What if there is no SHSAT

What if there’s no SHSAT?

For those unfamiliar with the SHSAT, it is essentially an exam that will allow a student to gain admission into one of the illustrious “specialized” high schools in New York City. The exam has traditionally tested specific concepts that will determine the student’s overall aptitude and ability to keep up with the fast-paced, demanding curriculum of schools like Stuyvesant, Brooklyn Tech., Staten Island Tech, and Bronx Science. For those that haven’t been keeping up with the news, there has been very serious discussion of removing the SHSAT requirement or at the very least making the process not solely reliant on just that particular exam.

          Change is never easy for anyone and can be overwhelming at times, but the best way to approach any kind of change is with a calm attitude. Our previous article, “The SHSAT Exam and the Proposed Changes to the Application Process for NYC Specialized High Schools” explains the details surrounding the exam itself and its proposed changes. The previous article also discusses NYC Specialized High Schools, so if you’re unfamiliar with both topics please look back to that article for more insight. The main question at hand here is, “what if…?” Since the Legislature has yet to pass Mayor De Blasio’s proposal of eliminating the exam from the application process to these Specialized High Schools, parents of middle schoolers are consumed with questions such as, “What will happen next?”

JM Learning Prep is here to answer your, “what if” questions and to predict the outcome of possibly no longer having the SHSAT exam or if the exam remains, but the process changes entirely.  


          As it stands, a student with no ability to focus long term and push themselves through a full year or years of schooling can be admitted into these illustrious schools. These type of students simply hire tutors or are simply gifted enough to do well on a single exam. But they are not able to obtain academic success due to the fact that they have not learned how to persevere over long periods of time. This, in turn, creates an environment for the students that aren’t only gifted but great students, the inability to be surrounded by people of the same caliber and working with them is paramount to success in any field. Let’s look at one of our SHSAT classes and the dynamic created.

JM’s approach to the SHSAT

          Here at JM, we strive to place students into classes of a similar level. The way we do this is by administering a diagnostic or “evaluation” exam that is an old SHSAT. This evaluation will not only tell the instructor exactly what class level to place the student, either Level 1 or Level 2, but it will also explain what strengths and weaknesses the student possesses. BUT ONE EXAM IS NOT GOOD ENOUGH OF AN EVALUATOR! We have countless students starting extraordinarily high, in the mid to high 600’s, almost ready for Brooklyn Tech standards, and yet they have trouble paying attention, staying consistent with the work, and participating in class. Being gifted does not mean a child is a good student. Doing well on one exam, one time, does not mean the student will do well in a class or even repeat those same results on the real thing. We have countless students that “underscore” or “overscore”


Students need to be treated as individuals and the advent of technology has allowed for that to happen.


          Our approach is one that produces an individual approach to education. While we administer an SHSAT, SAT, ACT, Regents, AP, SAT Subject test, or many more to help the student understand the nuances of the exam, a student cannot understand the exam without first trying it, which is one of the main reasons the PSAT is administered nationwide, we look for specific key markers to determine ability. Our uniquely programmed scantron technology with the help of Remark software, we have developed the ability to program specific questions to determine the key factors of a student’s success.

Key Factors for Evaluating students by JM

  1. Focus Markers
    1. These questions are phrased so that the answer is inherent within the question itself. They are giveaways and are designed to evaluate the student’s attention to detail and focus. If the student cannot answer these questions correctly, then they lack a very important skill that will determine academic success.
  2. Deductive Reasoning
    1. This is the process of reasoning that involves a certain premise or criteria to reach a logical certainty. An example of deductive reasoning would be if Joe went to the store empty-handed, bought something while he was there, and returned straight home without stopping anywhere along the way with a carton of milk. You can deductively conclude that Joe bought the carton of milk while he was at the store even though it wasn’t explicitly stated. Questions involving this will allow us to understand if the student can establish connections in their learning or if they need help in these areas.
  3. Inductive Reasoning
    1. This is the process of Reasoning that involves prediction or extrapolation of data. Using the same example that we used for Deductive Reasoning we can state that if Joe ate cereal with milk when he got home, then Joe used the milk that he bought from the store. This is now a prediction and cannot be readily verified as he may have used milk that he may have already had in his fridge. But, we can say with logical reasoning that it is highly likely that he used the milk he just purchased. This tells us whether the students are effectively capable of drawing connections to new unfounded concepts and whether these concepts can be used to formulate new data. The ability to deduce information through inductive reasoning is a key element in student’s success in and outside the classroom and something the JM Learning staff focuses on relentlessly to produce results.
  4. Long Problems
    1. JM Learning measures a student’s ability to work through multi-step “long problems” to see if the student can work for long periods of time without getting distracted. This is a crucial element in determining how much homework a student can effectively handle throughout the week.

          While these factors are only a few of the measurements that we use in evaluating our students, please refer to the next article that will be published in the coming month “Evaluating your student - The JM Standard,” we also place a few other factors into consideration.

