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Jackson Heights test-prep centers respond to local Bangladeshi community demand

A tutor helping student with his studies
A tutor helping student with his studies
Arvind Balaraman/

In the online City Limits article, "Test Fuels Anxiety-And An Industry", Farah Akbar discusses about the rapid growth of test-prep centers throughout Jackson Heights, Queens in response to a high demand for test excellence from New York City's local Bangladeshi community. The community (comprised of 28,000 individuals in NYC alone) was known to be the fastest growing Asian-American subgroup in the US during the 1990's. Like many other Asian immigrant groups before it, Bangladeshis view higher education as being the only way towards success in the US. In NYC 94% of Bangladeshi kids attend school compared to 79% of city kids in total.

Once in middle school the pressure to succeed academically begins for most Bangladeshi students when they are persuaded by parents to prepare for the Specialized High School Admissions Test, or "Sci-Hi" test for short. This exam is administered for free by the New York City Department of Education and taken by both eighth- and ninth-grade students.

Taking this test is mandatory for admissions into the following Specialized Public High Schools throughout New York City: Stuyvesant High School, Bronx High School of Science, Brooklyn Technical High School, High School for Math, Science and Engineering at City College, High School for American Studies at Lehman College, Queens High School for Sciences at York College, Brooklyn Latin School and Staten Island Technical High School. The exam, consisting of both math and verbal sections, is so competitive that only one in five NYC students can ever hope to get admitted into these specialized high schools.

Although the NYC Department of Education offers free classes to economically needy students in preparation for the "Sci-Hi' exam most Bangladeshi families opt towards paying for such classes, hence the growth over the years of private test-prep centers around Jackson Heights. On the block of 73rd Street alone there are six such centers, most of them owned and operated by fellow Bangladeshis.

Despite there being so many tutoring options however, very little is known about how qualified these facilities really are towards helping students excel. Bad quality can be economically detrimental for Bangladeshi families, many of whom are from lower working-class socioeconomic backgrounds. In a future article I will do a profile of one such center located in Woodside, Queens named Mr. Kamal's Tutorial.

As a native New Yorker from this same ethnic community, I could certainly relate to much of what this article touches upon, seeing as how growing up my family also used to drill it into my head that getting admitted into one of these top schools was an absolute necessity (back then there were only three specialized schools namely Stuyvesant, Bronx Science and Brooklyn Tech). At that time local test-prep centers didn't exist so I had to tutor myself, by spending the summer before eighth-grade constantly taking and retaking a bunch of practice exams found in books either bought or borrowed from the library. All that studying did manage to pay off because I wound up eventually getting admitted to (and attending) at least one specialized high school.

So now I have a question for readers who have experience taking test-prep classes (for any exams, not just the "Sci-Hi" test mentioned here). Was it really worth the time and money to take such classes, or do you feel you would have been better off just studying on your own? Please join me in discussing this at the discussion board.


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