Did you know that the reason the SHSAT was redesigned was because the City wanted to ensure that the student populations of the specialized high schools are like the student populations of New York City generally? The exam was rebuilt to ensure that students who learn in many different ways gain admission into specialized high schools. The idea is that if the City increases the numbers of students with a wide array of abilities taking the tests, many more students from underrepresented groups will be offered spots at specialized high schools. The specialized high schools will then include diversity initiatives to make sure students from underrepresented groups stay in those top schools.
This is fantastic news if you are an English Language Learner or are on an IEP or 504 plan! New York City has put a plan in place to make sure that students with your talents and learning needs are placed in the top public schools available to traditional students! Not only is the State obligated to give you the accommodations you require at school already, they must give you accommodation on the SHSAT exam as well.
You will register for the exam in the same way that traditional students do. If you go to a NYC public, private, or parochial school, you will register for the SHSAT through your guidance counselor at school, and you’ll follow the same registration schedule as traditional students (for more information, see “Timeline for SHSAT Registration and Testing”). Your clock starts in early September. Depending on your unique needs, especially if you do not go to a public, private, or parochial school, you may have to register for the exam at your local Family Welcome Center. (Family Welcome Centers are located in each Borough, and are set up to help families register for school and get information about special programs and accommodations through the Department of Education. To find the Family Welcome Center near you, and when they are open to help, visit: http://schools.nyc.gov/ChoicesEnrollment/NewStudents/WelcomeCenters/default.htm .)
Accommodations and the SHSAT
Make sure your accommodation needs are communicated to the guidance counselor or Department of Education employee who is helping you register for the SHSAT. Your testing date and testing location may be different than other students you may be in class with, or students that you know from the neighborhood, and will be based on what types of accommodation the State will need to provide for you. Accommodations that NYC provides can include:
- Reading the Exam. Students can receive assistance with understanding the directions on any section of the exam, what questions mean, and repeating answers. Additionally, visually impaired students have a Braille test available.
- Providing Answers. Assistive technology can be used to help students input answers, and students can also receive help on the test in inputting answers on the test.
- Allowing Additional Time or Alternate Scheduling. Students may need more time to take the exam, breaks during the exam, longer breaks during the exam, or alternate scheduling for the exam.
- Where the Exam is Taken. There are alternate testing sites available for students who need it, special equipment, and different lighting tools.
All accommodations must be requested when you are registering for the exam, and will be based on documentation you would have already provided the City to receive the assistance you need to do well in your classes. That means that the accommodations you’ll receive for the SHSAT will be similar to those that you receive at school. (If you’re on a 504 plan, make sure that you renewed your plan and it is current, since 504 plans need to be renewed each year. If you don’t have a current 504 plan, you won’t be able to receive accommodation for the SHSAT.) If you have a 504 or IEP that allows you to use assistive technology or other aids, you must bring them to the testing site on the day of the exam—they won’t be provided for you.
Whatever accommodations you receive for the exam are meant to make it so that whatever needs you have are met. Think about accommodations as ways for the city to support you to show what you know, how you know, and what you are able to do on the SHSAT, without you having to be negatively hampered by your needs or disabilities.
What Accommodations Aren’t Allowed for the Exam?
You can expect that whatever accommodations you already receive at, or for, school, you will almost certainly receive for the SHSAT. But, there are a handful of accommodations that are not acceptable because they get in the way of the learning outcomes that the test is set up to measure. You won’t be able to have access to a calculator or to written mathematics charts because the SHSAT is going to weigh to what extent you are able to calculate mathematics equations. For the English Language Aptitude section, you won’t be able to refer to written reference guides. Anyone who helps you with the exam won’t be allowed to translate questions or answers on the exam, or to direct you to the correct answers. If you are an English Language Learner, you will have 360 minutes for the test, instead of 180 minutes. You’ll also have access to bilingual math glossaries for the math section, but not for the ELA section.
You also won’t need a computer or someone to help you write essays on the exam because there aren’t any essays on the exam. If you are able to fill-in circles on Scantron bubbles, you won’t need an assistant to help you write in the exam answers. If you already use an assistant to write in exam answers, you will need one for the SHSAT.
Opting Out of Accommodations
Although you are going to be the one taking the SHSAT, you aren’t able to opt out of accommodations. If you think you receive assistance from the City right now that you won’t need for the exam, talk to your parent or guardian before you register. Your parent will have to provide written permission for you to opt out of accommodations prior to the exam. (Those exclusions will be printed on your Test Ticket, too.)
The only accommodation you can speak your mind about during the exam is for extended time to take the exam. If you have extra time, and you are satisfied that you have finished the exam, even though there is time left, you can finish the exam. But, you will need to provide your signature that you agree to leave the exam site before the exam time has expired. Have a conversation with your parents about this before you take the test. Your parents won’t be in the exam with you, and if you finish early, you won’t be able to return to the testing site.