Thoughts on the Fight for the SHSAT in New York City

Picture this. It’s September 2013, and I am beginning the eighth grade. I am enrolled in my middle school’s Gifted and Talented program, which is made up mostly of Asian American students. Then, all of a sudden, I am expected to be prepared for a test called the “SHSAT” so that I can get into one of the few  “good high schools” in the city. 

I had never heard of the SHSAT before. My parents had never heard of the test either. Meanwhile, my Asian American peers had been extensively preparing for the test months in advance; their parents paid for them to go to SHSAT prep classes because, for these parents, according to Refinery 29’s “The Problem with Stuyvesant High School Admissions,” getting into one of NYC’s specialized high schools is considered to be a direct pipeline to a prestigious college and upward mobility. 

The point is, I was unprepared for the SHSAT because I was completely uninformed about it, despite being a hardworking student,.Since doing well on the test was the only way to get into one of these exclusive high schools, I inevitably did not get accepted to one of them. 

Most of my classmates ended up going to Brooklyn Tech, Bronx Science, or Stuyvesant and were constantly praised for it by their teachers and their peers. 

I, one of the only Latinx students in the program, was ultimately left in the dust. I felt as if I could not be as successful as my Asian American classmates because of THIS exam. I ended up getting into Bard High School Early College and ended up receiving a good education anyways, but I know that it is not the case for many Black and Hispanic students in New York City. 

I do not want New York City’s public school system to continue to blindside Black and Hispanic students as it did to me. 

    Currently, there is a battle happening in New York City over the Specialized High School Admission Test. Instead of basing admission on a single test, Mayor DeBlasio has proposed that the top students from each middle school across the city should be granted admission. However, Asian American political groups have been fiercely advocating to keep the test because they believe that that is the only way for their children to have an elite education; they have argued that getting rid of the test or taking steps to increase the population of Black and Hispanic students at these schools would be at the expense of Asian American students and would, therefore, be anti-Asian.

 The hardest thing to deal with is that there are people out there, including some of the parents in these political groups, that genuinely believe that the reason why there is such a small percentage of Black and Hispanic students at these schools is that other students of color simply cannot do better than Asian students, according to the Columbia Journalism Review, and that is not true at all. There is a blatant lack of Asian-Black and Asian-Hispanic solidarity here. 

The fact of the matter is that, according to the Metropolitan Center for Research on Equity and the Transformation of Schools, American public school systems have continuously failed Black and Hispanic students by not giving them an opportunity to succeed, and New York City’s is no exception, being one of the most racially segregated, according to Financial Times. Instead of keeping the test and putting the city’s best educational resources into these “top” schools, which only constitute about 6 percent of all the city’s high schools, and instead of eliminating the test altogether in a way that will upset the Asian American population in New York, I believe the city needs to take a step back and realize that the school system itself is the problem, not the SHSAT. Wouldn’t it be worthwhile to give every high school in NYC the resources to be a “good” high school, instead of pooling all our resources into a few specialized high schools that many Black and Hispanic students do not have the benefit of going to? That way, all students, whether they are black or Hispanic or Asian, can have access to higher education.