To the Editor:
Regarding the short news item “Bias Complaint Targets N.Y.C. Admission Exam” (Oct. 3, 2012), the U.S. Department of Education’s office for civil rights has now initiated an investigation into the discriminatory impact of the Specialized High School Admissions Test, or SHSAT, stemming from a 1971 state law requiring that rigidly rank-ordered scores from a single test determine admission to the city’s most elite schools.
According to New York University professor Floyd Hammack, contemporary support for the bill was tied to insulating the schools from racially charged controversies over community control. The results have been devastating. Today, black and Latino students attend Stuyvesant High School and others requiring SHSAT scores at levels far below those of other racial groups. In 2010-11, out of a total enrollment of 3,288 students, Stuyvesant had only 40 black students (1 percent) and 94 Latino students (3 percent; none with limited English proficiency). While more than 12,000 black and Latino students took the SHSAT last year, only 5 percent of black test-takers and 6.7 percent of Latino test-takers were offered admission to any of the eight specialized high schools.
Nationally, no other elite high schools are known to use a single test for admission. Neither do any selective colleges or universities assess merit in this way.
Use of the SHSAT perpetuates a political moment long since past. It creates an artificial barrier to thorough decisionmaking, has a discriminatory impact on admissions, promotes racial isolation, and flies in the face of everything we know and otherwise practice about measuring academic merit.
Who would rely on this outmoded system, with this result, today, if it weren’t for this 1971 law?
Professor of Educational Leadership, Law, and Policy
City University of New York
A version of this article appeared in the January 09, 2013 edition of Education Week as N.Y.C. School Admissions Test Seen as Discriminatory