High school admissions are stressful enough in normal times but throw them into the pandemic mix and it’s downright absurd… Or maybe these life-or-death times offer much-needed perspective on the pressure we put on kids. This week, Stuyvesant High School just sent parents a note saying the PSAT is canceled. That’s on the heels of the city saying it will test 4-year-olds for gifted-and-talented programs this spring but not thereafter (rest assured: the tests and guidance change every year anyway).

We asked Samuel Adewumi of CasPrep.org for some tips to get you through high school admissions, and his advice should have resonance for all parents. TL;DR: You’ve got this! Sam graduated from Brooklyn Tech and set up CASPrep in Bed-Stuy to help get kids into the specialized high schools.

What is the deadline for students to sign up for the SHSAT?

From the DOE: “The SHSAT (the Specialized High School Admission Test) registration will close on January 15th, 2021. The exam will now be administered in students’ own middle schools to reduce travel and mixing of different cohorts of children. The SHSAT will be administered beginning in late January.”

Families can complete their application via the MySchools portal, by calling 311, or through a virtual Family Welcome Center. Arts high schools will move to a virtual audition system that will allow students to submit their audition online.

Registration help is here.

What about other high schools they can apply to? 

From the DOE: District priorities for high school admissions will be permanently eliminated this year, and all other geographic priorities will be eliminated next year. This phase out over two years will start with 48 high schools that use district priorities in this first year. Approximately 250 total high schools have some type of district or geographic priority in place, such as borough-based priority.

Academic screens may remain in place at high schools that currently use screens and wish to continue to use them. If a student lists a screened school on their high school application, they’ll be judged on a combination of 2018-2019 state tests, the previous years’ grades, and/or school-established criteria. Schools will be required to publicly publish their rubric criteria on MySchools and the ranking process will be centralized.”

The high school application will open the week of January 18, 2021, and the deadline to apply is the week of February 22, 2021. 

Will admissions this year look like last? If not, how is it changing? 

The changes in the timeframe for admissions notifications will have an impact on students and the specialized high schools. Private and parochial schools usually request decisions on offers be made by mid March. Students usually had a small window to make this decision where they could evaluate their non-DOE admissions and the SHS and regular school admissions. Students will be forced to make decisions without knowing their status on the SHSAT and regular HS admissions. Students who are accepted to non DOE schools will probably opt for those schools depending on the financial burden. This will probably pull more talented students of color students away from the specialized high schools.

photo: Samuel Adewumi

Black and Latino families are already dealing with a disproportionate burden of death, unemployment, food scarcity and housing insecurity in the pandemic. You have thoughts on getting better support from the city or even us as neighbors?

We need to move forward with the acknowledgment that education, as we know it is being redefined right in front of our eyes and technology, will be an essential component to it, even post COVID-19. Knowing this we need to ensure that we have proper access to technology via wireless connectivity and laptops and pads, not phones. This is an area where we need support for our under-served communities.  City officials and council members, corporate partners should look to support their communities in providing free wideband in the hardest-hit economic centers. Broadband access in Brownsville should be equitable to broadband access in all other parts of NYC.

We also need to answer the question of how we close the gap specifically caused by this pandemic. There are major differences in the level of learning occurring across the city schools. Schools that were already struggling with poor performance before the pandemic are definitely struggling. Summer school academic bridge experiences are one possible solution.

How will tours work? And interviews? What should we be looking for? 

Parents should contact individual schools for tours and open houses. They are held virtually.

Interviews and auditions will also be held virtually. I do not believe there are any in-person processes outside of the potential seated assessments.

A prep class, pre-pandemic. photo: Samuel Adewumi

Do you think NYC families are willing to send their kids as far away for school as they once did because of pandemic fears? 

The data shows that parents of students of color tend to want to keep their children home. With all high school being remote learning based, distance may not be an issue. Much will depend on how the city evolves post COVID.  Boarding schools may see an increase in students of color as discussed previously.

Have the private school admissions changed this year as Black Lives Matter forced many admissions offices to look at inequities they persist?  

I would hope so but we won’t really know till applications come in. Private schools have stayed consistent with their timeframes and applications and will return results around the same time as before, in early March. I don’t believe NYC schools will come close to their usual admissions notification by mid March.

Are you hearing any plans on diversifying the specialized high schools that feel solid to you? 

Data seems to suggest the Texas model has worked but not sure how the dynamics of that would play out in the NYC system. NYC is very divided on the issue of test vs not testing for the specialized high schools. At some point I expect there to be a change. The national trends signal a move away from high-stakes testing at the collegiate level. It will trickle down into the high school level as well. Issues of access and inequities in learning will force changes. The question is, how will this benefit all students.

Studying together, pre-pandemic. photo: Samuel Adewumi

What are the unknowns we need to get more comfortable with? 

The delayed timeframe of admissions has definitely thrown things off kilter.  Some students studying for the SHSAT just gave up due to the delays. The regular high school process has significant changes. I expect many errors in placement with all the moving parts and a delayed start to the process.

What’s the one thing you wish families stressing out about this knew? 

Be prepared for anything. With the proposed changes coming in at the same time as we are dealing with a pandemic there will be many surprises. Make the best of your child’s placement. At the end of the day NYC has many talented educators and administrators. The shakeup to the system will definitely turn up some hidden gems. On the other hand always look for ways to supplement your child’s education through companies and institutions that provide supplementary education services.

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