Advanced learning

Boston Public Schools Suspend Testing for Advanced Learning Classes; Concerns about program racial inequalities persist

A selective program for top performing fourth, fifth and sixth graders in Boston has suspended enrollment due to the pandemic and concerns about the fairness of the program, GBH News has learned.

Superintendent Brenda Cassellius has recommended a one-year hiatus from the program, known as advanced working classes, saying the district will not continue the program for new students next year.

“There have been a lot of inequities that have come to light in the pandemic that we have to fight,” Cassellius told GBH News. “There is a lot of work we need to do in the district to be anti-racist and have policies where all of our students have a fair chance to have a fair and excellent education.”

After this story was published, Cassellius told GBH News that fairness concerns about the anticipated work schedule were not the motivation for the suspension of the test this year. She said the suspension of the test was only a consequence of the pandemic, making it impossible to administer the test.

New students will be admitted to fourth grade according to standards to be determined at the school level, according to a spokesperson for the BPS.

There will be no new students admitted to fifth or sixth year, the spokesperson said, but those who are already in development will be allowed to continue.

A district analysis of the program found that more than 70 percent of students enrolled in the program were white and Asian, even though nearly 80 percent of all students in Boston public schools are Hispanic and black.

At a meeting in January, school committee member Lorna Rivera said she was troubled by the results, noting that nearly 60 percent of fourth graders in the program at Ohrenberger School in West Roxbury are white although most of the third graders enrolled in the school are black and Hispanic.

“It’s just not acceptable,” Rivera said at a recent school committee meeting. “I have never heard these statistics before, and I am very, very disturbed by them.”

The program was open to all Boston Public School students who took a test known as Terra Nova in third grade and scored high. These students were placed in a lottery run by the central administration office, and lottery winners received letters inviting them to enroll in the program. Last fall, 453 students received invitations, 143 students applied and 116 registered this year, officials said.

Students in the program have the opportunity to study subjects in more depth and are offered more schoolwork than the traditional curriculum requires.

Cassellius says interest in the program had waned for several years and that only five schools currently offered the program: James F. Condon School in South Boston, Jackson / Mann K-8 in Allston, Richard J. Murphy School. in Dorchester, William H. Ohrenberger School in West Roxbury and Josiah Quincy Elementary School in Chinatown.

Students already enrolled in the program will continue, Cassellius said, but programming decisions on how to continue will be made at the major level.

District officials have launched a task force to determine the long-term future of the program and are expected to make a recommendation in May.

Clarification: The title of this story has been updated to clarify that the school district is suspending the city-wide entry process for advanced work classes, but not prohibiting schools from continuing classes through them- same.

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