Statement on Boston’s Exam School Admission Errors

Coronavirus, Education, Racial Justice

Lawyers for Civil Rights (LCR) has learned that, due to database errors beginning in December 2018, a number of students entitled to admission at one of Boston’s three exam schools either did not receive invitations at all or were not invited to their top choice of school for both the 2018-19 and 2019-20 academic year. This error appears to have disproportionately affected students of color. 

LCR applauds Boston Public Schools (BPS) for seeking to rapidly rectify this situation which appears to affect over a hundred families and their children — many of them Black and Latinx. 

This development raises two serious concerns: 

First, the database error not only excluded qualified students; it admitted students who, by BPS’ formula, should not have received an invitation. However, there is no evidence suggesting that these students have struggled at their respective schools or that the overall quality of the schools have suffered. This strongly suggests that the BPS admissions process is arbitrary and disconnected from student success. 

We call upon BPS to re-evaluate whether grades and an exam score, standing alone, are adequate or sufficient for admission. LCR and its community partners have repeatedly advised BPS that several constitutionally permissible admission alternatives exist — including models admitting a top percentage of students by zip code or school — any of which would yield a high-performing student body reflective of BPS’ diverse student population. 

Second, given that multiple admission cycles passed without any BPS employee noticing the error, LCR is calling for a comprehensive and independent audit of the district’s exam school admissions process to ensure freedom from technological error and racial bias. We urge the district to conduct a thorough audit of the entire admissions process to ensure equity and accountability to future classes. 

Finally, administering an admission test will be even more difficult in light of COVID-19, particularly because students have vastly unequal access to the internet, personal technology devices, and textbooks. We urge the district to eliminate the entrance exam. 

In the interests of transparency, Lawyers for Civil Rights is sharing documents recently obtained from Boston Public Schools through public records requests regarding the district’s selection of NWEA as a test vendor for this academic year. The documents are available below: