Removing exams from exam schools undercuts education

While everyone can agree more minorities should be admitted to the Boston Public Exam Schools, no one in 50 years has come up with an amenable solution. The tug of war between academic standards of the public exam schools and the goal of more equity in opportunity for Boston’s Black and Latino public school students was revived by a recent back-door-COVID-crisis maneuver of the Boston School Committee Working Group on Oct. 8, which recommended that the “Exam” part of the admissions criteria be eliminated for School Year 2020-21 and 80% of the prospective seventh- and ninth-grade students be “invited” by a 10-round ZIP code “lottery.”

a statue in front of a building: BOSTON, MA. - FEBRUARY 6: Boston Latin School on February 6, 2020 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Staff Photo By Matt Stone/MediaNews Group/Boston Herald)

© Provided by Boston Herald
BOSTON, MA. – FEBRUARY 6: Boston Latin School on February 6, 2020 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Staff Photo By Matt Stone/MediaNews Group/Boston Herald)

In one stroke, a 55-year tradition of citywide entrance examinations would be eliminated. Throughout that period entry into the exam schools has rested upon two clear criteria:

(1) Grades in elementary or middle school (Grade Point Average or “GPA”);  and (2) the applicant’s score on an entrance exam; each element counted for 50% of the student’s qualification and invitation.

The thousands of prospective sixth- and eighth-grade parents never heard of this recommendation until a presentation by the working group to the School Committee on Oct. 8. The School Committee has not offered to hold public hearings on the matter before their final vote to accept the Working Groups recommendation on Oct. 21.

The Working Group, as an adjunct body appointed by the School Committee, characterizes its plan as a “one year only measure.” Yet the working group met 12 times and created an elaborate lottery system of “Invitations” — doesn’t sound like a one-year emergency procedure — it is an administratively complex procedure that smacks of permanence well after the COVID crisis has abated.

The elimination of the entrance exam is surprising in light of BPS Superintendent Brenda Cassellius’ written statement still posted on the BPS website from July 2: “I am excited to partner with NWEA and appreciate their desire to work with BPS on our shared goal of increasing the diversity of our exam schools.

“BPS has identified a fair assessment that is aligned to the Massachusetts state standards, tests students on material they have learned in school, and has been reviewed and validated for bias. Administering this new entrance test is an important step forward in expanding access to the exam schools for all students.”

Two thousand to 3,000 Boston sixth- and eighth-grade families have planned and anticipated this entrance exam as a gateway to academic rigorous and challenging exam schools. In a stunning quote, one of the School Committee members on Oct. 8 said as much in a YouTube video of the meeting: “Many of the white families’ children are receiving tutoring almost from the day they are born because many families are likely looking at “this” as a possibility. We know that there are communities where there is lots of extra tutoring

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