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BPS Seeks Exam School Admissions Test

BOSTON — Tuesday, February 18, 2020 — The Boston Public Schools (BPS) today issued a Request for Proposals (RFP) for an admissions assessment for its three high schools that require an exam as one part of the admissions criteria. The “examination schools,” Boston Latin Academy, Boston Latin School, and John D. O’Bryant School of Mathematics and Science all serve students in grades 7-12. The goal of the new RFP is to ensure a fair test that is aligned to Massachusetts curriculum standards, is bias-free, and measures student knowledge and readiness for a rigorous high school curriculum. Securing a new test is the district’s next step forward in furthering equitable access to the exam schools, particularly for Black and Latinx students who have historically been underrepresented. 

“It’s important that any student who wishes to attend one of Boston’s exam schools is well-prepared and has an equitable pathway to do so,” said Mayor Walsh. “We have made significant progress in recent years to expand access to the test for exam schools, and this RFP is another opportunity for BPS to continue that important work.”

The exam is available to all Boston residents in grades 6, 8, and 9, including students who are not currently enrolled in a BPS school. BPS provides the admissions exam to interested students for these three schools. Due to the current vendor contract ending, BPS began the process of developing a new RFP last school year, which is required by law in order to contract with an organization for the admissions exam.   

"Creating more equitable opportunities for students to get a great education is one of our most important priorities,” said BPS Superintendent Brenda Cassellius. “We believe the new RFP will help level the playing field for students seeking admission to our exam schools by offering a test that actually assesses student’s knowledge of content they’re taught in class and has been rigorously reviewed to ensure it is free of bias. This is a good next step in our efforts to make sure our exam school student body is representative of all the students BPS serves.”

BPS has taken several steps over the years to increase equitable access to the exam schools. This school year, the district administered the entrance exam to BPS sixth-grade students in their home schools. This change allowed students to take the test in a familiar environment and have the test administered by educators they know. Previously, students taking the entrance test had to travel to one of a handful of testing locations on a Saturday morning. Next year, BPS will administer the exam in-school for both sixth-grade and eighth-grade students.

BPS has also addressed equitable access and student representation at the exam schools by creating and expanding the BPS entrance test prep program, Exam School Initiative (ESI), which focuses on serving Black, Latinx, English Learner, and economically disadvantaged students. With the support of Mayor Walsh and the Boston Latin School Association, the ESI program expanded from serving 400 students in 2014 to serving 775 in 2019. In addition, the BPS Office of Opportunity Gaps overhauled the direction of the program in 2017 and made important changes to ESI recruitment that resulted in enrollment shifts. While in the summer of 2014, 45% of ESI students were White, in 2019 almost half (49%) of ESI students were Latinx or Black.

BPS has also expanded communication efforts to inform families about the exam school admissions process. This includes multilingual emails and automated and personal phone calls to parents/guardians. In 2016, BPS decreased the number of forms of identification that students are required to possess to take the ISEE from two to one. Previously, a requirement of two forms of identification, such as a social security card or birth certificate, presented a barrier to some students’ participation.

“BPS is committed to ensuring equitable access to rigorous learning environments for all our students, and has worked for many years to increase the diversity of our exam schools,” said Boston School Committee Chairperson Michael Loconto. "We began offering free test preparation courses a number of years ago, and earlier this school year we began in-school administration of the entrance exam for sixth-graders and free T passes for grades 7-12 to minimize transportation barriers. As we continue to look at other ways to increase access to advanced academics across high schools, this search for a new assessment is another important step forward.”

To develop the RFP, BPS participated in an extensive process that included input and recommendations from an internal working group, as well as community feedback, with the goal of ensuring the RFP results in an assessment that tests students on material they have learned in school. BPS is asking all interested vendors that submit a proposal to demonstrate their assessment is aligned to Massachusetts state learning standards and is bias-free.

All three exam schools accept new students for grades 7 and 9. The O’Bryant School also accepts a limited number of new students for grade 10. The exam school admissions process will remain unchanged with admissions decisions continuing to be determined by a combination of exam scores and grade point averages (GPA). Families of students not currently enrolled in BPS are also required to confirm Boston residency.

For those already participating in test prep programs, BPS encourages parents to speak with the provider to ensure the materials are appropriate for the student’s grade and aligned to Massachusetts state curriculum standards. The best test prep is daily attendance in school and learning grade-level reading and math. 

More information on the BPS exam schools, including instructions to request a copy of the Request for Proposals, can be found here. BPS aims to award the new contract to a vendor in June 2020.