          We have a few students that although they score low in every criteria, sit in class disinterested and bored. This tells us that the student either has no motivation to work hard, which usually is determined by a lack of confidence or lack of goal orientation, or the student is simply not being challenged. Some students simply need a challenge to overcome and cannot be tested immediately. They have something to prove to themselves and prefer to start at what we refer to as “the zero point.” They are the ones that improve the fastest, but they cannot start from a level one class, even though they scored low on the initial diagnostic and on every marker that we use.

           The instructors at JM Learning are trained to recognize these types of students and will remove a student from the classroom FREE OF CHARGE and speak to them almost immediately to gauge a better understanding of their skills. If the instructor deems it necessary, they will place the student into the ENVIRONMENT THAT IS RIGHT FOR THE STUDENT!

Not every student is created the same and thus they cannot be taught the same.

We will not delve into the complexities of what should and should not be incorporated in the admissions process, but we will say that NO SYSTEM IS EVER GOING TO BE PERFECT! Like every major system, there is no possible way to ensure quality all across the board and there will be, no matter how seemingly perfect the system may seem, students that are simply underrepresented because they don’t fit a certain set of criteria. But, let’s take a look at some possibilities.

Why JM Learning believes the SHSAT cannot be Eliminated

  1. If you base the admissions process on state exams, what about the private schools such as Poly Prep that do not require State exams. Are these kids not applicable to obtain entrance? This is not a small subset of the population as more and more schools are veering away from state exams.
  2. If you base the admissions process on only grades, parents will flock to what they believe are the “easiest schools” and become obsessed with grades, overwhelming students and destroying the process as we know it. This will also be completely unfair for some, as some private schools have only 5-10 people per class. Accepting the top 2 percent would virtually guarantee the valedictorian entrance, even if that said person would have an 80 average and doesn’t have the grades or extracurriculars anywhere near a student in a larger school that just got edged out by a few other students. This would create mass hysteria and the wrong type of competition, ultimately creating detriment with the students, parents, and teachers.  One stuyvesant student who shall remain anonymous in this article states, “even my teachers who should be for it can’t help but tell me how the school will be ruined without the exam.”

          Let’s be clear, eliminating the SHSAT does not mean the allure of specialized high schools will be eliminated, which is what most parents are fearing. There are many that now are switching to private schools and paying outrageous amounts of money to send their kids to the best school possible, fearing that the rigor of a specialized high school will simply be eliminated. JM Learning and its affiliates believe that if the SHSAT exam is completely eliminated, the process will have to undergo a “holistic” approach. While we do not believe that this is in any way possible, simply due to an overwhelming amount of manpower required and new tools that would tax the education system further than it already is, De Blasio would have to introduce a “college-like” process in order to create a fair system of admission.

           Having taught the exam and helped countless students achieve their dreams of obtaining admission into schools like Brooklyn Tech, Bronx Science, Stuyvesant, and Staten Island Tech, JM Learning and its affiliates believe that a High School application process would be created, allowing the students to discuss their extracurricular activities, write a personalized essay explaining their interests and providing character references, providing recommendation letters, and using their current grades in school.

          This “High School application” will resemble the College Application process in the fact that it will allow the student to express themselves individually. Acceptance into NYC Specialized High Schools will be based on State Exam grades, academic grades and said essay. There are too many students who are scoring 4’s on their state exams or who are receiving 4.0 averages. The essay portion will help High School admissions officers really get an understanding of who the student is, how the student will contribute to the school and what the student can offer other than academics.

          The sole purpose of eliminating the SHSAT exam is to give all 8th-grade students a fair chance at being accepted into these specialized High Schools. Mayor De Blasio voices how he wants these High Schools to have a more diverse student population. Many families do not have the opportunity or the luxury to send their children to receive SHSAT preparation, which gives these children a lower advantage when taking the exam. Is it fair to only accept the students who are more fortunate to receive exam preparation? Is it fair to not give the less fortunate students the opportunity to attend these specialized High School? De Blasio is simply expressing a concern that all students deserve a fair chance. So, if the exam is eliminated and this application is implemented then all students have a fair shot of getting accepted. They will know that their acceptance will rely on their grades and state exam scores. They will know that they will have to write a personalized essay to describe to the admissions officer why they should be accepted. What do you think of these changes? Do you believe that acceptance should be based on these 3 pillars?

The SHSAT will undergo serious changes

          With everything that has been happening in the city regarding this “hot topic,” no matter what way we see it, the system will change. Even if the exam remains as the deciding factor of whether an 8th grader will be accepted into a specialized High School or not, the format will have to change to incorporate more specific sets of skills, just like what JM learning uses to evaluate its students. Perhaps there will be the introduction of subsets of scores, showing specific skills that will allow the admissions committee to gain further insight into how a student performs. Most likely, however, there will be a new set of criteria.

