Educational Equity · New York City

As A NYC Parent, I Don’t Think the DOE’s Change to Specialized Schools Admissions Test Will Create Diversity

Less than two weeks after I criticized the New York City Department of Education’s (DOE) plan to add racial diversity to Specialized High-Schools by offering intensive test prep to high-achieving, underserved students as too-little, too-late, the Panel for Educational Policy has voted to make a major change to the test itself.

But I don’t think this change will make one iota of difference regarding who does and doesn’t get into a Specialized High-School.

Earlier this month, the DOE was patting itself on the back and calling its test prep initiative a success – even though it enrolled 200 fewer students than initially intended, and not a single one of those students has yet to take the Specialized High-School Admissions Test (SHSAT), much less score highly enough to be offered a seat at one of the city’s top performing schools.

Now, however, the DOE has decided to stack the deck even further (sounds like someone might not be feeling particularly confident about the results of this year’s test) by announcing that starting in 2017, the SHSAT will no longer feature a Scrambled Paragraphs section.

Scrambled Paragraphs offer students five sentences that they then have to put into correct, logical order. If even two of the five sentences are incorrect, the student gets no points for the entire question.

I don’t lament the loss of Scrambled Paragraphs; it was a pointless exercise with no real-world application. But I also don’t think removing this section will change who does and doesn’t get into a Specialized High-School.

Panel member Isaac Carmignani predicted that the change will “open up opportunity for more high-performing students in all communities who are not necessarily taking specialized preparatory classes.”

His colleague Laura Zingmond added that since Scrambled Paragraphs weren’t aligned with state standards, replacing the section with multiple-choice reading comprehension questions similar to what students are used to seeing on Common Core tests would make the exam more accessible to all students.

Is Ms. Zingmond under the impression that all NYC students excel equally at the New York State English Language Arts (ELA) tests? Does she think no one is getting prepped for them in the same way that they are getting prepped for the SHSAT?

I can assure her that this is not the case and statistics back me up.

I can also assure her that the students doing well on the ELA are demographically similar to the ones getting into Specialized High-Schools. As are the students getting into elite Screened High-Schools, which actually take state test scores and grades into consideration when extending placement offers.

According to Mike Mascetti of the Science School Initiative, the lower-income students he works with often have a harder time getting into a school that uses multiple criteria for admissions than a school that relies exclusively on the SHSAT. “You would think a kid from East Harlem would have an easier time getting into (a Screened school) than Stuy, but that’s not necessarily the case.”

Meanwhile, Larry Cary, president of the Brooklyn Tech Alumni Foundation, is praising the changes and offering that, “In a public school setting, I think that it’s not right to test kids on stuff which the public schools don’t teach,” referring to Scrambled Paragraphs.

What he does not address is that the math section is currently scheduled to remain the same. And it features Algebra – something the majority of NYC public school kids don’t get in middle-school. (I go into greater details on the paradox here.)

Will that be next on the chopping block?

And just how watered down will the SHSAT need to become before it finally produces the results the DOE wants – and becomes absolutely useless to everyone in the process?

What do you think?

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