The call to consider more than the Specialized High School Admissions Test as criteria for admission has reached a fever pitch in New York City. But a new report suggests that if activists get what they want, the results might not be what they expect.

According to a new report from the Research Alliance for New York City Schools, admissions rules based on criteria other than the SHSAT would moderately alter the demographic mix of specialized high schools without lowering the academic achievement levels of students. But it wouldn’t improve the diversity of the schools on a significant scale and would actually decrease the number of Black students.

The study examined the routes students take from middle school to a specialized high school and simulated the effects of the various admissions criteria (state test scores, grades and attendance) that educational activists want included as alternatives to the current practice of using the SHSAT as the sole basis for admission.

“While there is a clear pattern of unequal access at the specialized schools, our findings suggest that a narrow focus on the SHSAT is unlikely to solve the problem,” said Sean Corcoran, associate professor of educational economics at NYU’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education and Human Development and the report’s author, in a statement. “Unfortunately, the disparities at these schools are symptomatic of larger, system-wide achievement gaps.”

According to the Research Alliance, 6 percent of New York City’s students will enter one of the eight specialized high schools, but the schools have faced constant criticism for its low numbers of female, Black and Latino students. Earlier this month, the New York City Department of Education released numbers revealing that only 5 percent of offers to attend specialized high schools this fall went to Black students and 7 percent went to Hispanic students, relatively unchanged from last year’s figures. Black and Latino students make up 70 percent of New York City’s eighth-graders. Asian students received 52 percent of the offers and white students received 28 percent. Out of 80,000 eighth-graders, 25,000 take the SHSAT annually, and 5,000 are offered admission.

Researchers also pointed to results that show more than half of all students admitted to a specialized high school came from just 5 percent of the city’s middle schools. But when controlled for students’ prior achievement, where the student attended middle school had little effect on the likelihood of admission to a specialized high school. According to the report, this finding is a bigger indictment of the uneven distribution of high-achieving and low-achieving students across the school system than of the schools themselves.

“Our analysis suggests there is room to increase the number of well-qualified students who successfully navigate the pathway into a specialized school,” said Corcoran. “Strategies that encourage top students to take the test, for example, or provide high-quality SHSAT preparation hold promise for improving access.”

Even when researchers compared students with the same level of prior achievement, there were disparities along the way to a specialized high school. Girls, Latinos and students eligible for free lunches were less likely to take the SHSAT, and Asians were more likely to take it. Girls who received an offer to attend a specialized high school were less likely to accept it, whereas Asians and students eligible for free lunches were more likely to accept it.

Latinos, Blacks, girls and students eligible for free lunches were less likely to receive an offer of admission.

So where does that leave the push for more criteria for admission to specialized high schools? James Kemple, executive director of the Research Alliance, said, “The real take-away here is that the lack of diversity in the specialized schools is a much bigger problem than ‘to test or not to test?’ We need to think more broadly about how to reduce inequality in New York City’s schools. Identifying strategies that create opportunities for traditionally disadvantaged students will be a primary focus of the Research Alliance’s work in coming years.”