As principals of unscreened public schools with successful student outcomes, we are committed to helping to build an integrated school system that serves all students. That’s why we’re concerned that New York City’s education department is requiring a majority of public middle schools to offer the SHSAT during the school day.
Recent years have brought increased attention and urgency to the inequities of the SHSAT. The gatekeeper exam is the sole admissions criteria at eight of the city’s nine specialized high schools. Together, these schools receive many millions in extra funding even as they enroll few Black and Hispanic students in a majority Black and Hispanic district. Stuyvesant, for example, gets an additional $1,055 per student to serve their heavily screened populations — that’s over $3 million per year.
So why is the city determined to expand this biased admissions tool? And why is it asking schools to allocate time and staff so that a small percentage of eighth graders who wish to take it can do so at their home schools? (Private and charter school students, meanwhile, will be offered the test over the weekend, without disruption to their schooling.)
Offering the test is no small task: It means upending schedules, training a testing coordinator, assigning already busy teachers as proctors, and pulling staff away from the majority of students who aren’t sitting for the SHSAT. An exam serving only a small population and producing disproportionate outcomes should not infringe on daily instruction, especially when those impacted include large numbers of students with IEPs.
In years past, the city administered the SHSAT at large high schools on the weekend; teachers working for overtime pay staffed those sites. There was no impact on the instructional day. The city insists that giving the SHSAT at every middle school will provide more access to all students and “increase the number of underrepresented students who take the SHSAT.” Last year may have been an anomaly since all middle school campuses were remote because of COVID. Still, despite all schools offering the test, there were actually fewer Black and Hispanic students offered specialized high school slots.
The SHSAT is problematic. The decision to remedy disproportionalities by expanding access to this broken tool cannot be the remedy.
But if at the end of the day, the education department remains determined to increase access to a flawed test, then there needs to be a transparent plan that outlines the costs and ensures that the regular school day for all students is not impacted.
That’s why our two schools, Brooklyn Collaborative Studies and Queens’ Metropolitan Expeditionary Learning School, informed the education department that we do not plan to use our teachers or reconfigure space and schedules in the name of this test. In response, they allowed some middle schools to opt-out of offering the test during the school day. Now, our students who choose to take the exam can do so on the weekend at centralized, off-campus testing sites.
We should not be the exceptions to the city’s rule.
The education department cannot, in good conscience, ask schools to divert staff from the needs of the many in service of an exam that perpetuates school segregation and inequity. Public middle schools should all have the very same testing arrangement as charter and private schools.
To move toward more equitable results for our city’s kids, we must move beyond words. If the city truly has an “equity” agenda, we cannot normalize the SHSAT’s racist outcomes.
The practice of administering the SHSAT must be thoroughly re-examined. In the meantime, the test cannot impact the already limited resources that serve the majority of students who will not be attending a specialized school, including those most in need in our public schools.
Scill Chan is the principal of Brooklyn Collaborative Studies. Pat Finley and Damon McCord are co-principals of Metropolitan Expeditionary Learning School in Queens.