State Lawmakers Get Earful From Community On SHSAT

State lawmakers last Friday received an earful from community members concerning Mayor Bill de Blasio‘s proposal to ban the Specialized High School Admission Test (SHSAT) at the city’s eight specialized academic high schools.

Among the lawmakers present for the Brooklyn Youth and Community Speak Out held at the NYU Tandon  Pfizer Auditorium, 5 Metrotech Center in Downtown Brooklyn were Brooklyn State Senators Andrew Gounardes, Kevin Parker, Roxanne Persaud and Zellnor Myrie, along with Queens State Sen. John Liu, and Brooklyn Assembly members  William Colton and Jo Anne Simon – all Democrats.

State lawmakers listen to comments on the SHSAT at the forum in Downtown Brooklyn. Photo by S. Rodriguez.

The main topic brought to the attention of the lawmakers was the SHSAT and Bill de Blasio’s proposal to cut it because of a lack of diversity within specialized high schools in the city.

Only a small percentage of African-American and Latino students are admitted into specialized high schools every year, with the majority of the seats offered to Asian-American and white students. According to the New York Times, out of the 895 slots open for the freshman class at Stuyvesant High School only seven were offered to black students.

At Brooklyn Technical High School the numbers weren’t any better, 95 out of 1825 students are black among those admitted for fall 2019.

The state legislature is tasked with any changes made to the entrance criteria at three of the specialized schools and community members had a difference in opinion on what the Senate’s Education Committee should do about the SHSAT exam.

The majority of the Asian community stand in favor of keeping the exam intact and fixing grades K-8. On the other hand, members of the African-American community voiced their frustration about the lack of preparation students receive and called for changing or improving the exam.

Xuhui Ni, a Brooklyn resident whose son spoke out at Friday’s even,t voiced his approval of the SHSAT.

“That’s why we say we need to keep the test because we need to keep the quality. My son goes to Hunter and my daughter is on the top seven of the school so even if they cancel the SHSAT it doesn’t matter to me. But I think it’s not fair for the Asian community, it’s not fair for New York City and it’s not fair for the American Dream,” said Ni.

Liu, the chair of the education committee, spoke out on how the topic of equality within the education system has turned communities against each other.

“I hold a strong belief that out of controversy this very emotional issue we could actually bring communities together,” said Liu. “We will bring communities together number one by listening to each other and understanding what each other are saying and then from that figure out what changes are necessary.”

Thomas Sheppard, a Brooklyn Technical HS Alumni, spoke on how the SHSAT needs some revision so that equal opportunities are given to every student.

“If everything were equal we wouldn’t have an achievement gap. If the system were equal we wouldn’t have a system wherein a school with 5,600 kids if we’re talking about Brooklyn Tech, but 390 of them are black you can’t tell me that’s just because this group works harder than the other group,” said Sheppard.

“There is something systematic that is preventing these children from having the same opportunity as everyone else. We have to be in a position especially our elected leaders to sometimes go against the status quo, to say you know what this is just morally wrong and it does need some adjustments,” said Sheppard.

The Senate Education Committee will continue their series of community forums on Friday, May 17 in the Bronx and Thursday, May 23 in Manhattan.

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