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The allure of testing lies in its apparent neutrality—its democratic indifference to a student’s background and wealth. But this is not how the current system functions. Success correlates closely to socioeconomic advantages and access to test preparation. Pricey services offer tutoring to ever younger children. (There is a niche industry of consultants who help two-year-olds ace their preschool admissions assessments.) Yet many defenders of testing believe that more subjective forms of evaluation present their own unfairness. 

Outside the neutral language of policy reports, the issue of testing is debated in a context of winners and losers, of model minorities and problematic ones.

How a Thirteen-Year-Old Girl Smashed the Gender Divide in American High Schools


The anniversary of de Rivera’s battle comes amid another controversy about diversity at Stuyvesant. The school accepts students based entirely on an entrance exam, and the result is that few black and Latino students are admitted. (Only ten black students were admitted to Stuyvesant’s incoming class last year.) Last year, Mayor Bill de Blasio proposed eliminating the test for all of the specialized public schools in the city and offering admission to the top seven per cent of students in each district, insuring more diverse enrollment.

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.)

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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.