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Calculation Error Blocked Dozens Of Students' Admission To Boston Exam Schools

Boston Public School leaders say they’re working to fix an error in how they calculated grade point averages for 152 students applying to the district's three exam schools over the last two years.

The calculation error mostly affected students attending schools outside of the district that use an A-F grading system. It essentially represented their GPA as a lower number than it should have been in the 1-4 grading system most BPS schools use.

Admissions into the district's exam schools are determined by a combination of GPA and scores on a standardized entrance test.

Superintendent Brenda Cassellius said the issue was brought to the district's attention when a student's tutor called the school system to inquire over the summer. After investigating the complaint, school officials noticed that dozens of other students were affected, too. District staff are calling affected families Monday to apologize and offer them enrollment to the school they were eligible for.

"[Parents], like me, regret that the error happened and were concerned about that, but happy that we had transparency and that we were accounting for all of the students that had the error rather than just fixing it for the one," Cassellius said.

Cassellius added that the issue occurred when the district switched to a new student database in late 2018. One of the two offices that handle admissions information was not working with the most updated information after the switch.

"We'll be following through with any disciplinary action in accordance to BPS policy in terms of what we'll be doing there," Cassellius said.

The issue affected admissions for last school year and this upcoming school year. For 62 students, it meant being denied admission to any of the exam schools (10 white, 19 Latinx, 17 Black, 3 Asian). For 90 others, it meant that they did not get admission to their first choice exam school (34 white, 17 Latinx, 30 Black, 7 Asian, 2 other). There were also 67 students who were erroneously granted admissions to the exam schools, but district officials said they won't be rescinding those offers.

For civil rights advocates like Rev. Willie Bodrick who have been pushing the district to move away from admissions standards that rely solely on GPA and test scores, the situation adds fuel to his argument that the current criteria disproportionately impacts students of color in a negative way. Bodrick hopes the school system uses this as an opportunity to change.

"The hope and the prayer for me is that we look at a moratorium on the admissions system," he said. "And that we consider different mechanisms so that we can properly evaluate our children."

Bodrick added that he applauds the district for catching this calculation error and making an effort to redress the harm.

"But if we had been listening to advocates earlier we might not have been in this situation in the first place," he said.

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Carrie Jung Twitter Reporter, Edify
Carrie is a senior education reporter with Edify.

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