Sunday, August 25, 2019

School Scope: Those SHSAT Tests, Part 2

Published in The WAVE: - August 23, 2019

School Scope:  Those SHSAT Tests, Part 2
By Norm Scott

Debates over the controversial SHSAT special high school admission tests has roiled the local education world and has driven a rift between the Asian and Black/Latinx communities. State law forces the city to use only the SHSAT despite de Blasio’s attempts to have it changed. Let me state right up front: I am opposed to using a standardized test as a sole criteria for admission to specialized high schools for a number of reasons, which I will get into in a follow-up column. (For SHSAT news -

In a previous column (Those SHSAT Tests Part 1 I wrote about my experiences prepping for tests in the late 1950s/early 60s for Brooklyn Tech (which I didn’t get in) and the NY State Scholarship exams in my junior and senior high schools (where I was successful). I described my evolution in learning how to take tests between the disaster in the 8th grade where time was called with 65% of the test completed and 12th grade where I had mastered test time management. Both times I had been well-prepared to answer the questions but the test prep my schools offered did not address the “how to take a test” issue. I pointed to a Malcolm Gladwell podcast that addressed test taking using the LSAT (law school admissions) as an example. Gladwell referred to a tortoise and hare concept of test taking and how time limits favor hares whereas tortoises who take a slow and steady course bring skills to the table that hares may lack. (

What if the SHSAT were not timed? Would some tortoises pick up enough right answers to get into the specialized schools? A for-profit web site actually has a guide on how to apply for extra time on the SHSAT, a legitimate exercise for students with IEPs, but something that has been abused for SAT’s and other tests, as pointed out in this March 14, 2019 NYT piece:

Is the College Cheating Scandal the ‘Final Straw’ for Standardized Tests?
“For parents desperate to boost their children’s SAT or ACT scores, the test preparation company Student-Tutor offered an enticing solution: claim a learning disability and qualify for extra time. “This time advantage can help raise their scores significantly!” the website blared. “Some students have even reported raising their score by as much as 350+ points!” This week’s college admissions scandal provided an instruction manual for gaming the SAT: bribe the proctor, hire a stand-in, see the right psychologist to get a signoff for more time.
college admissions experts said that in some communities, it is well known which psychologists will provide paperwork attesting to disabilities like A.D.H.D. — for thousands of dollars. “Parents have figured out that this is a freebie,” said Miriam Kurtzig Freedman, a special education lawyer. ‘This was a scandal waiting to happen’.”

The NYC Marathon has no time limits and when I used to volunteer there were people coming in late in the evening. We often hear this said about many aspects of life – even applying to the baseball season: it is a marathon, not a sprint. Should this concept be applied to standardized tests? What if we totally removed time limits? I see the good, bad and ugly to that. I could see myself spending hours on a question that stumped me once freed from the time limits.

I went from a tortoise when I took the Tech test in 1958 to a hare when I received a NY State scholarship in 1962. But was I any smarter other than having figured out how to use limited time on tests to my advantage? Well, I did figure out how to manage a test. I learned to take the number of questions and divide it into the amount of minutes I had and to set up sign posts as to where I should be at different times. Thus on a 50 question test in 60 minutes I had a little over a minute for each question. My strategy was to run through the test answering all the quickie questions to gain time, putting a little dash next to those questions that looked solvable with a little more time – I would go back after knocking off the easy ones. The ones that seemed hardest got a dot, so they could be attacked with the balance of time. The aim was to come down to two options and guess, giving me a 50-50 chance even on the hardest questions. If half the test were in the hardest category, that was a sign to just go home.

Norm takes unlimited time when he blogs at

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