“When I hear politicians and others in education talking about getting rid of the test, what I infer from what they are saying is that Black and Brown children aren’t smart enough to take and pass the test, and the only way that they can get into a Specialized High School is if we take away the test. Well, if you believe that, then what are you saying about 70% of your students? And, if that’s the truth then what are you saying about your education system? Because, it’s not their fault. These students are going through your schools. They are spending more time in your schools than they are with their own families. So, if what you believe is really the case we need to re-evaluate what our education system is doing so wrong.”
Allison Shillingford didn’t grow up in the city. The North Carolina native never took the SHSAT as a student. But, the organization that she founded, Navigate the Maze to Achievement is one of the best at preparing Black and Brown children to take and pass the SHSAT. Her decision to create NTMA was simply born from seeing a horrible disparity in plain sight. “I used to be an educational consultant helping families in Bedford Stuyvesant go through the private school process. I loved what I did but I wanted to help more students, and I figured I could help even more students in the public school system. I saw that there was a big problem with Specialized High Schools and how the city’s education system is 70% Black and Latino, but less than 10% of Black and Latino students make up the student body in Specialized High Schools. I decided that I wanted to tackle that problem, and Navigate the Maze to Achievement was created in 2016.”
NTMA is a non-profit educational enrichment program that prepares Black and Brown students for the SHSAT, and supports the students socially and academically while in High School. Last year, 1 in every 27 Black children that received an offer to attend one of the Elite 8 Specialized High Schools came through the NTMA program. 55% of their kids were accepted into a Top-20 Public High School. 75% of their kids were accepted into a Top-50 Public High School. For Allison, the conversation about the test shouldn’t be whether to scrap it or keep it, the conversation should be about how to best prepare every student to sit and take it. “I think tests have a purpose. They show you what a child knows. But kids have to be prepared for the test. The math on the SHSAT is ninth grade math. Every year, you have eighth graders sitting for this test and they’ve never seen the math before. They aren’t prepared. If a child displays the aptitude and the attitude to approach the work, they should be prepared to take the test.”
And while NTMA has shown marked success at test prep, Allison says that the organization is so much more. “The test is just one day. NTMA is about building a community where our students support each other and where our teachers and partners support these students. It is not just about getting them into these schools. We are not a test prep organization. We do test prep, but we are about making sure these kids are successful throughout high school. One of my students, Xaavi, is a tenth grader at Brooklyn Tech. He came back recently to talk to the eighth graders and he said that before he took the test, him and I had a conversation and I told him that with the test scores he was producing, he could get into Tech. He said that that conversation just changed his entire mindset, and when he sat for the test he was confident and he knew he could do it. That explains what we are doing. It’s about confidence building and community.”
Students who are accepted into the program have class every Saturday and for six weeks during the summer. The program accepts seventh graders and the application process includes testing and a student and parent interview. For more information, visit their website www.ntmanyc.org.