The Specialized High Schools Admission Test (SHSAT) is given in the fall of each year. You may be asking yourself: what is the SHSAT exactly? It’s a test offered to eighth- and ninth-grade students interested in attending any of New York’s specialized high schools. The test is the only way students gain admission into one of the nine specialized schools and has been a lightning rod for controversy.
According to the New York City Department of Education, “The nine specialized high schools are one way that New York City supports the educational needs of students who excel academically and/or artistically, including English Language Learners and students with an Individualized Education Program (IEP) or 504 Plan [which ensures children with disabilities are given access to necessary learning tools in the schools they attend].”
These schools offer admission to students based on their SHSAT scores and some feel it’s not a fair measure of a student’s potential. Others claim the admission process is racially-biased, with only around 10% of admissions being offered to black and Hispanic students.
Proponents also claim because the test is optional, the demographic is automatically skewed. Chalkbeat, reports, “More than 30% of test-takers were Asian and more than 18% were white — percentages that are higher than the citywide public school enrollment for both demographic groups.”
Other factors, like the location of the schools, or the student’s interest in their specialty, influence students and families on their decision to apply for acceptance at all.
Most agree preparing for the test outside of school is necessary to achieve desired scores.
Frances Kweller, the owner and founder of Kweller Prep has made it her business to help students in grades 3-12 prepare for any and all standardized testing. With multiple locations in New York City, the SHSAT is something with which Kweller is very familiar.
“Preparation for the test must begin months in advance,” she tells Parentology. Kweller also notes private test prep companies aren’t these students’ only option, “If families do not have the resources to hire a private test prep company, there are many excellent prep books that can prepare students. The Department of Education also releases two free SHSAT exams, detailed answers, and explanations in its handbook.”
While Kweller believes the test is indeed a good predictive tool, she also believes all students should be given access to test preparation, “Test prep companies like Kweller Prep fill in the gaps to help prepare students for this difficult exam. Prep should be mandatory and free in every school for this test. There is definitely an uneven playing field when those in charge do not set funds aside to allow free prep in schools.”
The controversy surrounding the test has now prompted several lawsuits with many calling for the complete elimination of the SHSAT. The disputes may be deterring parents and kids from participating. “The exam has become divisive and a political talking point, adding a lot of unnecessary stress to those trying to prepare for it,” Kweller notes. “Far fewer families registered for the test this year. I think a lot of them got turned off by the political nature of the test.”