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Christian Science Monitor Provides Excellent Overview of NYC Testing Debate

July 7, 2018

In “Keep the Test! A Debate Flares Over Exam Based Public High Schools“, Christian Science Monitor  staff writers Stacy Teacher Khadaroo and Harry Bruinius provide a balanced overview of the complex issue of the use of a single standardized test to place students in “elite” public high schools. The city is attempting to provide a better racial and ethnic balance in its best high schools where nearly 7 out of 10 students in the school district are African-American or Latino but only 1 out of 10 “earn” places in these schools. I place the word “earn” in quotation marks because they gain a place in these competitive schools based on one and only one factor: their score on the city’s Specialized High School Admissions Test (SHSAT).

The point-counterpoint approach used by the writers provides a series of conundrums that arise from this policy  and allows the reader to see that defining merit is tricky. It illustrates how the replacement of the SHSAT will aggrieve one minority group, Asian Americans, in order to address the under-representation of two other groups. The most compelling quote came from an Asian American alum, who noted an irony in the ongoing debate:

Ted Chang says he and his wife, a graduate of an exam school, are for the mayor’s plan even though their children attend school in a neighborhood that would end up sending fewer students. “There’s something truly ironic about getting the alumni associations of our most popular science schools to coalesce around a test that social scientists have concluded is a very weak and inaccurate measure of academic potential,” he writes in an email.

Economic and educational justice will remain out of reach as long as high scores on standardized tests are conflated with “merit”. We need better metrics if we want a fairer and just economic and political system.

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