In recent years, New York City lawmakers have attempted to transform the admission process for specialized high schools, selective public high schools, by moving away from the SHSAT (Specialized High School Admissions Test).
COVID-19 precautions have further complicated the testing process. In October 2020, Mayor Bill de Blasio and the chancellor initially failed to reschedule the 2020 exam after postponing the November 7th date. Ultimately, the exam was not canceled but was rescheduled for January 27, 2021.
ArgoPrep and the SHSAT
At ArgoPrep, our mission is to help you tackle any test so you can achieve your dreams. We believe hard work and ample practice boosts both confidence and test scores. The SHSAT is no exception and we have helped over 20,000+ students prepare for the SHSAT exam.
What is the SHSAT?
Specialized high schools serve 18,000 students in New York City each year. In order to apply, students are required to take the SHSAT. The SHSAT is a yearly exam administered to eighth and ninth grade students who live in New York City. Results of the exam determine a student’s acceptance to eight of the city’s nine elite schools. About 30,000 students take the exam each year, answering questions that assess the English and Math skills crucial for anyone entering high school. Though test takers prioritize their school choices on their applications, the American Guidance Service grades and ranks the exams, ultimately sorting the students based on performance.
Take a quiz
The SHSAT is not immune to controversy. Critics believe it does not allow for enough diversity in the city’s top schools. In 2018, de Blasio’s administration began to look for alternatives to the SHSAT. De Blasio proposed a replacement system that would eliminate the exam and instead simply select the top seven percent of students in each middle school for entry into one of the specialized high schools. His stated goal was to increase access to the city’s top schools for students studying at lower-performing middle schools.
De Blasio’s plan to replace the test proved more complicated than critics of the exam anticipated. In September 2019, de Blasio announced that the city was open to keeping the test for specialized high schools.
Proponents of the exam believe it ensures a uniform admissions process in the city’s otherwise cumbersome public education system. A student’s success on the exam relies on dedicated practice and concentrated effort.
A 2013 study by Metis Associates, an educational consultant company, found that a strong showing on the SHSAT often predicted a student’s achievement in high school. Additionally, proponents believe the preparation required for acing the test embodies the work ethic later needed to perform in a high-pressure environment of an elite high school.
Many students and families from these schools believe that eliminating the exam would lower the bar for admission and weaken the overall quality of education. Students thrive on the academic rigor of a community and are often motivated primarily by their classmates. Studies from The Atlantic found that students surrounded by hardworking and determined peers are more effectively driven to achieve. Alumni of these schools cite the academic intensity of these institutes for preparing them for brighter futures. Stuyvesant High School, for example, sends about 25% of its graduates to Ivy League college each year.
Supporters also believe the schools can help combat the poverty line. According to The Atlantic, though children from poorer families are generally likely to grow up poor, graduates of specialized schools, such as Stuyvesant, are not. Additionally, between 34 and 61% of students at specialized high schools are eligible for free lunch.
- 1 Day Free Trial
- Video lectures - 100+ Videos
- Online Practice Questions - 1200+ Questions
- 30 hours of video explanations
- Books- 3000+ Questions
- 15 hours of video explanations
- Live Chat - Yes
- 3 Day Money Back Guarantee* - Yes
- Personalized Study Plan - No
- +10 raw score guaranteed*
Since 2018, about half of the students in specialized schools have come from poor families compared to the city’s 74%. More than ¾ of Stuyvesant students are either first- or second-generation immigrants. Most of the students attending these specialized high schools are considered to be living below the poverty line.
About 62% of students at specialized schools are of Asian descent, whereas only 10% are Black or Hispanic. A study from the city’s Independent Budget Office indicated that under de Blasio’s plan, the percentage of Black students would increase from four to 19%, Hispanic students would quadruple to 27% from about 6%, Asian students would decrease by half to 31%, and white student population would remain the same.
Many programs already exist to better prepare all students for the yearly exam. The New York Specialized High School Institute is a free program aimed at prioritizing diversity in admissions by tutoring students and increasing their access to the test and proper tutoring. The city has also created its own free programs, the Discovery Program and the DREAM Program, specifically to aid low-income students. The Discovery Program sets aside 20% of seats for those from high-poverty middle schools who fall a bit below the test cut off. The DREAM Program provides weekend test practice.
NYC’s Public School System
Advocates for the test believe the school system, rather than the test, is failing low-income students. New York City’s school system manages over a million students with limited and poorly distributed resources. Its middle schools are highly segregated. Since the 1990s, many no longer offer honors programs, once a fast-track way to improve education quality. Alumni from specialized high schools believe the exam is the fairest way to judge entry.
In October 2020, protestors collided after de Blasio and the chancellor failed to reschedule the 2020 exam after cancelling the November 7th date due to COVID-19. Though both sides have pushed their agendas, little has changed in terms of what the city is requiring of students. The 2020 exam was administered in January 2021. As of now, the SHSAT will take place on schedule next fall.
So is the SHSAT changed, removed, or cancelled?
The SHSAT exam is not cancelled and is still scheduled to take place as usual unless we hear an official update from the Department of Education. We believe it’s very unlikely that the SHSAT exam format will change from the 2020 year, so you can expect 2021 SHSAT to be the same format.
For those parents and students wondering if it’s worth studying for the SHSAT exam on the small chance that the SHSAT can be cancelled next year, we recommend still studying for the exam. The exam is intensive and requires you to know many foundational concepts in both mathematics and English Language Arts. Preparing for an exam never hurts especially since the SHSAT is now based on the 7th grade common core curriculum standards.
What do you think about this article? Share your opinion with us
Lear more about ArgoPrep's SHSAT ProgramLearn more
Share good content with friends and get 15% discount for 12-month subscription