Specialized High Schools Admissions Test
The Specialized High Schools Admissions Test (SHSAT) is an examination administered to eighth and ninth grade students residing in New York City and used to determine admission to all but one of the city's nine Specialized High Schools. In 2008, about 29,000 students took the test, and 6,106 students were offered admission to one of the high schools based on the results. On average 30,000 students take this exam annually. The test is given each year in October and November, students are informed of their results in the following February, and those who receive offers decide by the end of February whether to start attending the school in the following September. The test is independently produced and graded by American Guidance Service, a subsidiary of Pearson Education, under contract to the New York City Department of Education.
The SHSAT is used for admission to the following schools:
- Bronx High School of Science
- Brooklyn Latin School
- Brooklyn Technical High School
- High School of American Studies at Lehman College
- High School for Math, Science and Engineering at City College
- Queens High School for the Sciences at York College
- Staten Island Technical High School
- Stuyvesant High School
According to a New York State law known as the Hecht-Calandra Act, this is the only method that these schools may use to determine admission. Admission to the remaining specialized high school, Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts, is determined by audition rather than by examination.
Once an individual is granted admission into a specialized high school, the expectation is to attend that school
The test is given in late October (8th grade) or early November (9th grade). The test is administered at testing centers located in each of the city's 5 boroughs. In recent years, students who reside in Manhattan take it at Stuyvesant High School, in the Bronx at Bronx High School of Science, in Brooklyn at Brooklyn Technical High School, in Queens at Long Island City High School or John Adams High School, and in Staten Island at Staten Island Technical High School.
Students must choose which schools they wish to apply to (up to 8) and indicate them in order of preference on the day of the exam. The test is offered to all eighth and ninth grade students residing within the 5 boroughs of New York City, but the majority of the applicants are eighth graders.
The results of the SHSAT are ordered from the highest score to the lowest score. The list is processed in order by score, with each student being placed in their most-preferred school that still has open seats, and continuing until there are no remaining open seats at any school.
The SHSAT tests for logical thinking and high ability in both English and mathematics. Both sections consist of multiple-choice questions. It is recommended that not more than 75 minutes be spent on each section, but the time can be divided in any way you wish. There is no break in between the exam. The exam is only offered once a year, and can be taken in both the eighth and ninth grades if the student wishes. Electronic calculators and other calculation aids may not be used during the test.
45 Multiple Choice Questions
- 30 Reading Comprehension (5 Reading passages with 6 questions each)
- 10 Logical Reasoning questions
- 5 Scrambled Paragraph (worth 2 points each)
50 Multiple Choice Questions
- Various mathematical topics tested
There is no penalty for wrong answers. The total number of correct answers (the raw score) is converted into a scaled score through a formula that the Department of Education does not release, and which varies from year to year. This scaled score, an integer between 200 and 800, is used to determine a student's standing. The scaled score is not proportional to the raw scores.
The cut-off scores for each school vary yearly, determined simply by the number of open places in each school and how the candidates score. Students are notified of their scores in March. For the fall 2006 exam, the lowest cut-off score was 478. The highest cut-off score was 558 for Stuyvesant High School, historically the most desired of the schools. The second highest cut-off score was 510 for Bronx Science. For the fall 2007 exam, the highest cut-off score was 562 for Stuyvesant. Stuyvesant accepted anyone who scored 562 or higher while Bronx Science had a cut-off score of 509. Brooklyn Technical had a cutoff of 480.
For Fall 2012, as reported in Spring 2013, the cut off score for Stuyvesant was 562, for Bronx Science the score was 513, Staten Island Tech 503, American Studies at Lehman was 501, for Queens 500, for HSMSE 498, Brooklyn Tech 483, Brooklyn Latin 471.
Department of Education programs
The New York Specialized High School Institute (SHSI) is a free program run by the City of New York for middle school students with high test scores on city-wide tests and high report card grades. The program's original intent was to expand the population of Black and Hispanic students by offering them test-taking tips and extra lessons, however anyone can apply. As of 2006, 3,781 students are enrolled at 17 locations. They spend 16 months, starting in the summer after sixth grade, preparing for the test.
