Adi Talwar

The Christa McAuliffe School in Brooklyn, where more than 80 percent of SHSAT takers received admissions offers this year.

 

By at least one measure, IS 187 (The Christa McAuliffe School) in Brooklyn holds the honor of being the best middle school in New York City. In 2017, 82 percent of its students who took the Specialized High School Admissions Test (SHSAT) got a coveted slot in one of the eight academically demanding schools that use the single test to determine who gets in and who does not.

Mayor de Blasio’s proposal to gradually phase out the SHSAT and offer admission to the top 7 percent of students from all city district middle schools would upend a system where most specialized high-school slots go to a handful of schools. Whether or not the SHSAT survives, a look at what schools fare well on the test offers insight into how the SHSAT in particular and school selection in general works in New York City.

And it is clear that most students get on – or off – the track to go to a specialized high school long before they sit down to take the SHSAT in September of 8th grade.

An analysis of DOE figures found that 15 district middle schools got 50 percent or more of their test takers into one of the schools. (This is not the same as the schools that had the most students accepted, which skews toward bigger schools, although McAuliffe topped that list as well.) On the other hand, about 480 charter and district middle schools – out of about 600 schools– had fewer than 5 students admitted and some likely had none, according to statistics obtained by City Limits. (See the chart below for details.)

The Center for New York City Affairs earlier found that 124 low-performing city middle schools accounted for a total of only nine 7th graders who went on to specialized high schools in 2014-15. And figures from 2015 show that the Bronx, which has more than 160 schools with middle school grades, saw only 120 of its students accepted at a specialized school in 2015.

Given that black and Latino students – who account for about 70 percent of the school system – get only 10 percent of the specialized seats, it is hardly surprising that the top 15 middle schools have far higher percentages of white and Asian students than the city as a whole. Many have relatively affluent student bodies. While about three quarters of New York City student are considered low income, only 8 percent of students at the Anderson School, which saw 77 percent of test takers offered a specialized high school seat, are.

Sorting early

A majority of city middle schools are unscreened, meaning that they accept all students who live in a given area, use a lottery or accept everyone who applies. None of the top SHSAT-placing middle schools are like that: All 15 screen the students they admit to 6th grade.

This echoes research done by the Research Alliance for New York City Schools, which found that of the students entering specialized high schools in 2013, only 12 percent came from middle schools that did not screen their students. Many middle schools that select students do so on the basis of their 4th grade standardized test scores and grades—meaning by the time a child is 9 years old he or she may have all but lost the chance to go to Stuyvesant.

And for some, the key decision came years before that – at age 4. The top 15 schools for specialized admissions included all five citywide gifted and talented programs. Although some children enter G&T later in elementary school or in middle school, the main entry point for these programs is kindergarten. Like the SHSAT, G&T admission is based on a single test – and like the SHSAT, many parents have their children prepare for it.

“Gifted and talented programs are segregated and the cycle of school segregation is sustained through school-choice policies,” says Allison Roda, an assistant professor of education at Molloy College who has studied New York’s gifted program. “These policies are perfectly designed to favor certain families over other ones. … All of this just restricts opportunities for students who are low income, who are black and Latino, who are English language learners”

The citywide gifted and talented schools are all majority white and Asian. The district-level gifted and talented programs also use the test, but children can qualify with a lower score. While efforts are underway to diversify these classes, overall the gifted programs in the city are estimated to be about 70 percent white and Asian.

In 10 of the city’s 32 districts no more than a few students scored in the 97th percentile or above, the level the city says is needed to get into a citywide district program, on the 2018 gifted and talented test. While just a small number of children sit for the test in some areas, pass rates vary widely. For example, 45 percent of all children taking the test in Manhattan’s District 2 qualified for a city or district program, but only 9 percent of those in the Bronx’s District 12 did.

New York City is unusual in that it screens children at such a young age for gifted and talented and relies on a single test. The National Associated for Gifted Children advises against that preferring a “portfolio of indicators,” says its executive director, Rene Islas. The group also recommends assessing children more than once, at 2nd grade, perhaps, and again at 6th.

