Let’s be clear: there is something wrong when only 13 percent of the students in New York City’s specialized high schools are Latino or African American. However, I do not believe that the problem lies with the Specialized High School Admissions Test (SHSAT), which eight specialized high schools use as their only criteria for admission. The underrepresentation of some minority groups in these schools is indicative of a larger set of challenges facing this city’s educational system that begin in kindergarten or before. Those who advocate for a more complex admission process do a disservice to the students they want to help, and to the premise of objectivity upon which these specialized schools were founded.
Of the hundreds of high schools in New York City, only eight base their admissions decisions solely on the SHSAT. Though no test is perfect, the SHSAT seeks to be entirely objective. It is meant to identify New York City’s best and brightest young minds so that they can learn alongside their peers. Political influence, athletic prowess, and family legacies play no role in these schools’ decision-making process.
The myth that these specialized high schools exist exclusively for the privileged elite is just that: a myth. According to the Department of Education’s (DOE) statistics, over half the students currently enrolled in these eight schools are eligible for free or reduced lunch. A significant percentage are immigrants or the children of immigrants, and less than a quarter of the student body is white.
Those advocating for additional criteria to determine admissions want to use standards that are prone to manipulation and subjectivity such as grades or attendance. Yet an “A” may not reflect the same level of academic achievement in one school as it does in another. And while a good attendance record should be the goal of every student, qualified applicants may miss days of school for any number of justifiable reasons. Merely showing up should not be a factor in determining whether a student is qualified to be in a specialized high school.