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The Call Blog: Should Lawmakers Change Specialized High School Admissions Process?

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Study hard and you can be a success. That rule applies to students from all walks of life. The challenge is how to make test prep affordable to students from all walks of life. Right now, Kaplans charges $4,900 for 32 hours of private SHSAT tutoring. That's a small fortune for those struggling to make ends meet.

Getting into one of the eight elite New York City high schools isn't easy. This year, the Department of Education says only 28,000 eighth graders took the Specialized High Schools Admissions Test, and the top-performing 5,000 won admission. Scoring high on the SHSAT is the only requirement for admission, but some elected officials and the United Federation of Teachers want to change that.

Today, State lawmakers introduced bi-partisan legislation designed to help more black and Hispanic students get into high schools like Stuyvesant, Bronx Science, and Brooklyn Tech. The average percentage of blacks and Hispanics at those schools is now about 11 percent. The bill calls for admission to also be decided by grade point average, State test scores, and attendance. What do you say?

Why don't the top-performing high schools in the City include more black and Hispanic students? Should the admissions process focus solely on the SHSAT or should other factors play a role to "better capture a student's entire academic career?" Do you also want to see community service and teacher referrals be included in determining entry?

Send your thoughts using the link above.


The top performing schools always had a low percentage of minorities dating back to when I graduated in 1967. The lack of academic preparation in minority neighborhoods has always been a problem. Changing the rules probably will not accomplish anything. The schools would not be deemed special if they change the rules. That is how the system works.

Jamaica, NY

Yes, in my opinion the SHSAT should be the only thing to count towards acceptance to one of the specialized HighSchools. This test is not the problem, the playing field is equal, and many students have opportunities to take test prep. Many middle schools offer test prep, and many students decline the offer. And when, seventh grade students receive there high school directory, they receive a smaller book, the specialized HighSchool handbook, in the back, they have practice tests that actually help students.


I just want to say something regarding Specialized school. I have 4 children, all of them went to specialized high school. I did not spend money, it is about parents. How much effort we are putting for our children. Two of my daughter went to a middle school (RGA). Person who open this school put lots of effort to make it perfect. She gave opportunity to all community student, there was no boundary to get into this school. She had a great intention, but some group of people did not let her help our children. unfortunately the school get closed, and opened a private Girls School. This is shame for out society. I think all out school should be like RGA to prepare out children for future.


I was looking at the demographics and i am surprise. I am Hispanic but when I went to tech is was 80 percent African American and Asian. Everyone else were the minority. No test prep in our house just hard work

Lower East Side
Brooklyn Tech Grad

I am from Washington Heights, New York; an inner city neighborhood of New York city with a high population of minorities where I was born and raised. I am a minority. There are all several factors that may affect the academic success of NYC children including: the neighborhood, overcrowding in schools and parents' involvement. Regarding the public aspect of these factors like the neighborhoods, there is a high school in Washington Heights not far away from where individuals sell drugs. There are class rooms in junior high schools and high schools that have close to 40 children in one classroom.


My daughter left an elite private school (Trinity School) to attend the best school for mathematics, Stuyvesant. Having the opportunity to work with the best students and best teachers have enabled her to go on to a PhD in Mathematics. Diluting the aptitude of the students and competitiveness of the school will diminish the value of the school to produce the real leaders that our society needs in mathematics and the sciences. Keep the SHSAT

E 68th St
NY, NY 10065

I teach at a similar school with an admissions test (combined middle/high school). A large number of our students do get admitted into Specialized High Schools. We also take into consideration grades, and attendance. However, our number of black and Hispanic students are low.. In the end, the bill will not help "increase" the numbers of black and Hispanic students. It is a bigger conversation about cultural upbringing, and preparation when the kids are first starting to learn. They need to be reaching higher standards early on.

In my opinion, if the goal is to increase the numbers of blacks and Hispanics in the specialized high schools and other selective high schools as a whole almost seems to me to be implement affirmative action (not for this). Some students would then not be able to handle the tougher curriculum and schools would counter by dumbing down curricula.


stuyvesant high school and Bronx School of Science is all about academics, the only way to measure academic ability is through testing. Doing well academically makes you a academically smarter person, but that is not the only measure of intelligence. When your boiler breaks and your house is being flooded, the plumber who fixes it is the smartest man on earth.

Murray Hill

Yeah blame everything on racism and historical injustice! What about the immigrants, that have much less rights and financial priveleges than "poor" citizens who often come from families with generations living on welfare and have little incentive to work hard. Why is it that after a generation or two, children of immigrants struggle their butts off to succeed in getting to better places while contributing to the society in the process with their hard work, inventiveness and intelligence.

