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Film documents students taking special high school test

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With the Specialized High School Admission Test happening in a matter of weeks, parents of children across Queens are pushing to squeeze in last-minute test prep as well as motivate their children to do well on what is arguably the most important test they will take until the SAT.

In a time where selective charter schools supplant less endowed public schools and budget shenanigans force public schools, such as Cardozo High School in Bayside, to make cuts to valuable Advanced Placement courses, many parents view specialized high schools as the best option for a quality education, short of paying for private school. These schools have better facilities and quality educators.

Approximately 29,000 students take the test every year, about 6,100 seats at eight specialized high schools that admit by examination. Latino and African-American students are a distinct and shrinking minority in these schools, a disparity that led the NAACP, joined by a number of community partners, to file suit against the exam, alleging that the test is unfair and a poor judge of a student’s ability to succeed.

These proponents suggest a comprehensive admissions process that accounts for grades, extracurricular activities and other circumstances, as is the case at rigorous schools not part of the SHSAT, such as Townsend Harris High School.

But disadvantaged children who are already shut out of the SHSAT may not have access to the means and facilities to engage in extracurricular activities, so this change may represent a new advantage for parents that can afford activities.

Within the context of this controversy, filmmaker Curtis Chin started filming “Tested,” which has followed students and their families from all over the city as they prepare for the admission test. The team behind “Tested” is using the social fund-raising website Kickstarter to “crowd-fund” through small, individual donors.

Recently, on Oct. 5, Chin and his crew paid a visit to Khan’s Tutorial, in Jackson Heights, where they spoke with Dr. Ivan Khan, a Bronx Science alumnus and the chief operating officer, about his experience running Khan’s, the brainchild of his parents, renowned educators Dr. Mansur Khan and Nayeema Khan.

In the lengthy interview, Khan stressed the importance of having parents involved in their children’s education. In addition to encouraging parents to attend parent-teacher conferences, Khan’s also holds similar meetings with parents to inform them on their children’s progress, ensuring that parents understand the pathways to college as well as the high school admissions process.

Khan’s tutorial has several locations around the city, including five in Queens, generally in South Asian communities. The programs provided include comprehensive test prep and tutoring for exams such as the SHSAT as well as standardized and college admission tests.

Asked why he chose to feature Khan’s Tutorial in the film, Chin said, “Khan’s Tutorial represents the dreams of all the immigrant families .... It’s about using education as a way to achieve the American Dream.”

“Tested” does not take a stand on the exam controversy, but captures the voices of students and their families as they prepare for the test and receive their results early next year.

Those looking for more information on the “Tested” project or would like to donate can do so at kickstarter.com/projects/1943067753/tested. Those seeking more information on Khan’s Tutorial can visit khanstutorial.com.

Posted 12:00 am, October 21, 2013
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