On October 26th, 27th and November 2nd, 8th grade and 9th grade students traveled to various test sites distributed throughout New York City to take the annual SHSAT exam. The SHSAT (Specialized High Schools Admissions Test) is an exam taken by 8th grade and 9th grade students who reside in the city. Administered by the NYC Department of Education, the assessment is taken by students who wish to apply to one of NYC’s 8 Specialized High Schools. Admission into one of the Specialized High Schools in the 5 boroughs is based solely on SHSAT performance scores, fully disregarding school grades and state exam scores.
New York City’s Specialized High Schools are:
· Stuyvesant High School
· Bronx High School of Science
· Brooklyn Technical High School
· Queens High School for the Sciences (QHSS) at York College
· High School of American Studies at Lehman College
· Brooklyn Latin School
· Staten Island Technical High School
· High School for Math, Science and Engineering at City College
· LaGuardia High School of Music and Art & Performing Arts (acceptance into LaGuardia is not reflected by SHSAT score, but by individual auditions)
The SHSAT is a two and a half-hour long exam, consisting of a total of 95 questions. It is split into two distinct categories: a verbal section (English) and a mathematics portion. The verbal section contains scrambled paragraph questions, logical reasoning questions, and reading passages with comprehension questions – a total of 45 verbal questions. The mathematics section has 50 questions, including topics like algebra, geometry, word problems and arithmetic problems.
Many BSGE students have spent months, even years, preparing for the exam. Some have attended after-school tutoring sessions during the year, hoping that the extra coaching will help. Students have even been known to stay home during school days to prep in the wake of the exam. These intense preparations are shadowed by the fact that students must make the decision of either staying in BSGE or moving on to a Specialized High School. In a student survey conducted after the test, 52 out of 108 8th graders said they took the exam in November. Some students expressed their opinions about leaving the school. One student said; “I feel that the school is too small compared to other high schools. I think this limits the amount of extracurricular activities we have in the school.” Others expressed their decision to stay at BSGE. “I like being in an environment where I’ve known people for years,” commented an 8th grader. “I prefer the laid back, free environment of this school.”
Whether students decide to leave the school or not, this is no doubt a very serious and big decision to make, as it determines the next 4 years of their academic life. It determines the kind of high school life a student will have. This decision may also play a role in the future college enrollment process.
In the case of many BSGE students taking the exam, most, if not all, students were assigned to take the exam in nearby Long Island City High School, only about a half hour walk away from our school. The scene at LIC was overwhelming. Hundreds of students were present to take the exam. An enormous line to enter the building formed, dragging from the front entrance of the building to a few blocks down the street. School Safety agents cordoned off traffic along the street, as parents shouted words of encouragement to their anxious children. Exams took place in two separate time frames, a morning session and a noon session. After the exam, some BSGE students reflected upon their experience. One student commented: “I thought the test itself was fairly easy, but I am worried that the smallest mistake will lead me away from the school I wanted.”
Test results are expected to be released around February of next year.