Massachusetts often leads the nation when it comes to traditional metrics like college enrollment and SAT scores, but a new report by the Rappaport Institute for Greater Boston at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government released on Tuesday found that in the state’s capital, this success isn’t being felt by every student.
According to the report, black and Latino students in Boston with similar Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) scores as white and Asian students face strong barriers to entry to the city’s top exam schools: Boston Latin School, Boston Latin Academy, and the John D. O’Bryant School of Math and Science.
In particular, the report found that while black and Latino students make up 75 percent of the Boston Public School population, they are severely underrepresented in the city’s exam schools.
Speaking today on Boston Public Radio, former Massachusetts Secretary of Education Paul Reville said that while the report might be shocking to some, it displays an underlying problem in the state’s public educational system that has existed for over a decade. Reville pointed out that one of the obstacles facing black and Latino students is the fact that the MCAS might not properly align with what they are being in taught in Boston’s public schools.
“There’s an entrance exam that was developed … for private schools, but it’s applied to all students who are seeking to gain admission to the exam schools in Boston, and that tests some subjects that many Boston students typically have not had in the courses they take in their schools,” Reville said, referring to the Independent School Entrance Examination (ISEE) which students can take in either sixth or eight grade. “In other words if you’re not taking Algebra until ninth grade, but you’re taking a test for it in eighth grade you’re not going to be very proficient in it.”
While education funding has been a fiercely debated topic in the Massachusetts legislature — particularly in this last session when a bill to revise the state’s funding formula for public schools ultimately failed because of the inability of the two chambers of the legislature to reconcile their bills into one unified bill to send to Governor Charlie Baker — Reville said one strength of this report is that it’s bringing to light the issue of alignment and hopes there will be steps taken in the city’s public schools to address it. Reville added that now that the problems have been brought to light, the next step is figuring out actionable solutions, something he isn’t quite sure Massachusetts has right now.
“I really think we need a vision moving forward as to what the next step of reform is going to be, because these results are not satisfactory,” Reville said. “When we set out in 1993 with the Massachusetts Education and Reform Act we set out to educate all students to a high level, and it’s quite clear that only some students are at a high level, and we’ve got a long way to go.”