New York’s G&T process is further skewed by schools that can charge more than $1,000 for test prep for students who may barely be out of diapers. Among some parents, says Roda, such prepping has become de rigueur. She says, “It becomes a form of good parenting for them. They see it as a track to the better middle schools and high schools.”

They would not be wrong. Getting into an elementary school gifted-and-talented program may be the best thing parent can to do insure their child a place at a specialized high school.

Early algebra is key

The question is whether that is because the students at these G&T schools are so smart or because the programs at those schools are so good. Many think it is a combination of both. Sean Corcoran, one of the authors of the Research Alliance study, thinks schools play a role but adds, “Most of it is raw talent. These are the kids that have already demonstrated that they do really well” on a competitive test.

The culture of the top middle schools also offers a boost, “It’s the critical mass of kids in one place all feeding off each other,” says Vito LaBella, president of the McAuliffe PTA. “All these people are on the same page and they’re taking about the SHSAT.”

Some of the top schools also offer another leg-up: algebra. Although an increasing number of students now take the state algebra Regents exam in 8th grade, the SHSAT is given in fall of 8th grade, before many have had much formal exposure to the subject.

Those students without formal algebra training before the SHSAT will not be able to master algebra from reading a few test manuals or figuring it out during the test, says Alina Adams, an education writer who advises parents on school choice. “If you have never seen it before in your life, it’s not going to do you any good. It’s like trying to read without ever having seen the alphabet,” she says.

The citywide gifted programs, according to Adams, teach algebra in 7th grade and private academies that prepare students for the test also emphasize it. “We teach algebraic concepts as early as the 5th and 6th grade and definitely devote a large portion of our summer SHSAT curriculum to algebra,” Lulu Zhou, the executive director of A+ Academy, which prepares students for various tests, wrote in an email. She thinks, though, that many public schools start offering some algebra as early as 7th or even 6th grade.

Testing and talent

In her view, the edge that students in some schools have on specialized high school admission does not come from any single class. “I don’t think the SHSAT tests anything crazy — it just tests the knowledge a student should have acquired from grades 3 to 7,” she wrote. Students from the top middle schools do well, she continued, “because they were able to get that solid academic foundation in their middle schools, coupled with their work ethic and family’s engagement and push for them to do well academically (which is how they got into these middle schools to begin with).”

For many students, part of that push is going to schools such as A+, even if they attend a demanding middle school. Almost everyone agrees that the days when students, regardless of their middle school, could pass the SHSAT without prepping in some way are long gone. Some students do that preparation on their own and many take classes, which may start before a student enters middle school. Adams likens this to a student athlete practicing a sport in hopes of making the varsity team. “No one thinks that’s weird,” she says.

“To pass [the SHSAT] takes a huge investment of time and effort, not to mention talent,” says Corcoran. Although his research on the effects of various alternatives to the SHSAT likely helped shape de Blasio’s plan to abandon the test in favor of admitting the top students at all middle schools, Corcoran sees reasons to offer a combination of that system and the test. “I like a mixture because people really are passionate about the test” and see good things about it, he says. “There’s no reason it has to be thrown out entirely.”

Laura Zingmond, senior editor of Inside Schools, sees some justification for changing the admissions process for the specialized schools. “The test culture has gotten out of control,” she says. But, she notes, “The [specialized] schools are intense. The SHSAT process can help assess whether you will be a good candidate to succeed at these schools.”

More than eight high schools

While there are the McAuliffes and the Anderson, students at a number of highly regarded middle schools do not do well on the test. Many of these schools are largely black and Latino. A number emphasize creative ventures or take a more progressive approach to education. Some have students who would prefer to try for the Prep for Prep program that sends students of color to private schools or to audition for an arts school.

Twenty students from the Science, Technology and Research Early Collegiate at Erasmus, an academically selective school in Flatbush, sat for the SHSAT in 2017. More than 90 percent of the school’s students are black or Hispanic; 76 percent are low-income. Despite their school’s high test scores and Regents classes for 8th graders, five or fewer did well enough on the SHSAT to get into one of the eight schools.

Instead, most STAR 8th graders remain there for high school. In four years almost every one of them will graduate and 87 percent will go on to college. Whatever the flaws in the process and the racial, economic and cultural biases that may have resulted in their staying at STAR, it doesn’t seem like a bad decision.


