Last September, the New York State Department of Education announced at long last that they’d settled on a time for the upcoming SHSAT exam. Although no exact date has been provided yet, this year’s eighth graders will be taking the test in December; registration will open up in mid-October, according to the DOE website.
The news that the SHSAT is officially happening this year is likely to be enormously relieving for parents and students citywide, especially after the COVID-19 pandemic derailed the October 2020 exam. Even before the pandemic, however, the SHSAT was not without its controversies. In fact, it’s worth examining these controversies a little more closely as we prepare for the upcoming round of specialized high school admissions.
What makes the SHSAT so controversial, and why is it still important to encourage your eighth grader to take it?
1. The SHSAT is only administered once a year.
In the years leading up to the pandemic, the SHSAT was historically administered on the last weekend of October. (Sidenote: This means that many eighth graders of the past had to take the exam on Halloween, which is quite spooky in and of itself!) This year, the SHSAT will be held at some point in December. It remains to be seen whether December is the new month of the SHSAT moving forward, but one thing is certain — pandemic or no pandemic, the SHSAT is still only offered once a year.
Admittedly, this is quite an inconvenience. While exams like the SAT or the ACT aren’t exactly easy, they are at least offered five or six times per year, allowing your child to build up and practice their test prep skills over time. Only one opportunity in a year to take the SHSAT is a drag, but luckily, SHSAT prep is far from impossible. Reach out to a test prep expert now for more info!
2. The SHSAT is the only entry point for New York City’s specialized high schools.
For colleges and universities, there are several entry requirements besides the SAT/ACT. These institutions will also consider your child’s average GPA scores, extracurricular achievements, athletic accomplishments, and of course, the college essay. Thus, if your child is an anxious test taker, there are many other options available to strengthen their college application. This even applies to the vast majority of private high schools that accept the ISEE or SSAT exams: chances are, if your child applies to one of these schools, they’ll also have to interview, write an essay, and maintain a solid GPA.
Sadly, this is not the case for New York’s specialized high schools: the SHSAT is their only entry point for admissions (Fiorello LaGuardia, the lone exception to this rule, requires an audition process). They will not look at your child’s GPA, they will not consider a writing sample of any kind, and there is no interview process. In other words, an eighth grader’s only option for getting into any of these schools is to make their SHSAT cutoff scores.
3. The SHSAT’s scoring process remains shrouded in mystery.
A major advantage of prepping for the SAT/ACT is that data on these exams is readily available and accessible. When your child takes a practice SAT, you can easily calculate their projected scaled score based on the information provided by the College Board. You can determine the likelihood of admission into any college or university based on one practice SAT score alone, and you can further measure your child’s progress with subsequent practice tests.
Prepping for the SHSAT, on the other hand, is a little more complicated. While it’s easy to calculate your child’s raw score — the raw score on any standardized test simply refers to the number of questions answered correctly — calculating their projected scaled score is difficult to do. Firstly, the DOE never releases the SHSAT scaled scores. Secondly, these scaled scores change every single year. At best, a test prep expert can provide an estimated scaled score based on past data, but even these numbers cannot be relied upon for an absolute prediction.
What does this mean for admissions? The specialized high schools consider SHSAT scores based on hard cutoffs. If your child scores just one point below the cutoff for Stuyvesant, then your child is not getting into Stuyvesant. This is stressful enough without the added pressure of not even knowing what that cutoff score is.
To recap: you can only take the SHSAT once, there’s no other way of getting into the specialized high schools, and there’s no way of knowing if your practice SHSAT scores are enough to get you into the school of your choice.
Is it any wonder that the SHSAT is so controversial? Here are two more controversies.
4. The SHSAT is not the most accurate measurement of high school success.
At face value, the SHSAT is supposed to measure every eighth-grade student’s propensity for high school success. SHSAT Math, for instance, is primarily focused on common ninth-grade math concepts that your child can expect to see if accepted into any of the specialized high schools. After all, if they can master the SHSAT, then high school should be a breeze, right?
Not necessarily. Critics of the SHSAT argue that while the exam does force students to become solid test takers through practice and study, it doesn’t in any way predict your child’s future academic performance at the high school level. Moreover, a successful high school career encompasses a lot more than a three-hour test could possibly indicate..
For this reason, critics argue that the requirements for the SHSAT should be broadened to include other factors such as interviews or written essays. Still, other critics contend that the problems with the SHSAT run much deeper...
5. The SHSAT has been accused of racial bias.
Perhaps the most controversial element of the SHSAT is related to demographics. For years, specialized high school admissions have generally favored white and Asian students, whereas admission among Black and Latino students has been extremely low. Among the more vocal critics of the SHSAT is mayor Bill de Blasio, who sided with those who wanted to cancel the SHSAT outright.
As recently as December 2020, protestors in the pro- and anti-SHSAT camps have clashed publicly. Some argue that the real discrimination is coming from the infrastructure of public education itself rather than the SHSAT, while others contend that the SHSAT is an outdated tool of oppression that favors students of certain racial or economic backgrounds.
With all these controversies, it’s understandable if the prospect of even taking the SHSAT is a little daunting. Rest assured that we have SHSAT experts available to help out your child regardless of race, gender, or economic background. Besides, the SHSAT isn’t about to disappear anytime soon, so let an expert take it from here! Click here now for a free consultation.