By Angel Torres
Special to the Eagle
Angry parents and community members held signs and chanted “Keep the test” and “Improve our schools” as they protested Mayor Bill de Blasio plan to eliminate the Specialized High School Admissions Test ahead of a public forum on school admissions policy at Queens Borough Hall Thursday.
The event, organized by State Sen. John Liu, was the first of several public forums focusing on the SHSAT and diversity in the city’s elite public high schools, including Queens High School for the Sciences at York College and Stuyvesant High School in Manhattan.
Most of the crowd urged de Blasio to find another solution for ensuring the student bodies at eight of New York City’s specialized high schools reflect the city’s overall student population.
Black and Latinx students accounted for one-tenth of the students admitted to the specialized high schools, despite making up two-thirds of all public school students. Asian students, in contrast, accounted for more than 30 percent of SHSAT-takers and 51.1 percent of students accepted into specialized high schools this year. Students of Asian descent make up 16.1 percent of all public school students.
“I don’t think it’s a problem of the test, because if you work hard and you study hard and listen to the teachers, it isn’t challenging,” said Steve Hong, a father who hopes his 3-year-old daughter will one day have a chance to take the test. “A lot of Asian kids, they come from middle class, or even low-middle class, or very poor families, but every Asian family, they think that education is very important. They spend all their money on the test to prepare. So it’s really about what’s the value of our education.”
Hong, 34, said that even if the SHSAT were eliminated, standardized tests like the SAT, GMAT and GRE would still exist. He said the city should fund schools in low-income communities to better prepare students of all backgrounds for the SHSAT.
“Instead of cancel the test, [de Blasio] should put more spending to help kids conquer the test,” Hong said.
The forum was designed to give community members a space to discuss the test elimination plan, but 45 minutes after the event started, more than 100 people were still waiting outside to enter Borough Hall. Organizers allowed only three people at a time into the building.
After all attendees finally entered Borough Hall, staff directed several people into a separate room to watch a livestream video of the forum happening right down the hall.
Phil Wong, who helped organize the demonstration before the forum, said the overflow crowd demonstrated the importance that many parents placed on the school admission issue.
“People are very, very concerned about this, because they feel these are the best schools in the country, not just New York City, and you’re not doing your job by throwing out the current system,” Wong said. “Why is there not diversity though? That’s an issue we have to dig into … but that’s another debate altogether.”
Wong said he will continue to advocate for the current admission system, even though his 8th-grade daughter did not gain admission into a specialized high school.
“I just felt like our educational system was in danger,” Wong said. “The mayor is throwing out a merit system and replacing it with a race-based quota. This is a quick fix and we feel as if it doesn’t fix anything.”
Though the majority of forum attendees opposed the plan to eliminate the test, a Quinnipiac poll published earlier this month found that 57 percent of New Yorkers say they favor changing the current test-based admissions system. Twenty-six percent of New Yorkers say they support the current system.
“It’s such a complex issue that I’m reluctant to speak on it. Schools should be better,” said a father who wished to remain anonymous. “The only good thing about keeping the SHSAT is that it’s really hard when you get into the schools. But it’s injust, the Bronx is black and Hispanic, and you go to Bronx Science and you go, ‘Oh my, it’s very Asian.’”
There will be at least seven more hearings and forums on the SHSAT, according to keepshsat.org, a website established by test supporters.