The Tale of the Test
Here’s how the city’s middle schools rank in terms of the share of their SHSAT test-takers who received admissions offers. This list does not include schools where the number of admissions offers was five or less; those numbers are not released by the DOE.

School Name SHSAT Test-takers Selective High School Offers Rate of offers
THE CHRISTA MCAULIFFE SCHOOL\I.S. 187 251 205 81.67%
THE ANDERSON SCHOOL 75 58 77.33%
NEW EXPLORATIONS INTO SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY AND MATH SCHOOL 126 91 72.22%
NEW YORK CITY LAB MIDDLE SCHOOL FOR COLLABORATIVE STUDIES 163 113 69.33%
THE 30TH AVENUE SCHOOL (G&T CITYWIDE) 39 26 66.67%
P.S. 122 MAMIE FAY 74 49 66.22%
BACCALAUREATE SCHOOL FOR GLOBAL EDUCATION 94 62 65.96%
M.S. 255 SALK SCHOOL OF SCIENCE 108 70 64.81%
EAST SIDE MIDDLE SCHOOL 124 75 60.48%
J.H.S. 054 BOOKER T. WASHINGTON 257 150 58.37%
MARK TWAIN I.S. 239 FOR THE GIFTED & TALENTED 336 196 58.33%
BROOKLYN SCHOOL OF INQUIRY 80 46 57.50%
I.S. 119 THE GLENDALE 104 59 56.73%
COLUMBIA SECONDARY SCHOOL 42 23 54.76%
TAG YOUNG SCHOLARS 54 27 50.00%
M.S. 260 CLINTON SCHOOL WRITERS & ARTISTS 36 17 47.22%
M.S. 51 WILLIAM ALEXANDER 280 122 43.57%
J.H.S. 074 NATHANIEL HAWTHORNE 233 95 40.77%
BATTERY PARK CITY SCHOOL 56 22 39.29%
J.H.S. 067 LOUIS PASTEUR 211 82 38.86%
INSTITUTE FOR COLLABORATIVE EDUCATION 21 8 38.10%
THE MATH & SCIENCE EXPLORATORY SCHOOL 134 51 38.06%
QUEENS GATEWAY TO HEALTH SCIENCES SECONDARY SCHOOL 61 23 37.70%
PAULA HEDBAVNY SCHOOL 24 9 37.50%
J.H.S. 185 EDWARD BLEEKER 250 93 37.20%
M.S. 243 CENTER SCHOOL 38 14 36.84%
J.H.S. 194 WILLIAM CARR 147 54 36.73%
M.S. 158 MARIE CURIE 236 84 35.59%
P.S. 184M SHUANG WEN 67 23 34.33%
THE SEEALL ACADEMY 113 38 33.63%
BROOKLYN PROSPECT CHARTER SCHOOL 24 8 33.33%
SCHOOL OF THE FUTURE HIGH SCHOOL 46 15 32.61%
P.S. 049 DOROTHY BONAWIT KOLE 43 14 32.56%
THE QUEENS COLLEGE SCHOOL FOR MATH, SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY 40 13 32.50%
ALBERT SHANKER SCHOOL FOR VISUAL AND PERFORMING ARTS 59 19 32.20%
J.H.S. 216 GEORGE J. RYAN 304 95 31.25%
YOUNG WOMEN’S LEADERSHIP SCHOOL, QUEENS 29 9 31.03%
J.H.S. 190 RUSSELL SAGE 172 53 30.81%
BELL ACADEMY 69 21 30.43%
I.S. 075 FRANK D. PAULO 153 46 30.07%
J.H.S. 201 THE DYKER HEIGHTS 338 101 29.88%
J.H.S. 167 ROBERT F. WAGNER 258 77 29.84%
EAST-WEST SCHOOL OF INTERNATIONAL STUDIES 70 20 28.57%
I.S. 98 BAY ACADEMY 372 104 27.96%
J.H.S. 259 WILLIAM MCKINLEY 309 86 27.83%
SPRUCE STREET SCHOOL 36 10 27.78%
I.S. 237 194 53 27.32%
P.S. 126 JACOB AUGUST RIIS 66 18 27.27%
M.S. M245 THE COMPUTER SCHOOL 70 19 27.14%
SCHOLARS’ ACADEMY 104 27 25.96%
P.S. 102 BAYVIEW 67 17 25.37%
P.S./I.S. 266 33 8 24.24%
P.S. 219 PAUL KLAPPER 29 7 24.14%
P.S. 229 DYKER 93 20 21.51%
J.H.S. 234 ARTHUR W. CUNNINGHAM 370 79 21.35%