Now, why is there never any discussion on creating a level playing field for more whites and Asians to be playing in big league sports teams? After all, players are selected on a "merit" only basis, unfair!!

By the way, Asians have been biased against, and in many cases more so than blacks who have more political representation, what little they achieved, they did it entirely on their own without blaming the system, which in fact has been unfair to them.


My father graduated from Brooklyn Tech 70 to 80 years ago. It was an elite school and he went on to be a world war 2 hero. He was not rich and went on to have 11 children who are not rich. Please, do not take away the standards generations of us try so hard to achieve.

Carol from Queens

John: This conversation overlooks another high school with an even more dramatic under-representation of minority students: Hunter College High School is City-funded but operated by the City University of New York. You may wish to look at its enrollment data to see how it compares to the Department of Education's. It is another specialized high school using a single-test as a gate-keeper.


Why should the test be changed? Why is it the responsibility of the schools to promote the advancement of minorities? Schools are meant to educate the students, but in the past it was the responsibility of the parents and the community to promote and encourage advancement in education. We should not be absolving parents of their responsibility. Parents do your job and your kids will pass the test as is. This is a typical pass the buck approach to social issues. Why don't we change the medical boards and bar exams while we are at it?

Hell's Kitchen

Hi John,

Community service should not count...I volunteer with special needs kids and any student who shows up to one of our events gets a community service letter sent to their principal (upon their parent's request).

midtown east

I believe that children who's parents are actively involved do better then many, most of these schools are population is mostly Asian public schools believe that positive reinforcement and not damaging children's egos or self confidence us the way to go if you level the playing field all time when do the exceptional students get to go by leveling the field we are reducing expectations you can do it so we will lower the standards not fair to children and parents who work hard.

Parents who are actively involved with their child's education no that's not fair children who work hard should be rewarded And the population in these schools u believe is mostly Asian even if they pass can they maintain the grade level


Please include in your discussion the preponderance of scholarship programs for talented Black and Hispanic students, Prep for Prep, Early Steps, Teak, A Better Chance, The Oliver Program. These programs select the most talented students and send them to the most prestigious and rigorous private and boarding schools in the county. Many talented minority students have much better options than the specialized high schools. In addition, many parents of color select parochial schools for their academics, athletics, spiritual guidance, structure and generous scholarships. How many talented students are left after all of these options?


Hasn't DOE dumbed down enough of their schools already? Now the State wants to go after the specialized schools where students must work their butts off to be NYC's cream of the crop. Enough of this diversity crap! It will destroy what's left of our public school system.

Forest Hills

I teach at a middle school in a very poor part of Brooklyn. I failed about 20 children this year. Parent contact was constant, I offered my lunch time for extra help- most of these kids I failed turned in no work and several did little more than sleep for the school year. This week the AP began calling in teachers like myself saying there was no way she would be the AP to have so many hold-overs on her record. "She's pregnant, I'm changing her grade to 65." "He's a nice kid..." and so it went till the number of holdovers was whittled down to a handful. This same AP had no books for my kids, never showed her face in the classroom to help with management all year - she demanded data, data, data on the kids all year which she got, she knew no work was being done and did nothing to help all year - and then said to "just pass them."

It is hysterical, the school actually created a magical 5th marking period so students with four terms of 55's could suddenly get a passing grade as the last marking period average is the final average for graduation. Yes, 5th term grades went in the same day 4th term grades went in.

Getting kids ready for college and careers? We're getting them ready for poverty and prison.

People are well intended wanting to open opportunities for kids like mine who are cheated out of a basic education but if you fill the top schools with kids who can't do the work then what? "Pass them all..." and our few great schools turn to garbage too.

Leave the top schools alone and if you really want to fix the schools the entire middle management system of superintendents, principals, and assistant principals getting rich doing nothing to teach kids in this city should be scrapped for something new. It is corrupt to its core and it is the real problem that cheats so many kids out of the real support they need to get ahead while administrators like mine worry more about their personal rating than sending kids on to high school that can't read and write.

Tommy in Ridgewood

My son made Brooklyn Tech and will start school in September. I am by no means privileged, as single mother and immigrant, English is my second language. From a Kindergarden I was telling and explaining to my son how important education is, and always expected him to do more and better. He has always performed on state tests and he has been working towards what he earned. If you are smart and work hard, test prep for SHSAT is not really needed! So stop blaming it on test prep that the Blacks and Hispanics can't make the school. I hear them speak English and I could correct their grammar, start doing the work and care for your own knowledge, stop with the expectations that something ought be given to you.

