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Boston Public Schools pick new exam schools entrance test

Boston Latin School.
Boston Latin School.Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

Boston Public Schools has selected a new entrance test for the city’s three prestigious exam schools, officials said Thursday, after scrapping the previous test earlier this year amid criticism that it was biased against Black and Latino students and others who lack the resources to prepare.

The school department selected a test designed by NWEA, an Oregon-based test development nonprofit, that is untimed and measures student progress in math, reading, and language use, officials said in a statement.

Material on NWEA’s Measures of Academic Progress Growth test is closely aligned with statewide curriculum standards, and NWEA provided evidence demonstrating “that the assessment is valid for use with diverse student populations as evidenced by a breadth of bias reviews and statistical analyses,” the school department said.

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Superintendent Brenda Cassellius said NWEA shares the School Department’s goal of making the city’s exam schools — Boston Latin Academy, Boston Latin School, and John D. O’Bryant School of Mathematics and Science — more diverse.

“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,” Cassellius said in the statement. “Administering this new entrance test is an important step forward in expanding access to the exam schools for all students.”

The MAP Growth test provides teachers with data on student progress during the school year, the department said, and it includes accommodations for students with disabilities and those learning English.

Chris Minnich, the chief executive of NWEA, said the organization’s mission is “Partnering to help all kids learn.”

“This begins by making the needs of all students more visible to educators, so they can take action in support of students who have not had the same opportunities as their peers,” Minnich said. “We believe that measures like MAP Growth, along with other measures, can help address bias and create a high school system that values diversity and fairness.”

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The exam was chosen after Boston Public Schools issued a request for proposals in February seeking a new test, following a public split with its previous test vendor, Educational Records Bureau.

The bureau had announced that it was severing ties with the school district, its biggest client, accusing the district of misusing the exam results in a way that makes it more difficult for “underrepresented” students to gain entry to the exam schools. School officials said they walked away in hopes of getting a more equitable test.

Two other firms submitted proposals by the school department’s May deadline: Strategic Measurement and Evaluation and Riverside Assessments.

The district has long been criticized for its use of the previous test, known as the Independent School Entrance Exam which covers material not in the BPS curriculum and critics charge places Boston’s Black and Latino students at a disadvantage.

Boston schools are more than 70 percent Black and Latino, but the most prestigious exam school, Boston Latin School, remains majority white and Asian. The other two, Boston Latin Academy and the John D. O’Bryant School of Mathematics and Science, are more reflective of district demographics.

Material from previous Globe coverage was used in this report.


Jeremy C. Fox can be reached at jeremy.fox@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jeremycfox.