In order to gain acceptance into one of the nine prestigious specialized high schools in New York City, eighth graders need to take the SHSAT, the Specialized High Schools Admissions Test. These test scores alone determine a student’s acceptance; other factors, such as grades, teacher recommendations, extracurriculars, etc., are not considered. How well a student does on the SHSAT determines where they will spend the next four years of their lives. This places a lot of importance on the test, as it test becomes a make-or-break moment for students who want to attend specialized high schools. The use of only standardized tests to determine admission into specialized high schools is questionable, as it is not the only thing that adequately gauges a student’s capabilities and should not be the only thing considered. However, because all students are, in theory, given an equal opportunity to succeed on the test, it is considered to be the fairest and most objective way to gauge a student’s ability. The issue about standardized testing as the sole means of determining admission has been debated amongst students, parents, and teachers.
The problem people have with standardized testing lies mainly with the fact that it is not necessarily a fair assessment of intelligence, but rather an assessment of ability to take a test. Many students, though intelligent, are not good test-takers; they may get anxious during tests, they may not work fast enough to be able to finish on time, or they simply may not know test-taking tricks that would maximize their scores, all of which hinder their ability to do well. If standardized testing is the only method used to determine admission, then kids who do poorly end up “blowing their chances” of getting accepted, even if they are deserving of a spot in a specialized high school in other regards. This places a lot of unhealthy stress on students to do well on the test, as well as placing an emphasis on learning how to memorize facts and formulas rather than critical thinking, which is another problem with standardized tests. A lot of parents start preparing their kids way before the test in order to ensure their admission into a “good” high school. Their success on the test is then entirely owed to the amount of time spent studying rather than their ability to think for themselves. This gives students the impression that in high school all they’ll be expected to be able to do is take tests and regurgitate information, which should not be the case. Things such as class grades, teacher recommendations and essays are thus better indicators of whether someone is a good fit for a certain high school, because these more accurately assess the abilities of a student.
However, though things such as grades and essays are more useful in “getting to know” a student, there is no way to standardize (hahaha) these factors. Grades are especially difficult to assess because grading systems vary throughout schools. Good grades in an easy school may be equivalent to mediocre grades in a hard school, but unless the offices of admissions are familiar with the difficulty levels of each school, the better grades will be held in higher regard, even if these grades weren’t necessarily earned. Essays are also hard to standardize because unless one person reads over every single essay, judgement of students’ writing will vary. Teacher recommendations, though they give an insight into a student’s personality and how they behave in class, can be biased, whether it be in the favor of the student or not, and not give an objective view. Thus, standardized testing may actually be the only real basis for fair, objective comparisons between students, as everyone takes the same test and is expected to know the same material. It possibly should not, however, be the sole factor in specialized high school admissions, and should instead be evaluated in tandem to other assessments.