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The Issue with the SHSAT

New York City is a host to some of the strongest public educational institutions in the world. The City bears high schools with famous names such as Stuyvesant High School and the Bronx High School of Science. To attend one of NYC’s Specialized High Schools is the dream of many NYC students. The 8 different schools all offer a stellar education at no cost, and admittance to them puts students on the path to admissions at competitive colleges and sets students up for success.

Close to 30,000 students from New York City take the Specialized High Schools Admissions Test (SHSAT) every year. It is currently the one and only metric for admission into one of NYC’s Specialized High Schools. A student’s previous performance in school, their extracurricular achievements are not at all factored into the decision making process. Because of this, students who can afford private test prep and tutoring (which can cost anywhere from $500 to $5,000) have a significant leg up.

This advantage is realized in the significant racial disparities at the Specialized High Schools. In 2012, Black and Latino students - who comprise 70% of the city’s students and 40% of that year’s test takers - received a mere 11% of the offers. And 2012 was not a special year. While lawmakers and other organizations are rallying up to take action against the bias in the SHSAT, legislation is too slow for students who face the disadvantage now. Even if the SHSAT is reformed or erased, there will always exist some standardized admissions test, and the test prep advantage is not going away.

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