My son was in elementary school with kids that came to class unprepared, did not study and their homework was not done now kids like this expect to attend specialized high school? How will they keep up with the rest? This is aiming to lower the standards to accommodate the kids that do not want to work. This is aiming at the smart kids who have work ethics instilled in them, to show them that it is not expected to work just pull the race card and it will be given to you.

Bay Ridge

Is the problem the level playing field platitude?

LaGuardia High school of Music and Art and Performing Arts, where I chose to send my children , one of whom also got into Bronx Science and one Brooklyn Tech is a totally integrated school where kids work on their common interests and problems and performances in the arts .

I think There is a huge unrecognized problem in the testing of black children "" The incredible performance anxiety that often causes panic and lower test scores than might otherwise occur. As a teacher I had some success in getting a few kids to raise th;eir scores by recognizing and dealing with this anxiety but the insight and dealing with this is by no means an easy fix..(My opinion as a retired teacher)

Julie on the upper west side

I am the daughter of Cuban immigrants/refugees who was raised in Brooklyn during the 80s, was lower income class and went to public school. For High School I was accepted to Stuyvesant and then onto Dartmouth. All scholarship based. Although my family had no clue, I immediately realized my friends of mid to high income families were taking prep courses. My parents made the ultimate sacrifices to send me to an SAT prep course and I bought the Barons books and drilled day and night. Most blacks and Latinos in lower income families regardless of their potential can not compete with the expensive test preps YET there is also unfortunately a disconnect in minority communities with the importance of education. My parents sacrificed and had they not - at 14 I lived in that library with the test prep books. Why? Because from early on I understood there was nothing more important and it was my job to be on top of my education. This was understood by 4th grade.

That said, I do not agree with just one exam as a measure of aptitude for any student but that is not really the problem.


As a Latino, who grew up in a low income family, in East New York and Bushwick, who also comes from the public school system and who had four brothers get into and graduate from either Stuyvesant or Brooklyn Tech: I do not find a problem with the test. The difference between who gets in or not falls squarely on the approach taken toward education. If you study hard, you have a better chance. Period

Gabriel from Forest Hills

Having to deal w the ny city dept of ed has been a nightmare for me and my children. My daughter who is now 20 and in college had good grades and I couldnt get her into a "good" high school. There was absolutely no help or forthcoming information anywhere and when I had to transfer her into a high school that was safe the process was ridiculous.

Right now my 14 year old son was recently "placed" in a nyc public high school after a year of trying to get him into a "good" school. The specialized or "good" schools were not open at all to him even though he had a medical condition when he had to test for high schools so he didnt do well. One school even told me that my son "wouldnt survive" in their school. It is clear that the Dept of Ed has gotten worse since my daughter was in the system and they set kids up for failure at an early age. The school system here is a joke. We have even considered moving out of NYC in desperation to find a good school for him.

Melanie from NYC

I am all for education equality and access to all, but at no way compromising on standards. American has been sliding behind several countries and we are losing our competitive advantage in the globally!

Paresh, Brooklyn

I wholeheartedly agree with this push. My 13 year old minority (Hispanic) child in public school (8th grade) is a smart child with good grades (80's and 90's) and a good attendance record but still could not pass this test. I believe if he had better preparation during middle school he would have had a better chance to pass. I could not afford to send him to private tutoring which may have helped him. I do not believe taking one single exam should determine if a student gets in to these elite schools. I also believe that these schools should themselves provide programming to minority students specifically to help them prepare to get in and increase their numbers of getting minority students in. Poverty also has a lot to do with why these students can't get.

The Bronx

The SHSAT is not the problem, it is an equalizer in a very subjective selective world. If there were no Shsat then the specialized schools would probably be even less diverse. The problem, I think, is in the K-8 education nowadays. Back in the day, we came from very poor neighborhoods, had dedicated teachers and passed the test to get into Tech, Stuy and Bronx Science. Most who got in, not all, graduated and went on to 4 year colleges. please keep the SHSAT and better prepare minority students in the elementary grades.

Anonymous in Queens

We need better schools in NYC. The entry exam is color blind. The curriculum will be watered down or some students will not be able to keep up with the rigorous curriculum. Keep the entry exam as is.

Diane from the Bronx.

I personally think, all these specialized high schools are geared towards middle class privileged white collar parents, because to prep for this tests parents spend thousands of dollars. Why have these specialized schools why not make all high schools special?


