BPS today issued an RFP for a company that can write exam questions that will both ensure potential students are ready for the "rigorous" exam schools while also "furthering equitable access to the exam schools, particularly for Black and Latinx students who have historically been underrepresented."
BPS has to have a replacement for the ISEE text - which mainly sixth graders, but also some eighth and ninth graders - took last November - before this fall, when sixth graders would take it for admission in the 2021-2022 school year. The exam that gives Boston Latin School, Boston Latin Academy and the John D. O'Bryant School their collective names has counted for 50% of the criteria used to determine admission. Grades account for the rest.
In a statement, Superintendent Brenda Cassellius said the new test will have to be focused on what's actually taught in Boston schools - and be aligned the Massachusetts statewide educational criteria. One of the criticisms of the ISEE, which is used in numerous districts around the world, is that some of its topics are not covered in Boston classrooms, leading to an advantage for well off kids whose parents can afford private tutoring for them before the test.
We believe the new RFP will help level the playing field for students seeking admission to our exam schools by offering a test that actually assesses student’s knowledge of content they’re taught in class and has been rigorously reviewed to ensure it is free of bias. This is a good next step in our efforts to make sure our exam school student body is representative of all the students BPS serves.
BPS says it began to consider a new test last year. BPS and the Education Records Bureau, which creates the ISEE each year, have been engaged in a he said/she said battle of words over who's to blame for inequities related to who gets accepted to the three exam schools.
In addition to changing the test, BPS has taken other steps to try to increase minority enrollment at the three schools, in particular BLS, such as providing greater access to free tutoring programs and by letting sixth-grade students take the exam in their home schools, rather than having to travel across the city to a test site.
Proposals are due to BPS by March 19.