30K students will take the SHSAT this weekend. Here’s where the push to eliminate the exam stands.

Meaghan McGoldrick

October 24, 2019

Originally published in Brooklyn Eagle on October 24, 2019.

This weekend, more than 30,000 New York City students are expected to take the Specialized High School Admissions Test.

The SHSAT — the sole means of admissions for most of the city’s nine specialized high schools — has served as a point of contention for the mayor and schools chancellor, who have been working to get rid of the test, as well as to parents and educators hoping to keep it intact.

Mayor Bill de Blasio and Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza have claimed that legislation to do away with the SHSAT — which is currently stalled in both the Senate and the Assembly — would increase racial diversity in the top high schools like Brooklyn Technical High School and Stuyvesant High School, which currently enroll disproportionately low numbers of black and Latinx students. (According to Chalkbeat, in 2019, White and Asian students were more likely to take the test — and to score high enough for admission.)

The pair — who have received both political and parental pushback on the proposal — had hoped to establish a new enrollment system allowing the top seven percent of students in each of the city’s middle schools to gain admission to specialized high schools.

Meanwhile, some parents have argued that the administration’s plan is an attack on kids who already work hard to ace the SHSAT.

Here’s a look back at what happened (and didn’t happen) with the test this past year.

Pols weighed in as the push was stalled

As tensions continued to mount this summer (despite the break in legislative session), the Brooklyn Eagle reached out lawmakers in the Senate and Assembly — the two bodies of government that could have a say in the statewide exam — to see what they thought was next for the SHSAT.

State Sen. Andrew Gounardes, who represents a swath of southern Brooklyn and (at the time) served on the State Senate’s Education Committee, said that, despite contention, he felt the debate has quieted down a bit on the Senate side.

“It seems to me like the volume of the discussion was not as great as the year before,” he said, expecting conversation to continue once the Senate reconvenes in January 2020. But, he doesn’t believe the bill will pass as currently drafted.

 

“There’s a pretty strong consensus against it,” Gounardes, who opposes the elimination of the SHSAT and has hosted community forums on the issue, said. “But the long and short of it is that we’ll pick it back up in January.”

On the other hand, Assemblymember Charles Barron, who sponsored the bill to eliminate the test in the Assembly — remained confident the SHSAT is on its way out. “I think it’s going to go eventually,” he told the Eagle, “and anybody who supports it is playing politics with our children’s educations.”

Mayor de Blasio backed down (kind of)

This September, the mayor told reporters at a roundtable that he might have to rethink scrapping the test, although he vowed to continue working toward his goal of increasing racial diversity in the city’s elite high schools like Brooklyn Tech and Bronx High School of Science.

“Some would argue that there’s a way to do it while keeping the test, and you have to have that dialogue, too,” de Blasio said, according to the Post, prompting praise from SHSAT advocates — many of them in southern Brooklyn — who also took the opportunity to call for more investment in (as opposed to the removal of) the city’s gifted and talented programs.

Carranza doubled down

Just days after the mayor said he was open to the idea of keeping the exam in place, Carranza doubled down on his commitment to scrapping the test at a similar sit-down with journalists.

“I’m not backing away from my belief that a single test is not the most effective way to give students that opportunity,” he told reporters, going on to say that the process should be as fair and transparent as possible — and that the issue isn’t about race.

“There are people in this city that have tried to make this issue about race, but this is not about race. Let me say it again for the people in the back — this is not about race,” Carranza said. “This is about education opportunity for all children — black, Asian, brown, white, LGBTQ, students with disabilities, students in temporary housing, students in foster care — this is about all students, and when people try to make this about race, it’s a political agenda, not an educational agenda.”

Carranza maintained that, while he will continue to meet with affected communities (“I’m open! What’s a better idea? I haven’t heard one yet. Give me a better idea,” he said), he is in no way in favor of a one-test admissions process.

Barron backed a new strategy

Chalkbeat first reported in early October that Assemblymember Barron — the state lawmaker who sponsored the bill backing the mayor’s plan in the Assembly — said he would not be resubmitting the controversial legislation in the new session.

Instead, he said he would try to repeal the section of the education law requiring the SHSAT, as opposed to amending it — taking the state out of the city’s school admissions process altogether.

Barron — who represents portions of Brownsville, Canarsie and East New York — said that, come 2020, he and other politicians who spent the summer working on this new plan will be calling to repeal the Hecht-Calandra law of 1971, which requires students to take an admission exam to get into the three most populous specialized high schools: Stuyvesant, Bronx Science and Brooklyn Tech.

“Then the state is out of determining local school policy for New York City, and then it’s on the mayor and chancellor to determine the policy — then you’ll see where [the mayor] really is,” Barron told Chalkbeat. “To me, that is the better strategy.”

…and SHSAT supporters did, too

Chalkbeat reported last week that the Education Equity Campaign, a well-funded group determined to keep the SHSAT in place, is again taking its fight to Albany — this time, throwing support behind a bill that calls for the creation of 10 new specialized high schools and expanding subsidized test preparation programs.

This year’s SHSAT exam period begins Saturday, Oct. 26 and Sunday, Oct. 27, with dates for English Language Learners, students with disabilities who have Individualized Education Programs or approved 504 plans scheduled for Nov. 2 and Nov. 17.

Make-up test requests will also be administered on Nov. 2 and Nov. 17.