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Boston School Committee member pushes for changes to exam school admissions

Seventh grade students in some areas of the city could not win admission into Boston Latin School last spring if they did not receive bonus points to their application based on the school they attended or other factors.John Tlumacki

A member of the Boston School Committee on Wednesday pushed for further changes to improve lower-income students’ chances in exam school admissions, just one year into the district’s overhauled admissions process for the prestigious schools.

Superintendent Mary Skipper and committee Chairwoman Jeri Robinson made clear at Wednesday’s meeting that no changes would be made in this school year. Members had a spirited discussion over a push by Brandon Cardet-Hernandez to award bonus points to low-income students individually rather than awarding points to students who attend high-poverty schools.

The current system was approved by the School Committee two years ago in an effort to make Boston Latin School, Boston Latin Academy, and the O’Bryant School of Math and Science better reflect the district’s student body. Last year was the policy’s first year in full effect. District data show the policy has diversified the schools.

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The policy called for a review in five years. But much of the board has turned over in just two years, with Cardet-Hernandez among the new arrivals.

The committee opted to award points based on where a student attends school because of concerns that collecting student-level income data would be difficult or push families away from applying.

“We have a lot of experience and knowledge of large programs that show that creating more barriers at application works against those aims” of targeting those most in need, said Apryl Clarkson, the district’s executive director of data and accountability.

The bonus points are added to a student’s composite score, which is based on their grades and test scores. The district awarded 10 bonus points to applicants who attended high-poverty schools and 15 points to applicants who live in certain public housing, who are homeless, or who are in the care of the Department of Children and Families.

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Applicants are also divided into eight tiers based on the socioeconomic factors of their neighborhoods, such as percent of persons living in poverty and educational attainment levels, and they compete within tiers.

Cardet-Hernandez noted that in admissions for the current school year, students in tier seven, the second-most-affluent tier, could not gain access to Boston Latin School without bonus points. That meant poor students who attended the seven more affluent BPS schools could not get in, he said.

“It’s a bad policy,” Cardet-Hernandez said. And we know it, the data is in front of us.”

Skipper said the data on the first year of the full system “raised concerns” but said she was not recommending any changes for now.

“We need more data to understand if something is an anomaly or trend that needs to be addressed,” Skipper said.

Cardet-Hernandez said he didn’t need any data, because he opposed a policy where some low-income students don’t get bonus points but some high-income students do.

Other members of the committee said they were also concerned about the bonus points, but had mixed views on Cardet-Hernandez’s proposal to let applicants self-report income. Member Stephen Alkins appeared open to allowing families to provide more data, while member Quoc Tran said he would oppose requiring self-reporting income.

Vice-chairman Michael O’Neill said he was “nervous about tinkering on the edges” while the district is facing a lawsuit over an interim admission policy used during the depths of the pandemic.

The committee also heard a number of public comments from parents who shared Cardet-Hernadez’s concerns about the bonus points, including several whose children had not gotten into the schools they wanted.

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Christopher Huffaker can be reached at christopher.huffaker@globe.com. Follow him @huffakingit.