Assessing the Impact of Dropping the SHSAT

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio makes an education announcement regarding specialized high schools at J.H.S. 292 in Brooklyn on Sunday, June 3, 2018. (Photo by Benjamin Kanter/Mayoral Photo Office, via Chalkbeat)

What would the actual impact be of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s proposed plan for changing the process by which students are admitted to the city’s eight specialized high schools?

It turns out, based on a detailed simulation done by the New York City Independent Budget Office, that the objectives outlined by both de Blasio and Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza might well be largely met – to have a student body that more accurately represents the demographic distribution of students in the city.

The study notes that “the proposal has already elicited pushback from many parents in the Asian community,” and its findings may do little to discourage such pushback.

The IBO simulated what admission offers to the incoming ninth grade class in 2017-2018 would have looked like if the Specialized High Schools Admissions Test had not been used, and instead admissions had been based on student ranking in the top 7 percent of their middle school and top 25 percent citywide.

Their findings: that about 19 percent of admissions offers would have gone to Black students, compared with the less than 4 percent who actually attended specialized high schools in 2017-2018. Hispanic students would have received about 27 percent of admission offers, compared with 6 percent of Hispanic ninth graders who attended the schools last year. The number of Asian students receiving admissions offers would have fallen by about half, to 31 percent, while offers to white students would have remained relatively flat. [The study discussed offers, because it is not possible to estimate the number of students who would have accepted the offers and actually attended under the scenario.]

Chalkbeat’s Christina Veiga noted that:

Many of the findings, based on data from the 2017-2018 school year, align with estimates already released by the education department.

“This independent report confirms our proposal will expand opportunity for top middle-school students,” education department spokesman Doug Cohen wrote in an email.

However, the report also explored what the proposed changes might mean for incoming student performance. For the students the simulation projected would have received offers, the proficiency rate in English language arts would have been 92 percent, compared with 95 percent for the ninth graders who attended a specialized high school in 2017-2018, while the proficiency in math would have been 90 percent, compared with virtually complete proficiency.

Veiga writes that “officials took issue with some of the report’s findings, saying more recent test results show that a greater percentage of students would be considered proficient on the state’s English and math exams.”

The study also notes that even for students who did not attend the specialized high schools during 2017-2018, there were distinct differences in the schools they actually attended. Many top performing students gain access to high-quality schools, whether specialized high school or not, under the current system. Yet, the report notes, “we found that much smaller shares of black and Hispanic students who would have received offers if the new plan was fully phased in for 2017-2018 actually attended top-ranked high schools whereas higher shares of white and Asian students did.”

The IBO report is available here.

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