Black Students and the SHSAT


This letter was sent to me by my good buddy Allison Shillingford. Allison is an African American mom who lives in Brooklyn. She runs a not for profit called, Navigate the Maze:
Navigate the Maze to Achievement, Inc. (NTMA) is a non-profit, educational enrichment program that prepares black students in Brooklyn for the Specialized High School Admissions Test (SHSAT) and supports the students socially and academically while in high school.

In 2019, out of the 5,488 black students who took the Specialized High School Admissions Test (SHSAT) to attend New York City specialized high schools, only 190 of the students received offers. In one of the worst years for black enrollment in specialized high schools, an emerging non-profit in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, demonstrates that black students are capable of passing the SHSAT.  Navigate the Maze to Achievement (NTMA) had 20 students take the SHSAT, and seven received offers. About 3.96% of Black students citywide passed the SHSAT, while 35% of NTMA students passed.  To put this into perspective, 1 in every 27 black students who received an offer to a specialized high school is an NTMA student.

My experience has shown me that the test is not the problem.  The problem is that the children are not being taught the level of algebra and geometry to pass this test. Grammar was added to the SHSAT, but grammar is not being taught in schools at least not in the schools in the black communities.  I do not consider what NTMA does as test prep - we teach.  Every Saturday during the spring semester and six weeks in the summer, we teach students algebra, geometry, how to read word problems analytically.  We teach grammar and how to annotate nonfiction, fiction, and poetry.  We help them get over their dependence on a calculator and reference sheets and how to stay focus for a timed test.  

The problem is, I sometimes find that my community, the black community, depends solely on the Department of Education (DOE) to educate our children when the DOE is our partner.  And what our students are not receiving from school we as parents, and as a community must supplement.  Or parents whose child has all As and 4s on their state scores and thinks that is enough.  Then that child goes to take the test unprepared because a family did not see the need of giving up summer camp that year. Or the parent whose child who has 2s on their state scores not understanding why they can't get into the program.  And I try to explain that that would be a disservice to the student. That student should be in a tutoring program to teach them subjects at grade level so they can become proficient.

The problem is this scarcity mentality I find when I reach out to middle schools with high schools or feeders into high schools not wanting to give up their best students.  Like there are not enough smart black students to attend schools in and out of our community - when there are.  We should be seeking the best interests of the student.    They should know that a specialized high school is a choice. And if a student wants to go to a specialized high school, we should support that.

I think the reason NTMA works is that we find students that have the aptitude and the attitude to pass this test and just need to be taught the subject matter.

To get into the program, the student must score at least a 3 on their sixth-grade state math and ELA tests, take a sample SHSAT, and be interviewed. The student must get forty out of eighty questions correct.  I have admitted some students who scored a little lower on the sample test.  One such student received an offer to Brooklyn Latin.  The reason I chose her, despite her lower sample test score, is that during our interview I saw her drive and how much she wanted to participate in this program.  

 If you would like to support our efforts, you can get involved in one of four ways.  
1.     Nominate a student—we are still recruiting for this school year.
2.     Mentor—If you are a black alumnus of a specialized high school, we would love our students to have the opportunity to meet you and learn about your career and your journey. Let them see where their hard work can lead them.
3.     Volunteer—It takes a village.  If you have time to help in any capacity, lets chat.
4.     Support the program—Your donation will help NTMA to continue helping our students reach their goals and allowing us to help even more students.

Consider becoming part of Team NTMA and supporting these gifted and talented black students.  Navigate the Maze to Achievement is building a community where our partners support our students and where our students support each other.

Warmest regards,
Allison Shillingford
Founder/Executive Director
Navigate the Maze to Achievement