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Changes in admission rules for Boston exam schools boosted diversity of accepted students

Last fall, protesters demanding to keep the admission test in place for exam schools rallied at Boston Latin School.Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff/file

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A temporary change in the admissions criteria for Boston’s exam schools increased the diversity of the accepted applicants, particularly boosting the percentages of Black, Latino, and low-income students, according to data released Friday.

The data analysis confirms earlier projections that temporarily suspending the admissions exam and instead using grades and ZIP codes would lead to a more diverse selection of applicants and lower the portion of white and Asian students receiving admission offers.


The data come as Boston Public Schools consider whether to make the change permanent, a controversial move that has already drawn a lawsuit and complaints from some parents.

The portion of admission offers going to white applicants decreased to 26 percent this year from 33 percent last year. For Asian applicants, acceptances dropped to 16 percent this year from 21 percent last year, according to data released by the school department.

By contrast, the portion of acceptances sent to Black applicants rose to 24 percent this year from 18 percent last year, and those going to Latino applicants increased to 28 percent this year from 24 percent last year.

The data do not include a racial breakdown of acceptances at each institution: Boston Latin School, Boston Latin Academy, and the O’Bryant School of Math and Science.

School officials released the data at a meeting of an exam school task force charged with recommending permanent changes to the admission process. The School Committee is aiming to adopt the permanent changes in time for the next admission cycle.

Task force members asked a range of questions about the data, revealing little about whether elements of the temporary plan would be something they would like to make permanent. They also requested additional data analysis for future meetings.


“Obviously, the task force has an awful lot of work ahead of it,” said Michael Contompasis, co-chair of the task force and former superintendent and head of Latin School. “It won’t be easy. There’ll be lots of discussion, and, hopefully, we will reach consensus at the appropriate moment.”

The Boston School Committee last October temporarily dropped the admission test for the exam schools because members said it was not safe to administer the test in person during the pandemic.

Instead, students are being admitted into exam schools for this fall based on their grades and where they live. Under the plan, most seats are being allocated by ZIP code, giving top priority to areas with the lowest median family income. The number of seats per ZIP code is proportionate to the share of school-age children living there.

The Boston Parent Coalition for Academic Excellence Corp. filed a lawsuit in February on behalf of 14 white and Asian students, arguing the plan was discriminatory against them because the ZIP code allocations would likely decrease the chances of applicants from those backgrounds securing seats while Black and Latino applicants would see their odds increase.

Last month, a federal district court judge ruled the temporary plan was constitutional, writing that the use of ZIP codes “does not have the effect of subjecting students to discrimination because of their race.”


The parents group has filed an appeal to the decision in the First Circuit Court of Appeals. While the outcome of the case is pending, a panel of three judges denied the group’s request for an injunction to prevent Boston school officials from making admission decisions. The school system sent out admission letters last week.

William Hurd, an attorney for the parents group, suggested in a statement that the school department analysis reinforces his clients’ concerns.

“The goal of the Zip Code Quota Plan was to reduce the opportunity for Asian and White students to attend the Exam Schools, by limiting competition for 80 percent of the seats,” he said. ”The Boston School Committee achieved — indeed, surpassed — its goal. We continue to believe that such racial gerrymandering violates the constitutional right to equal protection.”

The applicant pool for the next school year was considerably smaller, with 2,426 applicants vying for seats in grades 7 and 9, compared to 4,010 for fall 2020. Fewer students also got in — 1,314 received acceptances this year, compared to 1,433 for last fall.

Monica Roberts, the school system’s chief of student, family & community advancement, attributed the decrease in applications to the suspension of the admission exam, which was administered for the first time in the fall of 2019 in all schools with sixth grades. She also said fewer acceptances went out because the district anticipates more students will accept the offers.


But some parents and admission consultants suspect more students might turn down offers this year.

“I have a number of families who got a seat at the exam schools and have decided to turn it down, because they no longer have faith in the system,” said Anne Yount, a school-admission consultant in West Roxbury. “I only have one family who got an exam school seat who intends to accept it. I wonder if this will result in the exam schools being under subscribed this year.”

Applicants currently enrolled in the Boston school system fared much better than previous years. Three-quarters of them received admission offers, compared to 65 percent last year. The data analysis suggests the increase could reflect the ZIP code allocations, with some areas with the lowest median family income, such as Dorchester, Roxbury, and Mattapan, receiving more invitations than last year.

Other disadvantaged student groups saw increases. Of the all the admission offers, 48 percent went to low-income students this year, compared to 33 percent last year.

Admissions for students with disabilities increased from 2 percent last year to 5 percent this year; students learning English fluency grew from 1 percent to 8 percent; and homeless students getting in rose from 2 percent to 6 percent this year, according to the data.

Several parents voiced frustrations about the temporary admission plan during the task force meeting. A Jamaica Plain mother noted that students with a grade point average equivalent to an A minus had been rejected from all the exam schools. She was concerned that students living in affordable housing in the neighborhood may have been disadvantaged by the ZIP code caps.


“In my heart, I know that the halls of the exam schools, especially Latin School could be more diverse, and we learned by tonight’s presentation that this has been achieved for the upcoming school year, but the way we got here has devastated hard-working kids and up-ended family plans,” she said. “Lower-income kids with good grades in high-income ZIP codes will suffer the most. The exodus to charter and private schools and to the suburbs has already started.”

A South Boston sixth-grader spoke against permanently adopting the ZIP code allocations.

“Although I’m very lucky that I received an invitation to attend Boston Latin this fall, some of my brightest classmates were not offered invitations, merely because of the ZIP code in which they live,” the sixth-grader said.

Globe correspondent Jeremy C. Fox contributed to this report.

James Vaznis can be reached at james.vaznis@globe.com. Follow him @globevaznis.