Recently data collected by the N.Y.C. Department of Education revealed yet again the lack of diversity in the city's Specialized High Schools. Basically, more than 50 percent of the students admitted to Stuyvesant, Bronx High School of Science, Staten Island Tech and Brooklyn Tech among others, during the 2015-2016 school year were Asian (majority), the remaining White and the bottom 12 % were shared by African Americans and Latino teens (minorities).
As alarming as this might sound, these numbers aren't new. What's really causing the great divide? Is it the lack of resources, information or motivation from the minorities? Let's find out. As a mom of a Latina sixth grader soon to embark on the High School application process, I want my daughter to have a fair chance playing a very important game that will determine her future. A good High School means, possible scholarships and better odds getting into a great college.
One of the problems I found out is causing the gap has to do with test prep. Eighth graders are required to take the SHSAT test in order to apply to any Specialized High School. This test is completely separate from the Common Core State Test required by the DOE, which students have taken since third grade. The issue here is that not all parents know about this specialized test, and once they find out, their kids are already behind with test prep. Most Asian children start prepping for the SHSAT in sixth grade. Why do the students need test prep? Because, the content of the Specialized Test is not material taught in classrooms. Even if your child has excellent grades, chances are that he/she won't score as high as kids more familiar with the material.
According to a recent report by WNYC, the questions on the test are too hard and almost encrypted for teens not familiar with the material. That's when test prep comes handy, because kids already know how to tackle the questions. Another issue is the cost, test prep is pricey and lots of families can't afford the extra expense. But the real problem is that most minority families don't really know this information. Not all public Middle Schools share the details of the grueling application process with parents, and the ones that know, sought help through private tutoring agencies dedicated to Specialized High Schools. According to WNYC, most of these companies are run by former SHS Asian families.
You might argue that the information is available for those parents and students searching for it. Yes, but it helps if you know beforehand that you have to look for it. I didn't know about the specialized test until I started researching this post, now I know and my kid will take it. The DOE understands the lack of information and resources could be a problem, and that's why they created DREAM (Specialized High Schools Institute) which is a 22 month extracurricular program (by invitation only) offered to students that meet certain criteria. First, they ranked high marks on the State Test the previous year, keep good grades the current year, and are from a low income family. This program offers free test prep to the 'invited students' to enhance their chances to apply and get into a Specialized High School.
Look, the same thing happened in preschool when my then four year old had to take the commonly known "Gifted & Talented test" to get into a gifted kindergarten program. The tests were the NNAT, OLSAT, and the Stanford-Binet IQ for Hunter Elementary School only. The stress we put on children and teens in New York City is beyond compare. By the time these kids take the PSAT and SAT tests to apply to college lots of them are already very familiar with rejection.
New York is a very competitive city, every year 27,000 eighth graders try to score 5,000 open seats among all Specialized High Schools. Something has to give, if the system is not willing to change its admission criteria, we need alternatives. For instance, middle schools should offer free test prep as part of their after school program which should be available to all students interested in applying to SHS. I don't know you, but I'm getting tired of the homogenous statistics published every year. Diversity is shrinking alarmingly in our schools which instead of inspiring minority students to apply, intimidates them. Most of them feel they won't get in before they even apply, and that's not fair because they are also very smart.