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NYC Mayor Hid Results of SHSAT Validity Study

Photo by Photobucket user maslow25

Despite claims otherwise from Mayor de Blasio, the test for admission into New York City’s elite high schools has been shown to have a strong connection to a student’s success.

On Friday, the Education Department of New York released the results of a study it had commissioned back in 2013 for the first time. The research showed that there is a strong positive relationship between high school academic performance and doing well on the Specialized High Schools Admissions Test (SHSAT).

What is the SHSAT?

The SHSAT serves as the only criterion for admissions to eight of the nine Specialized High Schools in New York City. The sole exception is the Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts – which requires applicants to submit their own portfolio or audition for admission.

Students taking an exam. Photo: Reuters

The New York City Department of Education is in charge of administering the SHSAT. This exam is exclusively available to the city’s residents who are in the 8th grade. Students who are already in the 9th grade may opt to take the 9th-grade version of the SHSAT but the number of seats is limited.

Back in 2016, around 28,000 students were able to take the SHSAT. Less than 20% of the examinees that year were accepted to a New York City Specialized High School.

The Research into the SHSAT’s Validity

A research firm known as Metis Associates conducted the SHSAT research in 2013. The study focused on five groups of students in the 8th grade who took the test from 2005 to 2009 through the first two years of high school. The metrics that were used included grade point average, as well as the students’ scores on the Advanced Placement tests and Regents examinations to measure performance.

The study discovered that the mean G.P.A. for students who were not accepted to the specialized schools was 2.387, while those who scored high enough on the exam to be accepted to at least one of the specialized high schools was 3.036 during their first year.

In the same way, students who took the Regents examinations had mean scores that ranged between 82.59 and 93.41 across different subjects. Mean scores for those who were not admitted, however, were around 68.69 to 79.16.

The SHSAT Controversy

Not everyone is in favor of the SHSAT – with politicians even openly expressing their thoughts on the exam. Bill de Blasio was campaigning for mayor in 2013 when he promised to make changes on the admissions process for the specialized schools in New York City. He also pushed for the inclusion of many factors in determining a student’s intelligence other than just one admissions exam.

De Blasio only talked about the issue again in June – following years of inaction – and announced that he plans to scrap the test entirely. According to him, the new method of selecting students would rely on statewide standardized test scores and class rank.

All the eight specialized schools that use the SHSAT are largely made up of Asian and white students. With de Blasio’s proposal to overhaul the admissions process in the city, people expect that it would help diversify the schools.

Public Feedback

New York City Education Department spokeswoman Toya Holness issued a statement about the research findings on Friday.

“It’s not at all surprising that a kid who did well on the test turns out to be good high school student,” she said. “What the validity study misses is the kid who didn’t do as well on the test, or didn’t take it, but still stands an excellent chance of being successful in these high schools if they had the opportunity.”

However, Larry Cary, who works as the president of the Brooklyn Tech Alumni Foundation board, had a different opinion. He stressed that the research shows the test is an effective metric for admission, and he strongly opposes the mayor’s plan to abolish the SHSAT.

“I think it’s a scandal that the City of New York sat on a predictive study for four or five years and hid it from the public as part of an effort to insist that the test has no value and should be eliminated,” he explained.

The de Blasio plan has also received backlash from the Asian community, other lawmakers, along with academic advocates who argue that the exams are culture and color blind. Concerned individuals even claim that doing away with the SHSAT may even dumb down the schools.

While there have been various proposals to give equal opportunities to all New York City students, the de Blasio administration is still determined to pursue their plan to eliminate the exam.

“We’re laser-focused on making specialized high school admissions fairer for all New Yorkers, and we’re confident that getting rid of this arbitrary test will strengthen our schools. Through our broader Equity and Excellence for All agenda, we’re investing in high-quality elementary and middle schools, and we’ve added Gifted and Talented classes so that there is an option in every district,” de Blasio spokesperson Jaclyn Rothenberg said in a statement.


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Diversity in the Exclusion of Another

Photo by Charles Echkert | AM New York

All eyes are on the newest NYC School’s Chancellor Robert Carranza as he takes on the country’s largest school system in New York City. Though relatively new to his position in the big city, he is also equipped with experience from other states. But the question of him bringing diversity in public schools while trying to exclude another, is contradicting on its own.

Equity and Exclusivity

His idea of equity in public schools is what his ideals are to have a fair public school system but why does there have to be the dismissal of students when the need arises? In spite of that, students of Asian descent are under fire in this situation. Nevertheless, though the number of these Asian students is relatively higher than those of other color, they were rightfully admitted for passing entrance examinations of these prestigious schools, so are the other students who passed the said examinations. New York is a beautiful and diverse place, with almost 200 languages spoken in the city, so the question must not be how to address the unbalanced number of students of different ethnic origin, which people are not surprised of, but why is there an unbalance happening in the first place? It is understood that going into prestigious schools, not to mention schools in New York City, is a very competitive environment. Carranza should look more into improving not when these students are already in the higher hierarchy of education where developing new methods are being introduced but should be looking into when these students are still starting to learn, namely primary schools or even kindergarten.

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Examinations Benefit Students

Sleepless nights, coffee mugs, and endless books: three things that you commonly see when examination week comes on and they are never easy, they never will be. It is a fact that students nowadays undergo tests and examinations multiple times a year. While some may understand and accept the concept of examinations, some are still doubtful of its effects to the students.

Are Tests Even Necessary?

Students think tests are necessary hell that they need to go through every semester but it was not made for them to feel anxious, nervous, and sleepless when doing so, but was made to assess the student’s comprehension throughout the year. The perception of doing evaluations to students must be changed. These assessments done by institutions are used to evaluate them. And when getting good results from examinations would show that the students are responding well to the teaching methods. Getting good results do not solely rely in the teachers’ hands, but rather on the hands of the students, which not only would be beneficial for the latter but would be a good feedback for the teachers and professors. The results can also help these educators to learn if their teaching method is effective, and if not, they could have a better grip on how to approach the students.

What Improvements Will Students Gain From Examinations?

Think of it like an exercise for your brain.  Like any other muscle in our body, the more a person exercise and use their minds will develop a stronger cognitive function for it. Although it feels like memory is one of the functions of the brain being tested when examinations are being done, analysis and decision-making skills of students are also being checked. Developing good judgment is a good practice that you get to do when doing tests and a better trait that is beneficial for the students when handling real life situations. While also retrieving information from their memory would be useful to be able to practice their chosen field of expertise, and since their minds have been conditioned through continuous assessments previously, it would be easier for them to do so.

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Meritocracy is Under Attack

Education and unbiased tests open doors to students of all races and backgrounds. Systems that allow students to succeed based on hard work lead to a meritocracy in which students are rewarded solely for merit, not for who they know, how much money they have, how much sucking up they have done in class or who their parents are.


In NYC, 8 specialized high schools are true gems. Admission to these schools is based solely on the results of the SHSAT, an unbiased entrance exam. Some politicians, including Mayor de Blasio, believe the SHSAT has to be eliminated because there are not enough black and Hispanic students admitted into the specialized high schools. The tests are said to favor one race over another. However, the purpose of the test is to identify truly talented students. There is no method in place to choose one race over another.

The Harvard Problem

Harvard pretends to be meritocratic, but actually isn’t. A suit filed against Harvard claims that the admissions process using soft criteria such as personality to downgrade Asian American applicants, who have high test scores, high grades, and considerable extracurricular activities.