Suspend Boston Exam School Admissions Testing for One Year!
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We call on the BPS School Committee to act swiftly in adopting the recommendation of the BPS Opportunity Gap Task Force and suspend the exam based admissions policy for Boston Latin School, Boston Latin Academy and the John D. O’Bryant School of Mathematics and Sciences, and we further call on the School Committee to direct the BPS to design an alternative selection process that does not use an exam for SY 20-21.
On June 30, 2020, the BPS School Committee Opportunity Gap taskforce voted to formally recommend the suspension of an admissions test. On July 2, 2020, Boston Public Schools (BPS) announced the selection of a new standardized test for admission to its three exam schools ignoring the recommendation of the Boston School Committee Opportunity Gap Task Force to suspend the test for one year in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. In the interest of racial justice, we oppose the central office decision, and strongly support the Task Force recommendation.
In 2016, the NAACP Boston Branch, in collaboration with several civil rights and advocacy organizations including BEAM, Lawyers for Civil Rights, ACLU of MA and Mass Advocates for Children began strong research based advocacy for alternatives to “exam” based admissions citing the adverse impact and potentially discriminatory impact on Black and LatinX students. After years of this advocacy, published white papers and neighborhood town halls, in 2018 the Harvard Kennedy School Rappaport Institute released a report that supported our position and highlighted how the admissions process, including the test, disadvantages BPS students (who are predominantly Black and LatinX). As the advocacy groups wrote to the Mayor, Superintendent and School Committee in 2019, “The Harvard researchers concluded that the substantial racial gaps in ISEE-taking rates, ISEE scores, and GPAs could not be explained by or attributed solely to “underlying differences in academic strength,” given that high-achieving African-American and Latinx students were “substantially less likely to be invited to exam schools” than peers of “similar academic strengths.” Goodman and Rucinski concluded that “many talented [African-American] and [Latinx] students in BPS do not enroll at the exam schools due to various factors that make it more difficult for them to succeed in the admissions process” and that alternative means of admitting students could be accomplished “while maintaining the high academic requirements of the current admissions process.” The BPS response was to identify a new test provider for the ‘20-’21 school year without addressing the disparities highlighted in the report.
In March 2020 BPS closed its building doors to students and faculty in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. For three months students, families and the school district have struggled to continue the learning process. The Boston Globe reported that up to 20% of BPS students were “virtual dropouts” having not engaged in online learning. The reality of students and families balancing the health and economic impacts of the pandemic, coupled with the ineffective ad-hoc implementation of virtual instruction, without accurately measuring learning, through the pandemic make this executive decision against the recommendations of the taskforce patently unfair and unjust. To now force low-income students to compete with middle income and wealthy students for “golden ticket” seats at the exam schools when we are fully aware of the gaps and disparate impact of the admissions process is the definition of racial injustice. If the Boston School Committee does not suspend the test for this year, the students who are harmed will potentially feel the impact for a lifetime. In previous years, errors made by BPS algorithms resulted in irreversible harm to hundreds of families. Our families should not bear additional and new irreversible harm due to deliberate choices.
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