A Select Few

NY1 takes a look at the controversy surrounding the Specalized High School Admissions Test, the test that students take to get into the city's specialized high schools.

Eight graduates of the Bronx High School of Science have gone on to win Nobel Prizes. That's more than any other school in America.

At Stuyvesant High School, about one-quarter of the graduates attend Ivy League schools.

Stuyvesant and Bronx Science are two of the eight specialized high schools in the New York City school system that admit students based on one criteria: a test score. For Aniqa, Edgar, Gregory, Sarah and Isabella, that score determines how they see their future.

The Specialized High School Admissions Test (SHSAT) determines who will get in the doors of these schools. Approximately 28,000 students take the test, but only 5,000 are admitted.

The schools have long been criticized for not reflecting the city’s overall racial makeup, with only 10 percent of acceptance letters going to black and Latino students.

Mayor Bill de Blasio wants the state to enact a law requiring that the top 7 percent of the students at each city middle school be offered a spot at an elite high school. He says this would boost the number of black and Hispanic students at the elite schools to 45 percent, from 9 percent.

But the proposal faced backlash from the Asian community, who says the changes would deny them admission. Asian students make up about 16 percent of the school system, but about 52 percent of those accepted to the eight schools. At Stuyvesant, three out of four students are Asian.

Critics blame expensive test prep courses for the racial imbalance. Some students get test prep at places where classes cost as much as $2,000 for the spring and summer. In his first mayoral campaign, de Blasio pledged to overhaul the admissions process. The Department of Education created a free test prep program. But it only has spaces for 800 of the 28,000 students who take the test.

The city also revamped the exam, scrapping questions that were only taught in test prep and moving the math section to be more in line with the seventh- and early eighth-grade curriculum.

But the changes didn't work. Only 10 black students received offers from Stuyvesant High School for the 2018-19 school year. That’s three less than the year before.

The mayor called for an end to the test at a rally in early June. But he doesn't have the power to change it himself. The state Assembly briefly took up a bill to end the test, but decided not to take any action until they reconvene for their next session in January.

These five bright students have been preparing for much of their lifetime, either through additional test prep programs, tutors or intensive courses. For them, it’s a necessary part of their education, and many spend much of their middle-school years preparing for the test.

"Everyone has doubts [about] me at school. So I really want to go to this school so that I can, you know, show people that I can put all my hard work and dedication into what I'm doing that I can go to this school." – Edgar Cadrera