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Diversity progress at elite exam schools is lagging, study says

A study released by several civil rights organizations challenges the progress toward diversity in admissions at Boston Latin School.Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff/File 2016/Globe Staff

Boston’s elite exam schools are not admitting enough students of color to reflect the racial diversity of the public school district, according to a study released Tuesday by several civil rights organizations.

Boston Latin School especially lags in the admission of minority students, while Boston Latin Academy and the John D. O’Bryant School of Mathematics and Science are faring better, the study found.

The breakdown of minority students admitted to BLS — where federal investigators last year found a climate of racial discrimination and harassment — is 11 percent black, 16 percent Latino, 43 percent white, and 26 percent Asian, according to the study.


Students admitted to Latin Academy are 23 percent black, 26 percent Latino, 31 percent white, and 17 percent Asian. The O’Bryant is set to admit a new group of students that is 35 percent black, 35 percent Latino, 13 percent white, and 15 percent Asian, according to the study.

“No exam school enrolls Latino students at a rate proportional to their enrollment in BPS (41.8 percent),” according to the study, which is titled “A Broken Mirror: Exam School Admissions Fail to Reflect Boston’s Diversity.” “Only the O’Bryant enrolls black students at a rate proportional to their BPS enrollment (31.8 percent).”

Currently, total enrollment in the nearly 54,000-student district is 31.8 percent black, 41.8 percent Latino, 14.2 percent white, and 8.8 percent Asian, the study said.

The exam schools are elite public schools whose seats are coveted by BPS families intent on sending their children to college. Applicants must take an entrance exam.

The seven-page study was released by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice, the ACLU of Massachusetts, the NAACP Boston branch, Massachusetts Advocates for Children, and the Black Educators Alliance of Massachusetts.

Boston School Superintendent Tommy Chang defended the district’s efforts to improve diversity at the city’s most prestigious schools.


“[The district has taken] unprecedented steps over the past year to provide all students access to the pathways for our exam schools,” he said.

In his statement, he cited expanding the number of seats in the Exam School Initiative, a test preparation course, and launching Excellence For All, an enrichment program for fourth-graders at 13 pilot schools that provides the same rigorous instruction offered to students enrolled in the district’s Advanced Work classes.

But those efforts have fallen short, according to the civil rights advocates.

“The city has long held out exam schools as a means of upward mobility for children of all backgrounds,” Matt Cregor, education project director at the Lawyers’ Committee and lead author of the study, said in a statement. “The new admissions data make it very hard to stake that claim, especially at Boston Latin.”

Racial tensions have been a flashpoint at Boston Latin since two students went public with allegations of discrimination in January 2016, including an incident in which a black female student was called a racial slur by a male student who also threatened to lynch her.

Then-US Attorney Carmen M. Ortiz’s office launched an investigation and announced in September that the school’s mishandling of the incident was a violation of the Civil Rights Act.

Kim Janey, senior project director at Massachusetts Advocates for Children, referenced Ortiz’s investigation in a statement Tuesday.

“As the recent crisis and Department of Justice finding of discrimination at Boston Latin remind us, we fail our children when we ignore issues that deprive them of equal educational opportunity,” Janey said.


School officials provided additional information pointing to gains made in the racial makeup of the exam schools.

The number of black and Latino students who accepted entrance into one of the three exam schools next fall as seventh-graders is 341, up from 281 in the current year. The number of black and Latino students accepting entry as ninth-graders for the fall is 324, up from 128 this year, according to the BPS data.

In addition, 62 percent of black students and 68 percent of Latino students who enrolled in the Exam School Initiative last summer were admitted to an exam school, compared to 42 percent and 44 percent, respectively, who did not attend the program, the data shows.

“We look forward to engaging the organizations that put this report together,” Chang said. “I know that we have the shared goal of giving all BPS students equitable access to the exam schools.”

Meghan E. Irons, Jan Ranson, and Milton J. Valencia of the Globe staff contributed to this report.