SHSAT Bill Remains Unresolved As Legislative Session Ends This Week

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As the special state legislative session winds down this week, there’s been no legislative votes yet on Assemblymember Walter T. Mosley’s (D-Fort Greene, Clinton Hill, Prospect Heights, and parts of Crown Heights and Bedford-Stuyvesant) A10731 Specialized High School Admissions Test (SHSAT) Bill, which officially removes the highly contested Discovery Program from the admission process. 

There has, however, been a huge pushback from the Chinese community about the bill being introduced. The Chinese American Citizens Alliance Greater New York (CACAGNY) in particular views the bill as an attack on ‘Gifted and Talented (G&T)’ programs and exams, another component for these specialized high schools.

Assemblyman Walter Mosley

Mosley said that his legislation doesn’t mandate a change to the existing law for entrance into specialized high schools, but repeals an existing state law granting oversight to the state to determine criteria for getting into specialized high schools.

“I’ve been taking on this issue for the past two legislative sessions going on three years now. At the time, Mr. [Assemblymember Charles] Barron’s bill called for reformation on which students can receive entrance in specialized high schools but there was pushback. So now this bill is to go back to the source and repeal the state act and to give back power to municipalities on setting the criteria for entrance into these schools,” said Mosley.

At present, there are nine specialized high schools in New York City, one of which – Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music and Art and Performing Arts – focuses on the arts. Under current state education law, admission to all the previously listed high schools, other than LaGuardia High School, is based on the results of a competitive, objective and scholastic achievement test.

Mosley notes that colleges and universities across the country are now changing from looking at test scores to allowing entrances based on other criteria, and that city schools can do the same.

Mosley said he favors more inclusive criteria for getting into these specialized high schools that will take into account grades, scores for standardized exams and a more comprehensive look at the student academically. “When [we] see the disparity of Black and Brown students making up a great majority of the city’s 1.1 million students and yet having single-digit percentages entrance into specialized high schools there lies the issue,” said Mosley.

Assemblymember William Colton (D-Bensonhurst, Gravesend, Bath Beach, Dyker Heights, Midwood), whose district includes a growing Chinese-Americans constituent base, said he strongly supports keeping SHSAT because these schools are needed to meet the needs of high performing students and the SHSAT has shown it does a good job in identifying those students who will excel in such schools.

“I deplore the lack of diversity which has occurred in the specialized high schools but I do not believe that this is caused by the test. I believe the cause of the terrible lack of diversity is the actions of the DOE over the past 20 years in systemically closing gifted programs in the middle and early grades schools in all the districts where children are not doing well on the SHSAT,” said Colton.

Colton said he taught in Bedford Stuyvesant in the 80s, and being a public school teacher in District 13, he had the opportunity to teach a gifted class. 

“All of my students in this gifted class were of the same minorities which are currently underrepresented in the specialized high schools. My students were reading years above grade level and would have no problem passing the SHSAT,” said Colton.

Colton said in the 90s, the Department of Education (DOE) began closing all the G&T programs in these districts and since the primarily African-American students were denied these gifted programs the gap in diversity resulted.  

CACAGNY said, in an email, education leaders interested in non-cosmetic solutions to the city’s dismal state of education understand the need for more G&T programs, citing a list of recommendations that Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. had circulated back in 2017.

“We Asians do not apologize for studying. CACAGNY demands that legislative action be taken in Albany and in the City Council to mandate G&T programs to be widely available in a variety of forms and levels, so that all bright and capable students in the City who are ready and eager to study can do so in our Department of Education public schools,” said Phil Wong, President of CACAGNY.

Mosley’s unofficial loss in the recent primary elections aside, it remains to be seen if his cohorts will pass the bill as is.

– Stephen Witt contributed to this story