The Hechinger Report

How one test kept New York City high schools segregated

Katherine Sanchez, a Hispanic student from the Bronx is a rising senior at Stuyvesant High School, one of New York City’ most elite public schools. To get there Katherine spent three hours a day, five days a week in a test prep class the summer before eighth grade to excel at the Specialized High School Admissions Test (SHSAT). Before she got her letter of acceptance, one of her teachers told her no one from her school had been accepted to Stuyvesant in two decades. “I’m a Hispanic woman from the Bronx, I’m trying to get into Stuy. It’s unrealistic,” Katherine remembers being told.

Each spring when the New York City high school admissions results are released, there is a fresh wave of outrage by policymakers and politicians over the lack of diversity in the city’s eight specialized high schools. Yet each year, the enrollment numbers for black and Hispanic students remain consistently abysmal. About 18,000 students attend the city’s specialized high schools, and white and Asian students account for the majority of students enrolled, even though they make up just 31 percent of enrollment across grade levels. At some of these specialized high schools, black students account for less than 1 percent of student enrollment, even though they make up 26 percent of students in New York City schools overall.

Experts and advocates of diversifying the specialized high schools say the city’s high school admissions test, or SHSAT, is part of the problem because the unique makeup of the test often requires extensive test prep, which low-income students can’t afford. “The SHSAT is a sorting mechanism,” said Lazar Treschan, director of youth policy at the Community Service Society of New York, told them.

Mayor Bill de Blasio has proposed getting rid of the test. On this week’s episode of Miseducation, NYC high school students explore how the city’s admissions procedure is so divisive and what it’s like to be a low-income student at a specialized school.