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THE GREAT DIVIDE

Here’s how Boston’s new exam school admission process works

The Boston School Committee is slated to vote Wednesday night on changes to the exam school admission process.
The Boston School Committee is slated to vote Wednesday night on changes to the exam school admission process.John Tlumacki

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The Boston School Committee voted Wednesday night on the biggest permanent changes to the exam school admission process in more than two decades. The new process was developed by a task force over the last five months and will be phased in over the next two years. It is far more complex than the current policy that allocates seats to applicants in rank order of their grades and entrance exam scores, each carrying equal weight.

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Here’s a rundown on what the new process will look like for seventh-grade applicants once it’s fully enacted, starting with those seeking to enroll at Boston Latin School, Boston Latin Academy, and the O’Bryant School of Math and Science for the 2023-24 school year. The process outlined below reflects the final recommendations released by Boston Superintendent Brenda Cassellius Wednesday afternoon.

Who’s eligible?

Any sixth grader in the city can apply, but it will be academically competitive. Applicants will need to have at least a B average. Grades will count for 70 percent of the composite score and standardized test results will make up 30 percent. Students will be judged on their grades from the first part of their sixth-grade year in English, math, science, and social studies as well as their grades in fifth grade in English and math.

What entrance exam will be used?

It is expected the district will use the MAP Growth test as the entrance exam, which the district currently has a contract to use as an entrance exam but has not administered yet in that capacity. The new policy, however, gives the superintendent the authority to change the test if she chooses to do so. The test likely will be administered twice — in the spring and the fall — and students can use their highest score. Applicants enrolled in the Boston Public Schools can take the exam during the school day, while applicants from other schools can take it on a weekend.

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Will the BPS consider any other factors?

Yes. In an effort to boost the chances of low-income students getting admitted to the exam schools, the BPS will bump up the composite score for applicants from a public or private school where at least 40 percent of the students are designated as economically disadvantaged, meaning their families qualify for government assistance. (The threshold is based on the same criteria the federal government uses to dole out Title I grant dollars to high-poverty schools.)

But the measure has downsides that could undermine its goal: Middle-class applicants from these schools also would get this perk, while low-income applicants from low-poverty schools would not be eligible for it.

To help offset this to some degree, the proposal also calls for an additional 15 points for students living in BHA housing, experiencing homelessness, or in DCF care. (These students would not qualify for the high-poverty school perk.)

How will admission decisions be made?

This is where the admission process could become more complicated.

Applicants would be divided into eight tiers based on the socioeconomic conditions of the area of the city they live in. The goal is to increase the likelihood of applicants of similar backgrounds competing against each other for seats. The eight tiers would be based on census tracts that weigh such factors as percentage of persons below poverty, percentage of households not occupied by the owner, percentage of families headed by a single parent, percentage of households where English is not the primary language spoken, and educational attainment levels.

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The BPS would begin its seat allocations with students in the lowest socio-economic tier and work its way up to the most affluent tier. The tiers are proportionally sized based on the number of school-aged children in grades 5-8 living in each census tract. Seats would be allocated in ten rounds in rank order of applicants’ composite scores.

What’s different for the 2022-23 school year?

Most of the new admission policy would be used for the upcoming admission cycle. However, due to disruptions in learning during the pandemic, the entrance exam would be suspended again, and only grades from the first part of the upcoming school year would be used. Students with a B average or higher would be eligible for consideration in the admission process.


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