DOE Fails At Communicating With Families Days Before SHSAT

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As parents and students are busy preparing for the Specialized High School Admissions Test (SHSAT) being held this weekend, October 26 and 27 they until recently had one more stress on their plate – where and when the test would be held.

It wasn’t until Tuesday afternoon, four days before the exam, that the Department of Education (DOE) released its time and location. 

“After studying for months and in some cases years…The last thing [students] should worry about is logistics surrounding an already stressful day,” said Tai Abrams, Founder of AdmissionsSquad, a leading non-profit test prep center in Brooklyn, “Particularly for low-income students and students of color who have faced historic difficulties in accessing the specialized high schools and whose families may not have all the tech resources to navigate the new online process at home, it’s time for the DOE to step up.” 

Technological hurdles and the sporadic delivery of information leaves families relatively unaware of the requirements for admission to specialized schools until days before the exam. This gives some students anxiety and creates challenges for low-income families who have limited access to technology and long commutes to testing sites. 

In previous years, school guidance counselors assisted NYC families while applying to public schools. Last year, the city transitioned to using an online system called MySchools. Users have described the portal as confusing and alleged that it was unclear whether their children were adequately registered for the test. Parents were frustrated by the lack of communication from the DOE between October 10, the deadline to register for the SHSAT, and October 22 when the SHSAT ticket confirmations were sent out. 

Applying to specialized high schools, including registering for the SHSAT is a notoriously complicated process. With approximately 28,000 test-takers, the city has an obligation to communicate with parents throughout the process. The Education Equity Campaign (EEC) is calling on the DOE to do better in preparing students and families for the exam.

“The city has long mishandled its approach to the SHSAT. It is clear that not only has there been a lack of support in preparing students to Ace the test, but now logistical confusions add to the stress of test day,” adds Civil Rights Activist, Rev. Kirsten John Foy, “Our kids should have every opportunity to get into the best schools this city has to offer and the DOE must step up by creating more test prep, as well as communicating better with families from start to finish. We aim to alert families to what they need to do to make test day a success.”

In August, EEC  launched its first phase – a million-dollar public awareness campaign focused on registering more students for the SHSAT and enrolling more black and Latino students in free test prep.

Since that time, EEC has enrolled 200 students of color in free SHSAT prep classes, reached virtually every middle school student or family member with an online message encouraging them to register for the SHSAT, and connected with 30,000 middle school students and their families through canvassing outside underserved schools and churches in all five boroughs

On October 17 the EEC enthusiastically endorsed Queens State Sen. Leroy Corie‘s proposed legislation, S.6510, which would:

  • Double the number of specialized high schools across the five boroughs;
  • Restore Gifted and Talented programs across the city to build a stronger pipeline into SHSs;
  • Make free test prep available to every student; 
  • Finally make the SHSAT available to all students during the school day and;
  • Create a taskforce to improve the City’s middle schools.

The Education Equity Campaign urges parents to check their emails and make sure students bring a printed ticket confirmation to the test center.