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Everybody is talking about the Specialized High Schools Admissions Test. Here’s what it looks like

Jane Urschel of the Colorado Association of School Boards (right) critiqued the parent trigger bill by Rep. Don Beezley, R-Broomfield, (left) during a committee hearing March 14, 2011.
Students take an AP exam at Bronx Science, one of New York City's specialized high schools.

For students looking to attend one of New York City’s top public high schools, only one thing matters — the Specialized High Schools Admissions Test.

The test is the only criterion for students to be admitted into eight of the specialized high schools, and it stands at the center of a contentious debate that blew open last weekend over the stark underrepresentation of black and Hispanic students there. (LaGuardia High School, a specialized performing arts school, requires an audition.)

In an op-ed in Chalkbeat, Mayor Bill de Blasio called for the test to be scrapped and replaced with a system that “best reflects the talents” students have, and is backing a two-step plan that would set apart 20 percent of seats for low-income students. He has renewed a push to lobby for a change in state law, which requires admission at three of the schools to be decided by a single test score.

Critics say the test shuts out students who can’t afford intense prep courses. But powerful alumni groups have fought to keep it in place, saying it ensures that the schools remain rigorous.

The two part assessment, consisting of an English Language Arts section and Math section, was revised in 2017 by the Department of Education in the hopes of more accurately reflecting what middle school students attending public schools are learning. While demographic changes have not been a result of these changes yet, there were some major alterations to the test.

Changes are reflected in a sample of a full test provided in the 2017-2018 Specialized High Schools Student Handbook. Students are no longer asked to unscramble paragraphs, and a new grammar section was added that asks students to edit and revise sentences. In the math section, some multiple choice questions were removed, and students instead have to write their own answers. However, advocates still question whether the test has changed in meaningful ways.

Take a look at the full sample test below.

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