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Testing program to expand, increase Latin School access

A photo and quote display was “designed to show that BLS students embrace their diversity.”
A photo and quote display was “designed to show that BLS students embrace their diversity.”Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

The Boston Public Schools will expand a free test preparation program for students trying to earn a spot in one of the city’s competitive exam schools, in part through contributions from a foundation created by Mayor Martin J. Walsh, the mayor announced on Wednesday.

The Exam School Initiative, a free study program housed at Boston Latin School, will expand as early as this summer from 450 students to 750 students. In addition, the program will specifically try to recruit students from schools that are underrepresented in the current Exam School Initiative, officials said.

The news followed a report in Sunday’s Boston Globe that showed the district had stopped reaching out to find promising students for the Exam School Initiative even though the program had proved successful at boosting black and Latino enrollment at Boston Latin School in the years after racial quotas were invalidated.

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Though the test preparation program continues today, recruitment does not, and 72 percent of participants are white or Asian, “which is quite opposite of what our district is,” said Colin Rose, the Boston Public Schools’ assistant superintendent of opportunity and achievement gaps, a new position created in November.

“I think when we look at not only the demographics but the schools and neighborhoods that were being served by the program as it stood, it was not equitable when you looked at a map of Boston,” said Rose.

“Equity requires people to be intentional about targeting. I think this program is kind of an example of it,” Rose said. “I don’t think there were bad intentions for the way it was run in the past, but if we’re not intentionally trying to be equitable, we’re going to fall back to being inequitable automatically.”

The issue of diversity within Boston Latin School emerged early this year after two black students launched a social media campaign spotlighting racial insensitivities there. The US Attorney’s Office opened an investigation into allegations of racial acts.

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The Globe reported Sunday that diversity has plummeted at Boston Latin School, the city exam school with the toughest admissions criteria, but not the other two exam schools, Boston Latin Academy or O’Bryant School of Mathematics and Science. Black students now make up just 8.5 percent of the student body at Boston Latin, the city’s most prestigious public school.

Though the Exam School Initiative has no direct bearing on who gets into the exam schools, it is aimed at helping students prepare for the rigorous entrance exams that, along with their grades in school, determine who wins entrance to the competitive public schools.

The program includes a two-week summer boot camp and classes on autumn Saturdays to prepare for the exams.

“The expansion of the Exam School Initiative is an important step forward in helping build a more diverse student body in our most highly sought schools,” Walsh said in a statement. “It is critical that all of the city’s youth have access to a high-quality education — they deserve nothing less.”

The Exam School Initiative is funded by the Boston Public Schools and the Boston Latin School Association, an alumni and friends group that supports Boston Latin School. The expansion will be funded by the association and a charitable foundation that the mayor helped form, the Boston Public Schools announced on Wednesday. Neither party could state the total cost of the expansion.

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“Details of the funding are still being finalized, however, Boston Public Schools anticipates receiving a generous contribution of at least $65,000 or more between the two organizations,” said Gabrielle Farrell, a spokeswoman for the Boston Public Schools.

A mayoral spokeswoman said $25,000 of the cost will be provided by the MJW Charitable Foundation, the charity Walsh formed last year to support organizations that invest in education, health, and the community. Contributions are raised by an annual golf tournament.

The expansion will bring in an extra 300 children, who will be drawn from Boston schools that aren’t currently sending many students to the Exam School Initiative, Rose said.

Some logistics have yet to be worked out, and the district is up against a deadline for this summer’s program. The Exam School Initiative typically hosts an open house for potential participants in May, inviting the top 600 performers on fifth-grade standardized tests to consider participating in August.


Stephanie Ebbert can be reached at Stephanie.Ebbert@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @StephanieEbbert.