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NYC and Boston School Districts Change School Admission Policies

  • The nation’s largest school district recently announced a new middle and high school admissions policy to ensure more diverse schools in the aftermath of COVID-19.

    Under the new policy, middle schools will no longer select students based on grades, test scores and attendance this year.

    According to district officials, approximately 40 percent of the district’s 200 middle schools screen students for admission using academic records, auditions, attendance, discipline records, special assessments, interviews or other measures. The schools have typically relied on this information from a student’s fourth grade year to determine whether or not to admit students.

    As a result of school closures and the switch to remote learning due to the coronavirus, the district was unable to collect the screening information for students this year. The district also changed its grading policy in April and the state was unable to administer standardized tests for fourth graders last year. In addition, attendance metrics were shifted to accommodate the circumstances families were enduring because of the pandemic. NYC Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza

    “In effect, screening fifth-graders without data, especially in a year as challenging as this one, is unfair, unequal, and untenable to continue,” wrote NYC Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza in a letter on the district’s website explaining the policy changes.

    Approximately 70,000 fifth-graders will be impacted by the new admission policy, which will occur in Fall 2021. Middle schools that receive more applicants than available seats will use a random lottery to determine who is admitted. District officials will get input from school communities to help inform the use of screens after September 2021.

    In his letter the chancellor cited the example of a Brooklyn school district removing its middle school admissions screens and the district’s schools becoming more racially and economically integrated as a result.

    “Simplifying the admissions process and making our city fairer is the right thing to do for students, families and schools, particularly this year,” wrote Carranza.

    The district is also making changes to the admission policy for high schools.

    Currently, 250 high schools have geographic priorities in place, limiting opportunity for students to attend the district’s most in-demand and high-performing schools based on where they live.

    Under the new policy, high schools will no longer be able to give admissions priority to students living in nearby neighborhoods and the location of a student’s home cannot alone determine their chances of getting into a certain school.

    The geographic admissions priorities for high schools will be phased out over the next two years.

    The district will also encourage its 126 high schools that screen students for admission based on academic records and test scores to make a concerted effort towards greater equity in their processes, either by electing to remove additional screens, or implementing a Diversity in Admissions priority to expand access to students of all backgrounds.

    Boston Suspends Entrance Test at Exam Schools

    Boston Public Schools Superintendent Brenda Cassellius created a working group in August to develop recommendations regarding the admissions criteria for the district’s three exam schools. Boston Public Schools Superintendent Brenda Cassellius with student

    The group was asked to take into account the potential impact of the COVID-19 pandemic as well as develop an admissions process to increase the socioeconomic, racial and geographic diversity of students at the three exam schools: Boston Latin Academy, Boston Latin School and John D. O’Bryant School of Mathematics and Science. The schools serve students in grades 7-12 and are the school system’s top-performing schools.

    Based on the group’s recommendations, the Boston School Committee in October unanimously approved a proposal to suspend the entrance exam at the schools for one year for the incoming class in September 2021.

    Instead, admission to the schools will be based on students’ grade-point average (GPA), 2019 scores on state assessments and students’ zip codes. 

    Up to 20 percent of seats at each exam school will be reserved for the top-ranking students citywide based on GPA. The remaining 80 percent of seats will be decided based on both a students’ GPA ranking and their home ZIP code, with applicants from low-income areas being given top priority.

    “Oftentimes, when children come to us with less, they get less,” Cassellius said in an interview with WBUR. “In this instance, they’re getting first access. … That part of it really warmed my heart.”

    Students admitted to the exam schools must meet or exceed expectations on the 2019 English Language Arts or Math MCAS exam or earn a GPA of “B” or higher during the first two terms of the 2019-20 school year.

    A 2018 study by the Harvard Kennedy School found that the three exam schools’ student population did not reflect the city’s diversity.

    According to the study, black and Hispanic students comprised nearly 75 percent of Boston’s student age population but represented only 40 percent of enrollment at the three schools and only 20 percent of enrollment at the most selective Boston Latin School.