio School for Writers and Artists. She is black and Latina. “However, the higher performing class got to take it as well as the prep they needed.”

The Students Trying to Get Ahead in a One-Test System

At Think Prep, a testing outfit near Penn Station, six students bent over desks in a windowless classroom. They’d been there for the past six weeks, Monday through Friday, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., studying practice S.H.S.A.T. questions. (The program costs five thousand six hundred dollars.)


The instructor, whose name was Andrew, wiped down the board. He’d attended Hunter College High School, another school with exam-based admissions, though it uses a different test. “It’s a mess,” he said, of the S.H.S.A.T.

Asian Americans should embrace reform of specialized high school admissions

Not all communities view testing in the same light, and aversion to change is natural. Still, SHSAT supporters have yet to persuasively explain away decades of social-science research. Contrary to the belief that scrapping the SHSAT would lower the quality of students, education experts such as Amy Hsin, associate professor of sociology at CUNY, have argued that grades are considered the best predictor of academic performance. “At best, the SHSAT [results] are unproven assessmentsof skills,” she says.

Moreover, unlike the SHSAT, annual statewide exams probe mastery of material actually taught in schools.

Letters: The Test That Changed Their Lives

I was one of the few kids of Caribbean descent in Stuyvesant and I knew plenty of people who deserved to be there but didn’t test well or didn’t even know about the test.

The fact that my mother didn’t want me to go because she genuinely didn’t know what the specialized high school test was or what a specialized high school was, is indicative of the larger problem at hand — that there isn’t enough outreach done in these communities that they want to pull “diverse” students from, and that the public and elementary schools serving these communities are underfunded and woefully under-prepare students for high school, much less a specialized one.

Educators For Excellence: Open Letter to Mayor de Blasio and Chancellor Carranza on Desegregating NYC Schools

Opponents of school desegregation argued in 1977 that “either we have to lower the standards for everybody so the special nature of the schools would disappear, or we would have to allow these students to be subjected to failure.”

It is eerie how today’s opponents repeat these same arguments.  This argument assumes that black and Hispanic students are unable to achieve at high levels because they don’t have access to SHSAT test prep. On the contrary, there is no evidence to support the idea that multi-measure admittance will diminish the quality of any of these schools.