Potential loss of seats for exam schools still a guessing game for JP

More than two weeks after the School Committee approved a controversial new, one-year admissions process for the City’s three public exam schools, little official numbers are known about how many seats would be allocated to each zip code – including Jamaica Plain.

Knowing those numbers is the key to figuring out how many seats a neighborhood will gain or lose in this year’s process – which is based more on zip code and Grade Point Average (GPA), while eliminating the traditional entrance exam. Exam schools include Boston Latin School (BLS), Boston Latin Academy (BLA) and the John D. O’Bryant School. Students eligible for seats next year are in the 6th grade, 8th grade, and a limited number for 9th grade. Under the new program, students would have had to maintain a ‘B’ average last fall and winter to even be considered for a seat in the new process.

However, the nitty-gritty of the argument for a neighborhood like JP – which has a low school-age child population, a high median income, and has traditionally had disproportionately more students go to the exam schools than other neighborhoods – is just how many seats will be lost.

The Gazette has been requesting that information from the Boston Public Schools for the past two weeks, but it has yet to be announced or provided.

Analysis by the Gazette and other education think-tanks in Boston seem to suggest JP could have their access to exam school seats this year cut in half – going from 72 seats to JP students last year and having 36 seats available in this year’s new process.

Last year, there were 120 JP students that applied for consideration and 72 were given invitations to the three schools. That was 7.5 percent of the total invitations despite the neighborhood having only 5.1 percent student population. Of those invites, by and large students chose BLS as their school. There were 43 invites to BLS, 26 to BLA and 8 for O’Bryant amongst JP students last year.

Some have postulated the new process could mean a reduction of approximately 50 percent of the total seats for JP – that coming in an analysis by the Shah Foundation. That analysis for the Shah Foundation was done by Ross Wilson – a form BPS staffer – and he postulated a total of 36.72 seats would be allocated to the 02130 zip code under the new formula. Rounding down to 36, that would mean a loss of 36 seats in JP for the coming year, making it an exact 50 percent reduction in seats under his calculations. It cannot be discounted that some seats might come to JP from the first 20 percent set aside for the highest achievers citywide, however.

Nothing is certain until BPS reveals its official numbers. 

The new plan had wide-spread support from City leaders at the Oct. 21 meeting, and from education reform organizations and social justice organizations – a measure of support that has been solidified well before COVID-19 when the Exam School Admissions Working Group was formed over a year ago to devise a more equitable way to admit students to the three schools.

The invitation and selection process for this year’s exam school admissions is expected to begin this month.

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