NYC's specialized high schools are well known for their elite academics, but also heavily criticized for their lack of diversity. Indeed, girls and, most starkly, Black and Latino students are under-represented at the schools. A central question has been the extent to which the schools' admissions policy -- which admits students solely based on their performance on the Specialized High School Admissions Test (SHSAT) -- is to blame.
This brief examines students' pathways from middle school to matriculation at a specialized high school, and simulates the effects of various admissions criteria that have been proposed as alternatives to the current policy. Analyzing data from 2005 to 2013, we found that while the SHSAT is (by design) the most important factor determining who attends the specialized high schools, it is not the only factor. Many students -- including many high-achieving students -- do not take the SHSAT at all, and some of those offered admission decide to go to high school elsewhere.
Overall, our findings show that the disparities in the specialized high schools largely reflect system-wide inequalities. By any standardized measure, Black, Latino and low-income students are under-represented among the City's "highest achievers." Future Research Alliance work will dig into these systemic inequalities, aiming to identify strategies to expand access for traditionally disadvantaged students.