TOMPKINS SQUARE MIDDLE SCHOOL 66 14 21.21%
J.H.S. 157 STEPHEN A. HALSEY 249 52 20.88%
J.H.S. 104 SIMON BARUCH 260 53 20.38%
NEW VOICES SCHOOL OF ACADEMIC & CREATIVE ARTS 94 19 20.21%
RIVERDALE / KINGSBRIDGE ACADEMY (MIDDLE SCHOOL / HIGH SCHOOL 141) 75 15 20.00%
I.S. 025 ADRIEN BLOCK 147 29 19.73%
P.S. 128 THE LORRAINE TUZZO, JUNIPER VALLEY ELEMENTARY SCHOOL 46 9 19.57%
M.S. 839 36 7 19.44%
WEST END SECONDARY SCHOOL 31 6 19.35%
P.S. 008 ROBERT FULTON 42 8 19.05%
THE BOERUM HILL SCHOOL FOR INTERNATIONAL STUDIES 32 6 18.75%
MOTT HALL II 64 12 18.75%
I.S. 072 ROCCO LAURIE 139 26 18.71%
I.S. 73 – THE FRANK SANSIVIERI INTERMEDIATE SCHOOL 394 73 18.53%
J.H.S. 202 ROBERT H. GODDARD 98 18 18.37%
I.S. 027 ANNING S. PRALL 77 14 18.18%
P.S. 163 BATH BEACH 39 7 17.95%
P.S. 206 JOSEPH F LAMB 51 9 17.65%
I.S. 281 JOSEPH B CAVALLARO 171 30 17.54%
J.H.S. 189 DANIEL CARTER BEARD 97 17 17.53%
IRWIN ALTMAN MIDDLE SCHOOL 172 189 33 17.46%
I.S. 007 ELIAS BERNSTEIN 129 22 17.05%
HUNTERS POINT COMMUNITY MIDDLE SCHOOL 65 11 16.92%
P.S. 083 DONALD HERTZ 77 13 16.88%
SUCCESS ACADEMY CHARTER SCHOOL – BRONX 2 36 6 16.67%
I.S. 230 157 26 16.56%
BROOKLYN URBAN GARDEN CHARTER SCHOOL 43 7 16.28%
P.S. 226 ALFRED DE B.MASON 44 7 15.91%
P.S. 164 QUEENS VALLEY 38 6 15.79%
I.S. 141 THE STEINWAY 170 26 15.29%
HELLENIC CLASSICAL CHARTER SCHOOL 46 7 15.22%
I.S. 5 – THE WALTER CROWLEY INTERMEDIATE SCHOOL 264 40 15.15%
J.H.S. 220 JOHN J. PERSHING 181 27 14.92%
J.H.S. 217 ROBERT A. VAN WYCK 175 24 13.71%
J.H.S. 223 THE MONTAUK 142 19 13.38%
I.S. 227 LOUIS ARMSTRONG 206 27 13.11%
M.S. 131 54 7 12.96%
P.S. 048 WILLIAM G. WILCOX 70 9 12.86%
M.S. 137 AMERICA’S SCHOOL OF HEROES 179 23 12.85%
J.H.S. 227 EDWARD B. SHALLOW 197 25 12.69%
P.S./I.S. 104 THE FORT HAMILTON SCHOOL 87 11 12.64%
P.S./M.S. 194 64 8 12.50%
I.S. 125 THOM J. MCCANN WOODSIDE 272 34 12.50%
J.H.S. 210 ELIZABETH BLACKWELL 169 21 12.43%
J.H.S. 088 PETER ROUGET 163 20 12.27%
I.S. 318 EUGENIO MARIA DE HOSTOS 222 27 12.16%
P.S./I.S. 30 MARY WHITE OVINGTON 51 6 11.76%
LOWER MANHATTAN COMMUNITY MIDDLE SCHOOL 70 8 11.43%
J.H.S. 292 MARGARET S. DOUGLAS 81 9 11.11%
J.H.S. 118 WILLIAM W. NILES 270 29 10.74%
I.S. 228 DAVID A. BOODY 160 17 10.63%
M.S. X101 EDWARD R. BYRNE 66 7 10.61%
MIDDLE VILLAGE PREP CHARTER SCHOOL 58 6 10.34%
MARSH AVENUE SCHOOL FOR EXPEDITIONARY LEARNING 70 7 10.00%
I.S. 034 TOTTENVILLE 81 8 9.88%
I.S. 024 MYRA S. BARNES 132 11 8.33%
I.S. 096 SETH LOW 114 9 7.89%
P.S. 235 JANICE MARIE KNIGHT SCHOOL 89 7 7.87%
CONSELYEA PREPARATORY SCHOOL 90 7 7.78%
JEAN NUZZI INTERMEDIATE SCHOOL 117 9 7.69%
J.H.S. 278 MARINE PARK 98 7 7.14%
J.H.S. 127 THE CASTLE HILL 133 9 6.77%
I.S. 181 PABLO CASALS 124 8 6.45%
I.S. 051 EDWIN MARKHAM 101 6 5.94%
I.S. 145 JOSEPH PULITZER 137 7 5.11%