We have heard this all before. In 1970, City University of New York (CUNY) began the Open Admissions Policy and thereby lowered the standards of CUNY. Many of the high school students were given remedial programs in the CUNY colleges in order to be able to do the difficult college work.

It seems that these 8 specialized high schools will be subjected to same problems and thereby their academic standards will also be lowered.

Flushing, Queens

I went to what was called JHS 56 in the Lower East Side. It was mostly black, Hispanic, and Chinese. A much higher percentage of the Chinese kids got into Brooklyn Tech than the blacks & Hispanics. This clearly wasn't issue of blacks & Hispanics being in the wrong school, but more an issue of cultural appreciation for academic success.

Dan from Rego Park

No. The test is the test. Prepare for it and that's that. That means then that there are special conditions for those that are not prepared. If they can't pass the test, how can they do the work? That would mean then, the work would have to become easier to accommodate students that were not able to pass the test in the first place. The school would no longer be specialized.

Unfair to all the students that prepared and are able to do the workload. Rather than find ways to make things easier, put in prep courses. But that would mean then, that the students would have to show up and actually do the work. This should not be an easy pass just because someone is a minority which seems to be the bottom line here. That then is discrimination to everyone else.

East Village, NYC

Civil Service exams, housing, affirmative action, and in the future all political offices will have to have a black or Hispanic compete or the race will be cancelled because of a lack of unqualified people.

New York is really showing it's true race card playing colors. From doing away with some drug arrests, to controlling law enforcement, to education. It is all race based.

Park hill

Hi John

The reason why minorties are at a low rate getting into the specialized high schools is because some minorites don't want to study for the SHSAT tests, they need to start studying for that test before the eighth grade. The parents need to get involved in their child's life and help them study for the test, get them a tutor or a family friend everyone needs to pitch in and help the students pass the tests.The students need to take the common core tests in 3rd grade so they'll be prepared for the SHSAT tests and be really prepared for college, like i said before the kids are our future, they need a good education to get a good job.


Whatever they do they should not involve state test scores! Please, no. Don't give them any more credence. I am fine with SHSAT + grades + attendance.



Just how is government going to increase school enrollment of blacks and Hispanic students without being racist? Could a potential student apply but be rejected because he or she is not "black enough?"

Something strange is going on here.

Port Richmond, SI

Attendance? What a crock!

This is more feel-good liberal legislation, intended to show supposedly "aggrieved" communities that their legislators are doing something -- mostly what they're doing is tampering with a system that work. And that legislation should never see the light of day, even in committee.

Upper West Side

I believe the top-performing high schools in the City don't include more black and Hispanic students, simply because they aren't eager to attend these schools or even try to get accepted. I'm sure those of these two groups that are as qualified as those accepted, if they applied, would be accepted as well. Admission is not made by race, religion or any other thing other than the test result. I believe that in addition to an admission test, it would be wise to look at a student's academic record over the course of years. There are children seen in elementary school that a teacher could predict would make it in to one of these schools and there are children in elementary school that a teacher wonders how they will ever fit in to the "mold" of society.

When my kids were at that age, in order to get in to these schools you needed high academic averages as well as a passing test score. The passing test score was like the first step and then the application process continued in to a further study of the "partially eligible" student.

Jessica, Arden Heights

Hi John,

This sounds like trial and error all over again. Why are there so many hands in the soup? If the need be for Pre-K is so intense then they need to start from the beginning and lay down the rules. All children should speak and understand the English language and they should be potty trained also or they will be nothing but glorified day care centers. They need to learn to have good health habits and learn to respect and listen to ones in charge. Otherwise there will be the same problem all over again. Down the road which will end up being years-then maybe everyone will start off on the same playing field. Otherwise it will be the creation of another group of children failing in our society. I don't believe that the teachers referrals should play such a huge part in the recommendations because there could be favoritism or a personality conflict. The parent/guardians should take more of an interest in their children. It all starts in the home. They cannot keep lowering the standards because then in the end the results will end up the same and we will all be back to square one.

Thank you John,

As an African American and the product of public, charter, catholic, boarding and private school from 1st grade to completing undergrad, what needs to change is the the quality of education granted in public schools. The majority of minorities attend public schools and it's easy to be the best of the worst. To be the best again amongst the best we must level the playing field! To get into boarding school, more than just the SSAT was considered and for college it was not just the SAT that was looked at.

Sharnae from Harlem.




Why must Stuy, bx sci and b tech change?
3 schools.........
For those who want the admission rules changed.
Will you stand down if the very same kids who score high on the test end up having have the best "portfolios" as well?
Hard to imagine.......

Staten island
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