“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.”
This week, the Pacific Legal Foundation, a conservative, libertarian-leaning law firm that has a history of challenging affirmative action policies, filed the first lawsuit against his admissions reform proposal, which he announced this summer.
But the suit does not take on the part of Mr. de Blasio’s proposal that has provoked the most controversy: a plan that would entirely eliminate the exam that is currently the sole means of admission into the city’s elite specialized high schools. The mayor wants to replace the test with a system that guarantees seats to top performers at each of the city’s middle schools, which would guarantee that the schools accept many more black and Hispanic students.
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.
Many parents and teachers have long contended that the SHSAT is an assessment of students’ test-taking skills, honed by extensive test preparation, more than their potential to succeed at the specialized schools.
Pian Rockfeld, an English teacher at the High School of American Studies at Lehman College in the Bronx, one of the smaller specialized schools, has proctored the SHSAT. She said she could always tell who had taken prep courses. The students would draw diagrams to decipher confusing questions that left others stumped, or if they were good in math, they would start midway through the test on the math section to take advantage of a quirk in the scoring process that rewards students who score extremely high on one part of the exam rather than those with high but more balanced scores across subjects.
Dr. Caceres, the Bronx principal, said that half of his eighth-grade students already take advanced math and science classes, and have the ability and work ethic to thrive in a challenging school like Bronx Science. His students do not do well on the SHSAT, he said, in part because most of their families cannot afford tutoring. When the results came back this spring, some of the students were so disappointed they cried.
“Don’t you think it’s embarrassing that Bronx Science is in the Bronx and only a handful of students are from the Bronx?”
By 2020, 20 percent of the ninth-grade seats in every specialized high school will be set aside for Discovery students, according to city education officials. Currently, only 5 percent of the 4,000 ninth-grade seats are filled through Discovery.
SHSAT 1, NYTimes reporters and editors 0
But the problems I encountered when taking the SHSAT online demonstrate how even one standardized test question might derail a promising student’s future.
In fact, I was thrown off by the very first question on the test
Daniel Koretz, a professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, the author of “Measuring Up” and “The Testing Charade,” and one of the country’s foremost experts on standardized tests, agreed that the question is, at best, ambiguous.
New York’s elementary and middle schools do not prepare children for the test, all but ensuring that students seek out extensive test preparation. Many Asian and white students have done so for thousands of dollars apiece. Black and Latino students are likely to walk in with little or no test preparation.
Of all elite public high schools in the country, only New York’s use a single exam for admission. Researchers and others have said this approach is less predictive of success than grades, particularly for black and Latino students.
The SAT will remain a “norm-referenced” exam, designed primarily to rank students rather than measure what they actually know. Such exams compare students to other test takers, rather than measure their performance against a fixed standard. They are designed to produce a “bell curve” distribution among examinees, with most scoring in the middle and with sharply descending numbers at the top and bottom. Test designers accomplish this, among other ways, by using plausible-sounding “distractors” to make multiple-choice items more difficult, requiring students to respond to a large number of items in a short space of time, and by dropping questions that too many students can answer correctly.
A coalition of educational and civil rights groups filed a federal complaint on Thursday saying that black and Hispanic students were disproportionately excluded from New York City’s most selective high schools because of a single-test admittance policy they say is racially discriminatory.
The complaint, filed with the United States Education Department, seeks to have the policy found in violation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and to change admissions procedures “to something that is nondiscriminatory and fair to all students,” said Damon T.