One such factor is race. Since different cultures value testing differently, certain ethnicities are more likely to take--and pass--the SHSAT. For example, many Asian students take the SHSAT to uphold their families’ honor (Spencer), because their families view education as a way for the next generation to continue their family’s legacy. In comparison, many African-Americans emphasize music and dance over education (Huntsville-Madison County Public Library). Therefore, in accordance with various cultural values and priorities, more Asians than African-Americans get into SHSAT schools.
Besides culture, another factor is involved: chance, which renders a single score a poor indicator of achievement. Multiple scores must be averaged to eliminate chance. A basic mathematical rule of probability is the Law of Large Numbers: the more trials, the more accurate the information (Khan). Using one score to determine someone’s entire intelligence is similar to rolling a die once, getting five, and claiming that the die will always land on five.
Additionally, the test is biased in favor of students who are strongest in math. The SHSAT has a math section (100 multiple choice questions) and a verbal section (50 questions: five two-point scrambled paragraphs to reorder, ten multiple choice logical reasoning questions, and 30 multiple choice reading questions) (2013-2014 Specialized High Schools Student Handbook, page 31). Disturbingly, the SHSAT includes nothing to determine students’ knowledge of science, or proficiency in writing, although over half the SHSAT schools specialize in these subjects. From this, one must conclude that the test is not reflective of the schools.
Despite these arguments, some insist that the SHSAT is an accurate admission method because the schools are high-ranked (School Digger, U. S. News). However, other schools which are consistently high-ranked--some more so than most SHSAT schools--have different admissions criteria. High School for Dual Language and Asian Studies, ranked third in New York State (U. S. News), judges students by grades, test scores, and a writing sample. Other widely respected schools, such as the Beacon School and Bard High School Early College, interview prospective students in addition to examining their academics. Clearly, the SHSAT is not the only strong admissions method.
In conclusion, although there are arguments for the continued use of the SHSAT, there are far better admissions practices--ones that are not influenced by factors such as culture, chance, and even an imbalanced test. To eliminate these factors, the SHSAT schools need to change their admissions process by being equally attractive to all cultures; examining multiple tests and projects; and ensuring that each core subject is represented in the work being judged. This is the way to truly discover the “best and brightest” students in New York City.
This piece won a Silver Key in the 2014 Scholastic Art and Writing Awards.