SHSAT and Testing Stories

One day, I’d like to do a study on the impact of high stakes testing on families. There is a lot of research and opinion on the impact of testing on students and teachers, but very little (if any) on the impact of testing on the student’s relationship with his parents. We can assume that the successful test taker is lauded and rewarded, but what happens to the student who does not do so well? How is he received? I suspect he might be chastised: You’re not trying! What’s wrong with you?

Several students said their parents did not shy away from corporal punishment as a means of motivating them.

That’s a quote from a New York Times article about academic testing and the Asian (East, South, North and West) community. The article concludes with a description of Emmie Cheng’s perspective on testing:

Still, Ms. Cheng, a director at a shoe importing company, said guiding her daughter through this process — which cost her about $2,000 this year alone — paled in comparison to what she had experienced earlier in her life. Her father and four brothers died of starvation during Cambodia’s civil war. And once here, she said, she watched her mother struggle in a garment factory.

The article was most likely inspired by the complaint that the NAACP filed last year claiming New York City’s Specialized High School Admissions Test (SHSAT) is in violation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The complaint is not that the test is biased but that its implementation and its use as the sole criteria for admission has caused an imbalance of racial representation in the student body of the city’s “specialized high schools”.

Among the claims the NAACP and its supporters are making is that the SHSAT is bias because many black and Hispanic families cannot afford the high cost of third party test prep, tutors, or cram schools. I have to disagree and feel that the claim may reveal some of the NAACP’s own biases and their perpetuation of the Model Minority myth. Most of the Asian students mentioned in the New York Times article are immigrants or children of recently immigrated parents who work low paying jobs.

Another New York Times article provides some insight into the income of cram school patrons by noting:

they still catered to the children of Chinatown vegetable sellers who pay in $10 bills. But in recent years, they have also worked hard to draw in the white lawyers, bankers and artists who populate Lower Manhattan.

The article is about the rising popularity of cram schools (educational establishments specializing in tutoring and test prep) in New York City. The quote refers to a school started by Elma Moy in a low-ceilinged storefront on Henry Street. Relocated to Tribeca and renamed “Florentine”, the school hopes to attract a more affluent clientele.

In “To Be Black at Stuyvesant High” (yet another New York Times article), Rudi Miller’s experience as one of the few black student at Stuyvesant High School is described. She resents the attitude of her peers that “black students do better in the college-admissions game because of their skin color.” Another black student, Opraha Miles, expresses her frustration over their social ineptitude and insensitivity. She cites an incident where an Asian student speaking on student demographics states “Something to the effect that it wasn’t our fault, but that blacks aren’t smart enough; they don’t work hard enough” to get in.”

The statement is particularly offensive coming from someone who is supposed to be “the best and the brightest” in a city as diverse as New York. However, it is representative of what occurs when a culture (in this case the Stuyvesant school culture) lacks diversity.

In the film he is currently producing, Tested, Curtis Chin (who also produced Vincent Who? a movie about the legacy of Vincent Chin) seeks to tell the personal stories of a diverse group of eighth graders preparing for the SHSAT. I attended a fundraiser for Tested and had the opportunity to hear Curtis and others involved in the project speak about their involvement and what it means to them. One parent interviewed in the trailer they debuted summed up the frustrations of all parents perfectly when she said there should be a choice of the right school for your child but that the reality is that there is only a choice between “good schools” (implying high educational standards and personal welfare) and “bad schools” (low performing, dangerous schools).

There is the potential that the film may tell a deeper personal story about the attraction of a school like Stuyvesant. Many parents will tell you that Stuyvesant is one of the “good schools” but why? No one has asked what it means to a family if their son or daughter gain entrance. Outside of the SHSAT what makes Stuyvesant and other schools like it more desirable than others?

I wonder if Curtis will interview any teachers at “bad schools” and at “good schools” on what the SHSAT means to them and their students. And how about the students that don’t get in? How are their lives changed by the experience? And what does it mean when an organization like the NAACP says there aren’t enough minority students at Stuyvesant, when 72% of the student body is Asian? These are just some of the interesting questions (and possibly answers) that Tested promises to engage.  You can view a trailer for the movie and support it here:  http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1943067753/tested

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About Vincent

I am an educator, writer, and father blogging about books, TV, education, parenting, and pop culture.

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