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Saturday, March 16, 2013

Results of SHSAT For Top High Schools Shows Racism

The problem with the Specialized Science HS test presents itself BEFORE the test is taken. Not only are minority students not adequately prepared, but guidance counselors do not always tell or allow students of color to take the test.

  When I was PTA President of Booker T. Washington MS 54 I did a small amount of research, by sending teams out to District 3 and District 5 middle schools and asking parents if their children were taking the SHSAT. Most said no, because the guidance counselors told their children "the test is not for you".

  Betsy Combier


Fewer black and Hispanic students admitted to top high schools

Screen shot 2013-03-15 at 3.45.38 PM
Students who took the Specialized High Schools Admissions Test and were offered seats in a specialized high school this school year, by race
During a year when the racial composition of the student bodies at the city’s most selective high schools came under harsh new scrutiny, the number of black and Hispanic students admitted to the schools fell sharply.
Of the 5,229 students accepted to the city’s eight specialized high schools this year, 618 were black or Hispanic, according to data the Department of Education released today, the day that eighth-graders learned their high school placement. Last year, the schools accepted 733 black and Hispanic students, more than in the recent past.
The sharpest declines came at the city’s most selective schools. Out of 963 students accepted to ultra-elite Stuyvesant High School, just nine are black and 24 are Hispanic. Last year, the school accepted 51 black and Hispanic students. At Brooklyn Technical High School, the largest of the specialized schools, the number of black and Hispanic students accepted fell by 22 percent.

The declines outpaced another sharp drop-off, in the number of black and Hispanic students who even took the admissions test that is the single determinant of whether students can attend the specialized schools. The number of white and Asian students who sat for the exam increased slightly, but 550 fewer black students and 384 fewer Hispanic students took the test.
Overall, black and Hispanic students received 12 percent of specialized high school offers, down from 14 percent last year but up slightly from 11 percent in 2011. They made up 45 percent of test-takers and make up about 71 percent of students citywide.
“It’s disappointing that the amount of students in Stuyvesant are not reflective of New York City public schools,” said Karim Camara, chairman of the state Assembly’s Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic and Asian Caucus. “Obviously, there needs to be serious efforts to increase enrollment of black and Latino students in these schools.”
Camara has proposed legislation that would require specialized schools to base admissions on multiple measurements, the central demand of a civil rights complaint filed last year by the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. The complaint, which the federal Office of Civil Rights is considering, says admission to the schools would be more fair if students’ grades, teacher recommendations, extracurricular activities, and life experiences were considered.
“This year’s admission numbers represent the continuation of a trend of unfairness and acute racial disparities in admissions to New York’s eight specialized high schools that has been going on for years,” Damon Hewitt, LDF’s legal director, said today. “We will not see a reversal of this trend until the schools’ admissions policy changes once and for all.”
City officials have consistently defended the admissions process — which would require legislative approval to change — and did so again today.
“We take efforts to ensure our system of great schools is diverse, but ultimately for the specialized high schools, we believe the SHSAT is the fairest measure for admission,” said Devon Puglia, a department spokesman.


Jason Yuan said...

It's not because of racism; it's that blacks and hispanics need to persevere and push themselves like Asians do.

Rachel Zhao said...

It's not racism, it's just that they need to work harder.

Man Wong said...

No actual idea why those counselors told those families the SHSAT "is not for you", but blaming it on racism w/out any actual proof (nor sound reasoning) actually perpetuates the kind of (non-)thinking that causes and/or supports racism in the first place.

But if you must speculate, then consider this. As counselors, should they tell everyone, even those they believe are clearly not equipped to do well in the SHSAT, to go take it anyway? Your answer to that will likely depend a lot on whether you believe counseling should guide families to do what is reasonably realistic vs what is clearly pie-in-the-sky not (just to try anything anyway). That's not to say there's no place for optimism of course, but what would be the point if you know w/ great certainty that certain kids may be so ill-prepared that the test experience could even be a detrimental, demoralizing thing for instance? Did they in fact tell kids who actually had a reasonable chance at doing well to not bother anyway?

Becoming prepared for the test (and for the subsequent awarded education, if you "pass" it) isn't just a few-month-long cram-fest afterall. It would do new 8th graders no good to give them false hope that they could go from being seriously ill-equipped (after 7-plus years of previous schooling and 12 years of being raised in some certain way in some particular environment) to possibly being good enough to "pass" that test (and then do well in the specialized HS).

One might argue then that the middle schools schould've started preparing the kids as soon as they enter 6th grade, and that's essentially what a lot of people, including a large percentage of those Asians who "pass" the test, do. Of course, if kids are entering 6th grade being severely ill-prepared for middle school itself, then the middle school's hands are kinda tied, and that's likely a big part of the problem -- that and probably the perpetual shortage of funding/resources, etc.

It all boils back down to the fact we have much bigger problems in NYC public ed than this blame game w/ the SHSAT. The SHSAT is actually just revealing the tip of the ice berg, and a lot of people don't like what they see. But the question is do you try to fix the really big underlying problems by throwing away a tool that essentially reveals them (while letting those who survived them to succeed onto a better education) to be replaced w/ a bandaid that more likely obfuscates than actually helps or do you go fix the big underlying problems instead?

Don't just play the blame game and break what likely isn't actually broken in the first place. Let the specialized high schools do what they've been good at for many decades now, and let the SHSAT do its job toward that end as well... at least until/unless people actually come up w/ something demonstrably better, which nobody has done so far.

For the record, I say all this not as one of those Asians who actually "passed" the SHSAT (back in my day), so I'm not defending it because I did well on it -- in fact, I was one of the clueless ones who ended up not doing well on it, but went on to do just fine via a somewhat different path anyhow. Also, I too had been subjected to similar sort of counseling when it came time to applying for colleges, and in my case, the counselor was proven wrong... though I would never call it racism (even in retrospect... although I could suspect something if I were more cynical I suppose) -- I'd simply call it bad counseling in my case (and the case of many others in similar situation)... and the counseling back then definitely seemed a good deal worse than today AFAIK... although things may not have improved at all in inner cities...

Anyway, let's seek to do what would actually help (as the entire system does need a lot of help) rather than continue w/ such politically-inflamed blame games...