New NYC Council bills intend to widen access to elite public high schools

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Three council members have been planning to introduce a series of bills to improve access to the Big Apple’s elite public high schools.

City Council Members Justin Brannan, Keith Powers and Oswald Feliz will introduce three proposals Thursday to promote test preparation for specialized high schools that rely on the Specialized High School Admissions Test (SHSAT) for entry.

“We know SHSAT prep has the ability to level the playing field for every student in NYC,” said Brannan, whose district includes Bay Ridge, Dyker Heights, Bensonhurst and Bath Beach in Brooklyn.

“We have a responsibility to ensure that every student, regardless of race or class, can thrive within our school system,” he said.

The package requires the Department of Education to create a plan to administer specialized high school admissions tests on a school day.

The proposal would continue two years of the schools offering the SHSAT during the day since the pandemic began — to increase awareness of the test and make traveling easier for families who work or have other responsibilities.

Close to 15% of test-takers received an offer for this fall out of 4,053 students who took the SHSAT this school year, new city data released Wednesday showed.

Another local law would call for a pilot program to offer after-school SHSAT preparation.

The third in the series has the DOE create a plan to provide SHSAT preparation to all middle school students.

Council members said the vast majority of New York City middle schools do not currently have access to publicly funded test preparation.

“For years, antiquated practices around the SHSAT have shut too many students out from success and opportunity,” said Powers, whose district extends from much of the Upper East Side and Midtown to Stuyvesant Town.

Powers added that while “there’s still so much more” that the city could do to address concerns about the test and increase diversity at the selective schools, the laws could be “pragmatic steps forward.”

Black and Latino students made up 21% and 26% of students who sat for the SHSAT this school year, respectively — but got just 3% and 6% of offers to enroll in specialized high schools this fall, data showed.

Asian students made up 31% of test-takers and 53% of offers; white students were 17% of test-takers and 28% of offers.

The distribution of offers by ethnicity was similar this year to that of last admission cycle.

Council members said previous legislation similar to their proposal had widespread support, including from Speaker Adrienne Adams, until public health measures took precedence.

The high schools using the SHSAT are The Bronx High School of Science; The Brooklyn Latin School; Brooklyn Technical High School; High School for Mathematics, Science and Engineering at City College of New York; High School of American Studies at Lehman College; Queens High School for the Sciences at York College; Staten Island Technical High School; and Stuyvesant High School.

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