Certain applicants who have scores just below the cut-off score and are recommended by their guidance counselor may qualify for the Summer Discovery Program. Successful completion of this program allows the students to gain admission to a specialized high school. The students must:
- 1. have scored close to the admission cut-off score on the SHSAT; and
- 2. be certified as disadvantaged by their middle school according to any one of the following criteria:
- a. attend a Title 1 school and be from a family whose total income is documented as meeting federal income eligibility guidelines established for school food services by the NYS Department of Agriculture; or
- b. be receiving assistance from the Human Resources Administration; or
- c. be a member of a family whose income is documented as being equivalent to or below Department of Social Services standards; or
- d. be a foster child or ward of the state; or
- e. initially have entered the United States within the last four years and live in a home in which the language customarily spoken is not English; and
- 3. be recommended by their local school as having high potential for the specialized high school program.
A November 2005, a New York Times article found that students scoring in the 90th percentile on both sections would not gain admittance to their first choice schools; meanwhile those scoring in the 99th percentile on one section and the 50th percentile on the other, would. This happens because the final grade and percentile represent the total score and the curve within sections.
Admission is based solely on how the student does on the SHSAT. The New York City Department of Education created the New York Specialized High School Institute (SHSI), a free program run by the Department for middle school students with high test scores on city-wide tests and solid report card grades. The program's original intent was to expand the population of African American and Hispanic students in the science high schools by offering them test-taking tips and extra lessons; however, students of any racial or ethnic background can apply for admission to the Institute. As of 2006, 3,781 students are enrolled at 17 locations. Students spend 16 months, starting in the summer after sixth grade, preparing for the test.
In October 2013, it was reported that the number of black and Latino students being admitted into SHSAT schools over the past five years had declined. In response, the Community Service Society and the NAACP filed a civil rights suit against the US Department of Education. The suit claims that NY State Law requires only three schools to use the SHSAT for admissions. Those schools are Bronx High School of Science, Brooklyn Tech, and Stuyvesant. The other SHSAT schools are not required by law to use the SHSAT and their doing so violates the rights of black and Latino students. They argue that the SHSAT is inherently biased against black and Latino students. The NY City Department of Education holds that three of the eight schools are required by law to use the SHSAT. 
As of 2015, there's a lot of dissent between Asian Americans, who accounts for 2/3 of the population attending the top 3 specialized high schools. Mayor De-blasio's administration began to look at alternatives to the SHSAT score as the sole means of admissions. Factors such as attendance, GPA, ethnicity, personal recommendation, and geographical locations are considered. A coalition between alumni associations, alumni, and parents of the SHS's was formed to combat these changes.. An argument that is used is that admission is a zero sum game, and by bestowing admission to Blacks and Latinos, the city is essentially taking seats from one minority (Asian Americans) and giving it to another. Note that most students in SHS's eat free or reduced lunch, that is a status granted to families close to the poverty line. Not the rich and blessed as Deblasio and NAACP claim they are.
- "Chancellor Announces Specialized High School Admissions Results". New York City Department of Education. February 5, 2009. Retrieved March 23, 2009.
- Feinman, Joshua. "High Stakes, but Low Validity? A Case Study of Standardized Tests and Admissions into New York City Specialized High Schools". EDUCATION POLICY RESEARCH UNIT. Retrieved August 17, 2011.
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- "NYC DoE Specialized High Schools Student Handbook". NYC Department of Education. Retrieved February 9, 2010.
- Krane, Stephen (2001). New York City Specialized Science High Schools Admission Test. ARCO. p. 5. ISBN 0-7689-0711-X.
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- Zimmermanwd, L.; Wheaton, Pamela (February 13, 2007). Specialized HS results out; more schools, fewer applicants. Inside Schools. Retrieved February 9, 2010.[dead link]
- Wheaton, Pamela (February 13, 2007). "Specialized HS results out; more schools, fewer applicants". Inside Schools. Retrieved February 9, 2010.[dead link]
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- Herszenhorn, D. M. (November 12, 2005). "Admission Test's Scoring Quirk Throws Balance Into Question". The New York Times. Retrieved February 9, 2010.
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- High Schools - Choices & Enrollment - New York City Department of Education
- NYC DOE SHSAT Student Handbook 2010–2011 (PDF)