26 thoughts on “What Role do Middle Schools Play in Deciding Who Gets Into NYC’s Elite High Schools?

  1. Just another way to destroy the Specialized High Schools. The top 7% at a middle a school at the bottom of the list would be in the bottom 7% of schools at the top of the list. The deBlasio plan would reward mediocrity and fill the specialized High Schools with students unable to handle the coursework.

  2. I notice that some sentences are misleading . Gifted and talented program, for example, “Allison Roda, ……. “These policies are perfectly designed to favor certain families over other ones. … All of this just restricts opportunities for students who are low income, who are black and Latino, who are English language learners”” his words are completely absurd!

    My son came back from China in November when he was 3 years old. He knew nothing about English. My family have to work and I am English learner myself and can’t teach him anything, and we sent him to day-care. Several months later, he took Gifted and talented test and got extremely high score!

    I heard too much noise when people blames low performance on tests to poverty, family etc. The defining factor is whether the kids are smart and hard-working or not.

    Let’s be honest, each kid is unique and talented in his/her way. you can see it within a family (smart kid/non-smart kid), school (not all of students have same score in the same classroom). Not all of basketball players do well from the same coach/team. We need to admit that some are gifted in academia, while some are gifted in sports.

    • Hopefully those weren’t dog whistles I was hearing in the above comment. The only sports comparison that applies here is some countries put more money and support into their Olympic teams than other countries, and it shows in the Olympic trials. Anderson is the East European gold medal hockey team and a school not on the list in the article is a South Pacific hockey team. Potential unrealized.

    • Oh so suddenly you’re an educator equipped to decide what factors might affect test scores? That’s interesting because I am studying education and I went to Stuyvesant from a school that now only has 5% of the students who took the test being admitted. Keep your bias to yourself when you are unqualified to speak about the experiences of others.

  3. A large part of the problem is there are quite a few gifted and talented children in every school who never get enriched and accelerated learning because there are way more students who score above the 90th percentile than there are seats for them. Those students then must go through elementary school unchallenged, risking boredom and complacency. Instead of having very limited G & T seats at a few select schools (many of which may be highly inconvenient transportation-wise), every school should have accelerated learners programs.

    The second problem is that SHSHAT test. Not even Ivy League colleges and universities in U.S. base admissions off of one single test. That way is too prone to rule in only those kids who are highly practiced test-takers in high stress environments, who very likely were sent to tutoring for four hours every Saturday specifically for the test and it disregards all of the other elements that make a well-rounded, academically excellent student.

