Boston Public Schools recently informed students whether they met the criteria to apply to the city’s exam schools, but the district gave several dozen the wrong information.
In a letter sent to families with rising seventh graders this week, BPS said it discovered there was a miscalculation in the grade point averages to determine eligibility for the prospective students.
The error is not expected to affect the admissions timeline for Boston Latin School, Boston Latin Academy, and the O’Bryant School of Math and Science, but it does add another layer of stress for families navigating the complex admissions process. It also has the potential to slow down overall seventh-grade school assignments if the GPA error proves harder to correct than officials currently believe.
Here is what to know.
How is exam school eligibility determined?
BPS adopted a complex new exam school admissions process for seventh-grade applicants in July 2021, and this school year was the first full year of its implementation. Students must have a GPA of at least a B to be eligible. They then receive a composite score, with grades counting for 70 percent and the other 30 percent based on an admissions test: the MAP Growth assessment. Students are 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.
The admissions test for exam schools was administered in June and December 2022. Students are notified in March, or in this instance April, whether their GPA was high enough to be eligible. Then a few weeks later they find out if they received an invitation from a school.
When did the district realize something was wrong?
Last week, families were informed whether their children were eligible to apply to BPS exam schools, but the district “used the wrong methodology” and found an error in how GPAs for 67 rising seventh graders were calculated. The district had hired the Boston area firm Borderland Partners to verify the accuracy of the data but the firm failed to catch the error. The district then brought in the city’s auditing department to verify the new calculations.
BPS Superintendent Mary Skipper told the Globe she was unsure how the mistake initially was discovered but believes a family may have brought it to the district’s attention. She also said any changes to GPAs based on the corrected calculations will be minor and most students’ GPAs will be unchanged.
What was the error?
Mayor Michelle Wu, speaking Thursday on WGBH’s “Boston Public Radio,” gave additional detail on how exactly the calculation went wrong. This year is the first time the district is using two years’ worth of grades for exam school admissions, and the error was in how they were averaged.
“The new system was technically not being implemented [by the district] how it had been promised to be,” Wu said.
According to the district fact sheet, the GPA for each school year should first be averaged separately, and then the two years should be averaged together. Wu appeared to say that instead, the district averaged grades for all classes across the two school years in a single calculation. Only math and English are considered from Grade 5, while science and social studies are also considered from Grade 6, so the incorrect calculation would have put too much weight on Grade 6. This would help students who did better academically in sixth grade and hurt those who did better in Grade 5.
In an example given on the fact sheet, the student’s correct GPA was 9.25, which is a B+ average, while the incorrect calculation would have given them a GPA of 8, a B average.
Who are the students impacted?
Forty-one students were wrongly notified they were not eligible to apply, while 26 were incorrectly informed that they were. New eligibility notices based on correct GPAs will be sent by the end of the week.
Of the 26 students who are not eligible, four are from charter schools and the other 22 are students enrolled in the city’s traditional public schools. The 22 also are reflective of the BPS student population in terms of race, gender, and current school, Skipper said.
What happens next?
Skipper told the School Committee Wednesday night that school officials directly contacted affected families Wednesday and that the district is allowing them to resubmit their school choice forms, providing them the opportunity to learn more about the admissions process for other high schools in BPS.
Prospective exam school students already sent in their applications since students had to submit their ranked school choices in January, and Boston residents attending other schools did so in the fall. So those students now must wait to see whether they are admitted into one of the exam schools, but don’t need to take further action. Other students could see their hopes dashed if they were wrongly told they were eligible.
“We recognize that this mistake impacts not just the students most directly affected, but it also impacts the trust our families have in BPS,” Skipper said. “I’m committed to rebuilding that trust in addressing challenges transparently as they come up.”
Do you have a BPS student who was impacted by a GPA miscalculation? If so, we want to hear from you.