The SHSAT: A Symptom, Not a Disease

Jackson Parker, Grade 9, Staff Writer

New York City loves to think of itself as the spitting image of diversity and the model cosmopolitan city, but its schools say otherwise. A report by the New York City Council shows that Black and Hispanic children tend to go to schools where more than 75% of students are low income. The report also shows that despite only making up just 31.3% of the total student population, white and Asian students make up over half of the population in all specialized highschools and over 75% of the population in ¾ of them. HSAS is included in this, with white and Asian students constituting 78.4% of the student body.

Clearly, the Specialized High School Admissions Test (SHSAT) is the culprit. The current way that the test is administered poses an obstacle to Black and Hispanic students getting high marks.

Though test bias may account for some of the problems, educational inequalities are likely rooted in deeper issues. Lowering testing standards will only serve to reduce the effectiveness of specialized highschools and, if similar action was taken only for minority groups, it could infantilize such groups and push unprepared individuals into competitive environments.

The real problem is in the education leading up to the test. The reason students receive different results boils down to parent intervention and public school funding in elementary and middle school.

In New York State, and much of the country, a little under half (46%) of school funding comes from “local revenues,” of which “local property taxes constitute close to 90 percent,” according to a primer released by the state. There is a clear problem with this: poor areas, with low property values, get less school funding due to lower tax revenue. As a result, low-income students often do not receive the level of education needed to succeed on the SHSAT and beyond.

Besides the public school system, private tutors, private schools, and educated parents are all advantages for certain groups of students. Tutors, like those at the Princeton Review, for example, regularly charge over $150 an hour for one-on-one professional SHSAT tutoring. Private schools are also prohibitively expensive for many, and they offer several academic advantages to enrollees. Having parents who have gone to college or work hours that allow them to be home and help with studying means that many wealthier students have far more support than those who may be coming home to an empty house while parents are working.

Though many of these issues are currently being tackled by the Dream program and Fee for Service (FFS) funding model among others, much more needs to be done to reform our school system. The SHSAT is just a reminder of how much further we need to go.

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