The Boston School Board voted unanimously on Wednesday to change its admissions policies for the city’s exam schools, calling it a landmark move that will make the three schools more diverse.
The ruling overturned a system that had existed for two decades, a declared attempt to make schools more diverse and better reflect the city’s racial, geographic and economic realities.
“We have come to a point where we are ready to move this district forward,” said school committee chair Jeri Robinson.
Under the new policy, students’ marks will be more important than their exam results. The district will send out invitations to students of socio-economic levels based on geography with a set number of seats for each.
Critics had expressed concern that the changes could reduce the quality of education at exam schools, Boston Latin, Latin Academy and O’Bryant School of Mathematics and Science. They asked the committee to suspend the vote until two vacant committee seats were filled.
After three hours of discussion and commentary, as well as months of work from a task force that spent over 60 hours reviewing the process, the committee voted 5-0 to make the change.
Committee member Ernani DeAraujo, recalling his own experience as a young immigrant from Colombia whose mother had three jobs, said participating in Boston Latin provided a life-changing opportunity due to the skills and network that he offers.
“For an immigrant child, coming out of poverty, this is truly the American dream,” he said, adding that there was still work to be done to get more non-white students to apply to schools. .
“The intention of this plan is to ensure that applicants with the best marks, the best test scores will have the best chance of choosing one of these schools,” he said. This “could ensure that applicants succeed regardless of their socio-economic background.”
The policy reconsideration process began about a year ago spurred on by parents, students and activists who noted that exam schools were predominantly white in a city where the majority of students do not. are not. More than 70 percent of students attending schools in the city are black or Latino, while less than 15 percent are white. A 2018 Harvard study found that segregation in Boston schools continued and that highly qualified black and Hispanic students did not enroll in any of the three schools.
Superintendent Brenda Cassellius said fairness was a priority for her administration, calling the changes “a big step forward for our students.”
Some students, parents and activists have argued that a lottery system would be the fairest way to offer admissions.
Earlier this year, a 13-member task force began a months-long process to make a recommendation to make admissions more fair. At the last minute, the group came under pressure to create an exception that would allow more white students to be admitted at the expense of disadvantaged and highly skilled youth.
The change would have allowed 20% of school invitations to be sent to students based on their grades and test scores across the city – rather than by socioeconomic level.
The 20 percent exclusion was not part of the Superintendent’s recommendation to the committee. Cassellius said a review of the data showed only minor differences between a proposal that offered 80% seats by socioeconomic level and his recommendation of 100% invitations to be sent to students in this manner.
To be admitted, students must have a B average or higher. A composite score for each student will be a combination of their admission test score (30 percent), weight and their grades (70 percent). In the past, everyone had the same weight. Pupils attending a very poor school where more than half of the pupils are economically disadvantaged would receive an additional 10 points to their score, pupils who are in foster care, social housing or homeless receive an additional five points.
Cassellius urged committee members to vote, noting that waiting for a perfect solution could “potentially waste this moment.”
“My personal position, every student should have the same access chances,” she said. “It’s who I am. That’s how I lead. It’s what drives me to do this job even on tough days.”
Noting how desegregation efforts in Boston have failed for decades, school committee member Quoc Tran issued an optimistic note that the plan would move the city forward.
“We talked about different categories, different factors that affect certain groups of people,” Tran said. “And these factors are real, are prevalent, and are here today, until now.”