Boston: Exam school test administrator clashes with BPS over use of admissions test

Boston Public Schools have for years misused the test results that help determine admissions to its coveted exam schools, in a way that makes it harder for “underrepresented” students to win admissions, according to the organization that administers the controversial exam.

The fairness of the admissions process to the three exam schools—Boston Latin School, Boston Latin Academy, and the John D. O’Bryant School of Math and Science—has been a contentious subject in recent years. Several civil rights groups and community organizations have argued that the admissions process, based half on student grades and half on their scores on the test, called the Independent School Entrance Exam (ISEE), has disadvantaged low-income students, particularly Blacks and Latinos.

“Given that it’s an exam that is completely foreign to students and requires parents and outside resources to help prepare them, it doesn’t make sense as a tool for identifying which students are going to be able to succeed in a rigorous academic environment,” said Joshua Goodman, an associate professor at Brandeis University. Goodman authored a 2018 study that found the school system’s reliance on the ISEE potentially blocked thousands of students of color from accessing the exam schools.

Instead, Rochon said in a Wednesday morning interview, the four sections are intended to be considered individually as part of a broader assessment of an applicant’s merits—which ideally should also include student essays, letters of recommendation, and other elements. Too much emphasis on a summary test score can disadvantage students from more marginalized groups. But Rochon added that “it is obviously up to the citizens of Boston to decide how to weight academic achievement…with the really important issues around equity and access.”