The global COVID-19 pandemic posed many challenges to public education, disrupting critical aspects of how students access learning and interact with their school communities. As members of Boston Public Schools (BPS) banded together as a community on our response, several aspects of our work had to be reconsidered, including the admissions process for the district’s three exam schools: Boston Latin Academy, Boston Latin School, and the John D. O’Bryant School of Math and Science. Given that many families selected remote learning and there were changing guidelines from public health officials about gatherings of students, it became clear that administering the annual exam would pose a series of challenges.
The Superintendent formed a Working Group to develop recommendations on how to most equitably determine admissions to the exam schools. The Working Group reviewed current and historical admissions rates in Boston as well as models from other cities for increasing diversity and inclusion in their selective high schools. After meeting 13 times between August and October 2020, the Working Group presented a recommendation to the Superintendent that students be considered based on their grades and/or performance on the MCAS exams. Furthermore, the Working Group recommended assigning the first 20% of exam school seats in each school to the highest scoring students, citywide, and the remaining 80% of seats by highest GPA within zip codes. The stated goal of using zip codes was to ensure “that Boston’s exam schools can better reflect the socioeconomic, racial and geographic diversity of the City’s school age population,” increasing the number of students attending from traditionally underrepresented parts of the City.
The Boston School Committee voted unanimously to adopt the October 21, 2020 recommendation of the Working Group for a one-year admissions process that reviewed student grades and performance on MCAS exams from the previous year, rather than administering the entrance exam. BPS sent all exam school invitations, including the 20% citywide and remaining 80% to students for the 2021 - 2022 school year on April 28, 2021.
The results of our calculations show that the temporary admissions policy not only increased the number of invitations offered to students in historically underrepresented neighborhoods, it also increased the number of invitations sent to students who are English learners, students in special education programs, students in the care of the Department of Children and Families, and students experiencing homelessness.
This summary includes information on exam school applicants and invitees for the 2021-22 school year, including breakdowns by grade, race, school type, socioeconomic status and student groups, including English learners, students with disabilities and students experiencing homelessness.
Note on the decrease in applicants: The exam schools entrance exam was open to any student that wished to take it, which resulted in a larger applicant pool in previous years, especially after BPS introduced school-based testing in the fall of 2019. Additionally, in prior years, BPS had assigned “default” school choice rankings to students that took the entrance exam but did not rank any exam schools for the upcoming school year. BPS did not provide default school choice rankings this year, which resulted in a smaller applicant pool.
- Of 1,666 grade 7 applicants this year, 974 (58.5%) received an invitation.
- There were 760 grade 9 applicants this year, and 340 (44.7%) received an invitation.
Note on the decrease in invitations: BPS sent fewer invitations this year because we expect the temporary admissions process will lead to higher acceptance rates. In other words, the target enrollment has not changed from last year, but we expect a higher percentage of invited students to accept their seats.
- Socioeconomic Status: The percentage of invitations sent to economically disadvantaged students increased from 33% to 48% overall.
- Students Experiencing Homelessness: Students experiencing homelessness and students in the care of DCF also received more invitations, increasing from 29 invites last year to 73 this year.
- Race: The percentage of Black and Latinx students receiving an invitation increased between SY20-21 and SY21-22 by 6 and 4 percentage points, respectively.
- Sending School Type: Students from BPS schools make up 75% of invitations, which is an increase from 65% last year. Students from charter, private, parochial, and METCO schools comprise 25% of invitations.
- English Learners and Students with Disabilities: Students who are English learners and students in special education programs also received more invitations than in previous years. Students who are English learners received 109 invitations, up from 41 last year. Students in special education programs received 66 invitations this year, up from 34 last year.
- Zip Code: In some zip codes, there was little to no change in the number of invitations received this year. However, zip codes with the lowest median family income (with children under 18) received more invitations than last year, including zip codes in Dorchester, Roxbury, and Mattapan.
*Includes students in both the 20% and 80% rounds.
**The zip code including homeless students and students in the care of DCF was treated as having the lowest median family income with children under 18, and therefore was allocated seats first in the 10 rounds process.
Note: At the conclusion of the 10th round, any additional seats not filled in a particular zip code were allocated based on school age population to other zip codes.