Questions raised about aptitude tests

Middle school students hoping to attend elite New York City high schools like Stuyvesant in Lower Manhattan have one way in, a standardized test called the Specialized High School Aptitude Test, or the SHSAT. But Mayor Bill de Blasio and his new schools Chancellor Richard Carranza day it’s time for that to change.

High schools students and recent graduates with the group “Teens Take Charge” agree.

“Everyone can take the test, right? The thing is that not everyone has the same preparation for the exam,” said recent high school grad Jorge Morales.

“It’s not the right way to evaluate a student’s merit,” said Muhammad Deen, no other college uses one single test.

Deen says he came just below the cutoff to get into Brooklyn tech and instead ended up attending a charter school. He and Morales support the Mayor’s proposal to eliminate the SHSAT and instead admit students to the elite schools based on GPA and state test scores.

“It is more of a way of looking at the student as a whole, rather than this one simple test score that didn't really showcase what a good student is,” Deen said.

Currently, black and Hispanic students make up nearly 70% of the City’s public high school population but hold just 10% of seats at elite schools.

While dropping the SHSAT requires state approval, earlier this summer the mayor said the city would do its part to increase diversity by setting aside 20% of seats at the specialized schools for students from high-poverty middle schools who score just below the test cut-off and participate in a summer session called the Discovery Program.

The proposals have stoked controversy and outcry from many, including Asian-American groups, who fear those students will be pushed aside in the effort to admit other minorities.

“It’s a punishment to the hardworking kids,” said Donghui Zhang, the parent of a public middle school student.

“I think this kind of thinking, we should have a racial quota for this kind of elite high school is problematic,” said parent Julia Liu.

Both Zhang and Liu are among the Asian-American public school parents who say keep the test, and offer better test prep instead.

“To level the playing field, we should provide access,high-qualityy K-8 education for all communities,” Liu said.

Eliminating the test is also opposed by a number of alumni groups from the specialized schools. In an open letter posted online, Larry Cary, President of the Brooklyn Tech Alumni Society wrote:
"We...advocate for keeping the test because we believe it to be an objective, transparent process for selecting students based on merit."

If the Mayor has his way, in three years the test would be eliminated and a majority of seats at the elite schools would be reserved for the top 7% of students from every middle school.

“I support the fact he wants to get rid of SHSAT its debatable what we replace it with,” said David Bloomfield, an education professor at Brooklyn College and the CUNY graduate center.

“It should be about how able you are to soar in a specialized high school, and there are many, many students who don't get in who could soar and are kept out because of the SHSAT,” Bloomfield added.