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Boston Public Schools Announces Exam School Admissions Criteria Working Group

Parents, Educators, and Community Leaders Will Advise the District on Exam School Admissions for the 2021 - 2022 School Year

On August 1, Boston Public Schools (BPS) Superintendent Brenda Cassellius announced the membership of a new Exam School Admissions Criteria Working Group. The Boston School Committee discussed the appointment of the group at the July 22, 2020 meeting to make recommendations regarding the 2020 - 2021 admissions criteria for the district’s three exam schools (for students who would start at an exam school in September 2021) in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on student learning.

The Working Group is charged with developing and submitting a recommendation to the Superintendent on revised exam school admissions criteria for the school year starting in September 2021. The three BPS exam schools are Boston Latin Academy, Boston Latin School, and John D. O’Bryant School of Mathematics and Science.

The membership of the Working Group includes:

  • Samuel Acevedo, Opportunity and Achievement Gap Task Force Co-Chair
  • Acacia Aguirre, John D. O’Bryant parent 
  • Michael Contompasis, Former Boston Latin School Headmaster and Former BPS Interim Superintendent
  • Tanisha Sullivan, President, NAACP Boston
  • Tanya Freeman-Wisdom, John D. O’Bryant Head of School 
  • Katherine Grassa, Curley K-8 Principal
  • Zena Lum, Boston Latin Academy parent
  • Rachel Skerritt, Boston Latin School, Head of School

"The Boston School Committee appreciates the Superintendent's focus on equity in forming this Working Group to address the urgent needs presented by the current pandemic," said Chairperson Michael Loconto. "This Working Group is composed of deeply experienced and dedicated educators, parents, alumni and community advocates from across Boston, and we thank them for taking on this delicate task on behalf of our kids."

The Working Group will hold its first meeting next week and will submit recommendations to the Superintendent by September 21, 2020. The eight-member Working Group will be facilitated by Monica Roberts, BPS Chief of Student, Family, and Community Advancement. Members were selected based on their knowledge and expertise and have agreed to serve through the completion of the charge, and possibly beyond. The Working Group will be supported by staff from the Office of Data and Accountability, the Office of Equity, and Welcome Services who are most knowledgeable about the exam schools’ admission process, criteria, and related efforts. 

“In this time, as we examine all policies with an antiracist lens and with equity at the forefront, I am looking forward to a thoughtful and thorough discussion on exam school admissions and the goal of ensuring our Black and Brown students have the same opportunity and access. I’m grateful to this Working Group for dedicating their time to ensure we have a fair process,” said Superintendent Cassellius. “We must continue to do everything we can to ensure the COVID-19 pandemic does not prevent our students from access to the education they deserve.”

All three exam schools serve students in grades 7-12. BPS provides the admissions exam for students interested in attending the exam schools in the fall of each year. The test is available to all Boston residents in grades 6, 8, and 9. BPS recently entered into a contract with a new testing vendor to address identified issues with equity and bias with the previous test. In addition to the test, a student’s grade point average is considered as part of the admissions process. The district adopted a pass/fail grading system during the period of remote learning at the close of the 2019-2020 academic year, which impacts the calculation of grade point averages used in the current admissions process. 

BPS has taken several steps over the years to increase equitable access to the exam schools. The district administered the entrance exam to BPS sixth-grade students in their home schools for the first time in 2019. 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.

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.