    The other big issue is that there is this concept of elite high schools at all in the public school system. As a person who grew up and went to school on Long Island, this is a completely foreign concept to me, and an attitude which is reserved for private schools. In a public school system, all the public schools should have the same and equal process of admittance, and those who excel should be placed in classes within those schools that will challenge them.

    On the other hand, Carranza’s plan to have a quota system (because that’s exactly what it is) sends a message that if you don’t have a shot at getting in by being the best, one can get in by being the worst. That’s counter-intuitive and counter productive.

    Improve all the schools and you have a hand in improving all of the students. Nurture only some of the schools and leave the others to rot, and you nurture only a select few of the students, and leave the other students to rot.

    • No, the only middle schools not listed here are those where, as explained in the caption to the chart, fewer than six students took or passed the SHSAT. Since no conclusions can be drawn about those schools’ performance, they are not listed. But among the other schools, clear differences are discernible.

      • Jarret, do you know the aggregate acceptance rate for all the middle schools with fewer than six test takers? That might shed some light on Faye’s concern.

        • Good idea Tom. I can give you a ballpark based on the assumption that most of the test-takers and offer-receivers went to NYC public schools. Of course, that’s not actually true, but it will give you a sense of it.

          Overall, 28333 students took the SHSAT and 5067 received an offer — a rate of 18 percent.

          The schools where the DOE reveals the number of offer-receivers encompassed 14871 takers and 4011 offers, a 27 percent rate.

          By subtraction that means the remaining middle schools encompassed 13462 takers and 1056 offer-receivers. That’s a rate of just shy of 8 percent.

    • WHY DO I SEE Primary Schools on THE LIST. PS102
      Kids go from middle school to high school, not from primary school.??

  4. Isn’t one possibility to create more spots? Why not create a “new Stuyvesant” or “new Bronx Science” in Queens, for example, that has broader or more flexible criteria for admission but provides the same level of education. Let Stuyvesant, Bronx Science and Brooklyn Tech keep their system and allow the new Queens based school follow something like the proposed De Blasio plan. It would start out seeming like a “safety” or second or third choice, but over time, if the results are good, that school will garner the same prestige. And indeed, given the criteriae for admission at the Ivies and New Ivies, such a school would be a magnet for those admission recruiters.

  5. The chart is missing information. It does not say how many took and made the minimum cutoff that makes a student eligible for an application to be considered for an offer. The rate of offers should be the number of offers divided by number actually applied, not the number who took the test. Taking the test does not guarantee a passing grade. This misleading indicator of rate of offer does not convince me to want to support the proposed change.

    • My question here is – Are the offers limited by the capacity total of the schools? I do agree that the statistics should show how many students attained the cut-off mark for eligibility.

      • Yes, it is limited by the number of seats. And to that effect there is no predetermined cut off before the test, as the cut off is determined by the actual live test scores and students are ranked on that and then selections made top down through that list.

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  8. This article is very misleading. My kid scored a 99 on the GT test, and all the prep we did was bought a $15 booklet on amazon and did 1/2 of a practice test. I know lots of kids in the GT elementary program and not a single one of them did more than one or 2 practice test out of a cheap booklet that are readily available online, in bookstore and libraries.

    The idea that these kids only did well because it only kids of rich “tiger parents” sending four year olds to test prep courses that cost thousands of dollars is absurd, and quite frankly offensive. I believe that all children should be entitled to a good education, but denying that some children might need a different sort of education is really bad practice. I wish this author would open their mind a little bit, move past their incredibly false preconceived notions and realize that often GT kids DO actually need a different sort of education in order to succeed and thrive. It should be umbrella-ed under special education services, since these kids do have special needs and should have a right to a “free and appropriate education, in the least restrictive environment.”

  9. How many of these test takers are IEP (some from gifted and talented schools) that get extra time on the test. Time is a huge variable impacting result. How do you draw a cutoff for who actually needs extra time versus those that are essentially gaming the system? or somewhere on the continuum of IEP…

    • SHSAT takers with IEPs get double time to take the test.

      There is some wiggle room the game the system, but being very familiar with the SHSAT I don’t see an IEP as a good general strategy in order to do so, if that’s what you mean. If I’ve misunderstood, please elaborate.

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