Best schools shouldn't be determined by a test


If we looked deep into our DNA as a human species, we’d likely find some gene that makes us not only dislike change, but absolutely hate it.

We are comfortable in our surroundings, and in our routines. And heaven help anyone who tries to interrupt that in any way.

That’s what it feels like when conversations turn to the specialized high schools admissions test, or the SHSAT. Since what might feel like the beginning of time, this test was necessary to get into some of New York City’s prominent specialty secondary schools like the Bronx High School of Science.

Requiring potential students to take this test has been mandatory for a long time, and proponents will argue that if you can’t take this test successfully, then how will you ever succeed in a learning environment considered far more intense than your average public high school.

But how effective are these assessment tests, really? Do they accurately forecast how well a student would do in a specialized high school, or is it more to support an industry dependent on these tests remaining required?

Kaplan Inc., is probably one of the most famous companies students turn to when they need help taking a test. Their preparation courses for tests like the SAT and ACT are part of an industry worth hundreds of millions of dollars (if not in the billions). In fact, the company offers a prep course starting at just under $1,000, and tutoring for $2,600.

If the SHSAT is simply about testing someone’s knowledge of information they should have already learned, why are test prep organizations such big business? And how exactly, outside of a few groups that provide prep inexpensively or free, are those with limited financial means supposed to get access to it?

We aren’t suggesting the SHSAT go away completely, only that it becomes a minor piece of an overall portfolio of information used when considering a potential student. It’s the only way to put these students on even ground, so that everyone has an equal chance to attend a specialized high school.

Colleges and universities are finding that dependence on testing has not necessarily helped them find the right students. An ABC News report last month cited a report from the National Association for College Admission Counseling that 28 schools that chose to make SATs and ACTs optional had an increase in overall applications, and a huge bump from applicants who are not simply white males.

Specialized schools like Bronx Science are prestigious for taking the best students. But believe it or not, they can take even better students.