Some Boston parents cry foul over bonus points for exam school admission
Now, a number of parents whose children would miss the points are crying foul. They argue that the new approach gives a head start to the more affluent students at eligible schools, because BPS has set a low bar for defining a high-poverty school, creating unnecessary inequalities among middle-class applicants and even among some low-income students.
Under the admissions policy, applicants from schools where at least 40% of students are economically disadvantaged would receive the 10 bonus points. Under this definition, qualified applicants from all but half a dozen BPS schools would be eligible for bonus points, regardless of household income.
The new policy comes into effect for applicants seeking admission for next fall, with the BPS expecting to make decisions in April. Applicants will be required to have at least a B average and for next fall only, admission will be based solely on grades, which will be converted into a composite score of 100 points. Bonus points are in addition to this, increasing from 100 to 110. (An entrance test will resume for the next admissions cycle and composite score calculations will be readjusted.)
In a few cases, the difference between schools eligible for bonus points and those that are not is very small. Mendell Elementary School in Roxbury just hit the threshold with 40% of students classed as economically disadvantaged, while the Boston Teachers Union pilot school in Jamaica Plain missed it by about 2 percentage points.
“It’s a penalty. It’s not a bonus,” said Victoria Woodward Moore, mother of a sixth-grader at Manning Elementary School in Jamaica Plain, where less than a third of students are economically disadvantaged. “We are a very small school and we are collateral damage. BPS does not care about the consequences for the actual children at school.
Manning’s parents last week filed a lawsuit with the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, accusing the new admissions policy of discriminating against students with disabilities. (The Manning has a specialized program for students with socio-emotional disabilities.)
They also took aim at Mayor Michelle Wu, who expressed hesitation on campaign points, for failing to address the issue. They wonder if it’s because her children would get points for attending a BPS school where 57% of students are economically disadvantaged, despite her children, in kindergarten and grade one, being years away from school. school exam age.
“I voted for Mayor Wu – I have nothing against her – but I really don’t understand why Mayor Wu’s kids get points but we don’t,” said Daniel Noemi, who has two children at Manning.
And a parent at Eliot K-8 School in the North End started an online petition that also urges Wu to intervene and has garnered nearly 1,000 signatures so far.
While the school board approved the new admissions policy last summer, months before Wu took office, she expressed her apprehensions in October during an interview with WBUR Radio Boston regarding the Awarding bonus points to applicants based on school-wide student populations.
“I want the individual socio-economic situations of our students to be taken into account and I think that should be part of fairness within the system,” Wu said. “But I will. . . getting answers to the questions I asked around this particular room, with entire school communities being treated in this way or that way.
In a statement on Tuesday, Wu said she would not disrupt the admissions process this year.
“After many years of hard work, BPS deserves the opportunity to implement its admissions reforms,” Wu said. “I understand the anxiety some families feel about the points system and I am committed to look at it closely as we work to ensure equity and build more high-quality high schools across the city.”
The uproar is the latest over changes to the admissions process at Boston Latin School, Boston Latin Academy and O’Bryant School of Math and Science. Last year, a group of white and Asian families unsuccessfully sued BPS in federal district court over a one-year temporary admissions plan based on students’ zip codes. An appeal is pending.
Many are watching closely to see if the latest round of changes will attract another legal challenge.
For now, BPS is holding firm on bonus points, an advantage that did not exist under the old policy. BPS will also award 15 points to applicants who are homeless, cared for by the state Department of Children and Families, or living in public housing estates. (Applicants who qualify for both sets of bonus points will only receive the 15 points.)
“Our recently passed exam school admissions policy was designed to more evenly distribute access to the three exam schools across our city,” Sharra Gaston, a school spokeswoman, said in a statement. communicated.
A school department analysis last fall estimated that 54.5% of admissions offers would go to students who live in low-income households, up from 35% in 2020 under the old policy.
In addition to awarding bonus points, the new admissions process also groups applicants into eight tiers based on the socioeconomic conditions of their neighborhoods, so that ideally students of similar means compete against each other. Seats will be filled within each tier in rank order.
Previously, examination school seats were filled by a citywide ranking of grades and test scores, resulting in applicants from seven BPS schools receiving 47% of admissions offers, according to school department data. Most of these seven schools fall below the high poverty line.
The awarding of bonus points in the admissions process has been debated for years and often centered on whether all BPS applicants should be rewarded for not attending a parochial, private or charter school. Many critics have argued that this would be unfair because families resort to these options because BPS does not offer enough quality schools.
In an effort to reach a compromise, a school board task force last June offered both sets of bonus points as part of their sweeping recommendations to change the exam school admissions process. They believed the points could help offset resource disparities that exist between students at home and at school, as well as address concerns about grade inflation and racial and socio-economic biases in schools. standardized tests.
But the task force set a somewhat higher threshold for a very poor school – those with 50% or more of students classified as economically disadvantaged.
Superintendent Brenda Cassellius lowered the threshold to 40% in her final recommendations to align with federal standards for distributing aid to very poor schools. The BPS, however, operates under a waiver that allows the district to extend this federal funding to all BPS schools in recognition that they all teach students experiencing poverty, according to the Education Department. of State.
Rosann Tung, an independent researcher who was part of the task force, said there is room for improvement with bonus points, but notes that it is much better than the old system in which almost a dozen of BPS schools that enroll primarily low-income, Black, or Latino students have little to no admissions to exam schools.
“It’s not a perfect solution,” Tung said. “A more perfect solution for me if we’re still going to have review schools and a test and rank order is to weight children who are low income themselves, but we would need individual income data. “