More low-income students gain access to Boston exam schools after admissions policy changes

The outcome for low-income students was slightly better than last year, when a temporary admissions plan based on student postcodes was in place.

The demographics of those receiving offers of admission to the highly competitive Boston Latin School have also changed significantly. The share going to black candidates rose to 22% from 6% two years ago, while that sent to Latino candidates rose to 21% from 12% two years ago.

By contrast, the share of Latin school seventh-grade invitations to white applicants fell by more than half, to 23% for next fall, from 50% for fall 2020, while invitations to applicants Asians increased by 2 percentage points to 29%.

“The primary focus of our work at BPS over the past three years has been to increase access to a wide variety of opportunities for all of our students, especially those who have faced barriers for too long,” said Superintendent Brenda Cassellius said in a statement. . “It’s incredibly gratifying to know that the policy is working as intended and that, as a result, more Boston students have a fairer chance at a great education.”

Yet overall, applications for admission to grade seven have dropped significantly. The three exam schools received 1,283 for next fall, up from 1,666 last year under the postcode plan and 2,833 two years ago under the old policy. admission.

It is unclear why applications have declined. Boston school officials planned to present the exam school admissions data at a school committee meeting Wednesday night, but the board lacked a quorum and all business and all reports have been postponed.

Speculation had been simmering for months that BPS had a shortage of applications for next fall and was reaching out after the application deadline to eligible students, encouraging them to apply. In March, in response to questions from The Globe, BPS did not say whether it had enough applications.

In many parts of the city, nearly all eligible applicants, and in some cases all eligible seventh-grade applicants, have received offers of admission. Candidates had to score a B or better to qualify. A number of parents have complained that the information provided by BPS about the application process on its website for next year was difficult to navigate.

Additionally, the district has seen declining enrollment, including in sixth grade, where most students enroll in exam schools.

Overall, 67% of the 1,283 seventh-graders received an invitation to their first-choice school, 8% to their second-choice school, and 3% to their third-choice school, while 22% did not. did not receive an invitation.

In grade 9, applications for examination school seats were more turbulent. Applications have increased this year, with 984 received in total, compared to last year, but they are down significantly from two years ago. Overall, 28% of ninth-graders received an invitation to their first-choice school, 8% to their second-choice school, 7% to their third-choice school, and 57% did not receive an invitation. invitation.

Under the old policy, admission was based on grades and standardized test scores. For the past two years, however, only grades have been used in the admissions process due to the learning disruptions created by the pandemic. The test will be used again for the admissions process in the fall of 2023 and applicants can take the test next month.

The introduction of bonus points has been widely embraced by civil rights advocates and many parents who say it helps level the playing field for test takers who lack the financial means to prepare for tests and who tend not to do as well on standardized tests.

But many other families argue the bonus points are unfair and potentially redundant and have lobbied to have them eliminated. It is of particular concern that large numbers of middle-class families may obtain bonuses intended to benefit low-income claimants.

Under the policy, any applicant from a school where 40% or more of students live in households receiving government assistance can earn 10 bonus points in the admissions process, regardless of whether they come from a higher-income household. raised. The vast majority of BPS schools qualify for bonus points. Those that do not include Kilmer and Lyndon K-8 Schools in West Roxbury and Eliot K-8 School in the North End.

Applicants who are homeless, live in public housing estates, or are in the care of the state Department of Children and Families are also eligible for 15 bonus points. However, applicants can only leverage one set of bonus points in the admissions process.

The policy also aims to reshape the demographics of those who gain admission in another meaningful way. For the first time, applicants are divided into eight separate admissions pools, or tiers, based on the socio-economic factors of where they live, so that ideally only applicants of similar means compete against each other.

Taken together, the changes had significant impacts on who entered and who did not enter, and bonus points played a significant role. For seventh-year applicants, 81% of admission offers went to those who earned bonus points, giving them an advantage. In comparison, candidates with bonus points made up a smaller share of the candidate pool, 69%.

The most dramatic changes in admission results in wards that have historically captured the largest share of seats. At Tier 8, which had the highest number of applicants and includes long-time powerhouse West Roxbury in the exam admissions process, only 34% of applicants qualified for bonus points. Consequently, less than half of the applicants received offers of admission.

At Levels 2 and 3, where almost all seventh-year candidates earned bonus points, every candidate entered examination schools, while almost all candidates at Levels 1, 4, 5 and 6, where rates high students qualified for bonus points, received offers of admission.

In a statement, Jeri Robinson, chair of the school committee, said she was encouraged by the results.

“The new admissions policy provides a transformational opportunity for many students to attend our exam schools who otherwise might not have had the chance,” Robinson said. “This new policy opens the door to many of our students while ensuring the high level of rigor that exam schools are known for.”

The Great Divide team explores educational inequality in Boston and across the state. Sign up to receive our newsletterand send ideas and advice to [email protected].

James Vaznis can be contacted at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @globevaznis.

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