          This exam has been changed twice in the past year. Two years ago, the exam had a section called Scrambled Paragraphs and Logical Reasoning, but last year this section was eliminated and 20 grammar questions were added instead. Now this current year, the exam has decreased the grammar questions to 11 and left the rest as reading comprehension. Our prediction is that the NY Department of Education will attempt to make the SHSAT exam similar to the SAT exam. To make it more standardized. This will help prepare younger students for what they will need to know in High School and for the SAT exam. Maybe this will benefit students in the long run; more preparation for the exam that determines which College they will attend.

One Exam is no longer enough!

          Some of you may recall your first ever interview for your first “real” job and I invite you to think about the apprehension you felt during that wait. Resume handy, prepared to answer any and all questions, 15 minutes early dressed to impress, and still, you sit there in the waiting room about to have a mild stroke! Imagine now that you were only given one chance for one interview ever and that your entire career is dependent on this one shot. Now, can you imagine putting that same pressure on a thirteen-year-old child?

          While many of you believe that the pressure of not obtaining a job is significantly more stressful than obtaining the coveted spot in one of the specialized high schools, you’re entirely wrong! For a child, they have one job, one task given to them - succeed in school. Many of the social pressures can be horrendously trying and the entire experience can be more taxing, giving the perception of failure to themselves, their peers, and you as parents. The student’s entire academic career can come spiraling out of control if the pressure becomes too high. And while many of you as parents believe that you are not pushing your child too hard, and you’re probably right, the child may feel that pressure from their peers. This is no one’s fault, but a simple reality that needs to be understood.

          What JM Learning believes would work is giving the students more than one try to the exam. Why not multiple test dates? We never truly understood why it’s so mandatory for an exam that’s administered to approximately 28,000 students and why it has to be one day. Yes, there are exceptions and some take it later, but why aren’t students allowed to take it more than once, ensuring their success? They should be allowed to take it at various dates throughout the year. And, if the issue is money, currently the SHSAT is free, then there should be some fee associated with the exam, allowing for more money to pooled into the DOE.

          Other than the introduction of new concepts and testing strategies and a multitude of tries, at JM Learning, we believe that truly incredible students not only are passionate about a few things that they know well but are extremely well rounded. We believe that the SHSAT should be a deciding factor because let’s make this clear, the specialized high schools are exam based schools. They focus on one thing and only one thing, the student’s ability to take tests! How can you get rid of the deciding factor, the SHSAT, without completely eliminating the appeal of the school? However, it is just as important to consider other factors to ensure success. We believe that the best solution is to create an admissions committee of dedicated specialized high school staff, who knows the standards set by the school better than the teacher’s so why shouldn’t they get some type of say on who belongs in the school. This will not only create a better process but utilize the resources that are already inherent within the school. This will, in turn, create a High School application that here at JM believe would be vital to the ultimate success of New York City High School students.

High School application with the SHSAT


  • SHSAT = 40% of the Admissions process


      1. Instead of the SHSAT being the ultimate deciding factor, grades, state exams scores, and extracurriculars are virtually unaccounted, why not lower the requirement to about 65%. This will force students to develop strong study skills, while still looking at other factors for admissions.


  • Grades and State Exams = 25%


      1. Grades and State Exams should be an important factor to be considered in the application process and should play their role.


  • Extracurricular Activities = 25%


      1. If the student is involved in countless activities, why wouldn’t this play an important role in the admissions process? Don’t we want students to give back to their communities and learn through real life activities, not just academics? Ultra involved kids may often find it difficult to get the same grades and study as hard for the SHSAT because they simply don’t have enough time in the day. You can’t ask a student to stop programming or drawing because they need to spend more time studying. They should be given a fair chance.


  • The High School Essay, Demographics, and the student’s story =10%


    1. This all started when the numbers of who was attending the specialized High Schools were released. We believe that everyone wants a more inclusive environment in the specialized high schools and everyone was appalled at the lack of variety in the school. There should be within the application a portion that allows the students to express themselves by what demographic and cultural background they fit into. This would single-handedly solve the problem of inclusion and this would allow students that experienced hardship to tell their story and win over the admissions committee.

          To be clear, JM Learning and its affiliates are not part of the DOE and we do not speak on behalf of any of the specialized high schools, such as Brooklyn Tech, Stuyvesant, Staten Island Tech, Bronx Science, or any of the other schools that require the SHSAT for admissions. However, in this article, we have outlined the many possibilities that can happen and in turn, we hope we have alleviated anxieties in regards to what will happen next, while discussions are kept hidden from the public eye. Remember we are here to help. Our dedicated staff, we will be here for you no matter the outcome and stand by our motto...

For every level of difficulty, we offer a level of mastery!

This article was written by Jonathan Milman and the affiliates of JM Learning Prep all rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of JM Learning Prep except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law.

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