The Boston Public Schools (BPS) last week named NWEA as the vendor to administer the assessment for its three high schools that require an exam as one part of admissions criteria.
The “examination schools,” Boston Latin Academy, Boston Latin School, and John D. O’Bryant School of Mathematics and Science, all serve students in grades 7-12. In February, BPS issued a Request for Proposals (RFP) for a new examination. The goal of the RFP was to ensure a fair test that is aligned to Massachusetts curriculum standards, is bias-free, and measures student knowledge and readiness for a rigorous high school curriculum.
Following extensive analysis of the proposals, the RFP Review Committee recommended the contract be awarded to NWEA. NWEA’s test is an untimed, computer adaptive Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) Growth assessment in math, reading and language usage. Items on MAP Growth are strongly aligned to the Massachusetts Curriculum Framework grade-level standards, with a wide range of cognitive demand. Throughout the review process, NWEA provided compelling evidence that the assessment is valid for use with diverse student populations as evidenced by a breadth of bias reviews and statistical analyses.
“I am excited to partner with NWEA and appreciate their desire to work with BPS on our shared goal of increasing the diversity of our exam schools,” said BPS Superintendent Brenda Cassellius. “BPS has identified a fair assessment that is aligned to the Massachusetts state standards, tests students on material they have learned in school, and has been reviewed and validated for bias. Administering this new entrance test is an important step forward in expanding access to the exam schools for all students.”
BPS has worked to expand equitable access to the exam schools, particularly for Black and Latinx students who have historically been underrepresented. The MAP Growth assessment provides data during the school year that shows how student learning is progressing, lending the insight educators can trust to meet the needs of learners as they teach. The assessment also includes several built-in accommodations for students with disabilities and English learners. These factors create visibility to critical learning needs of students, so they can get the right degree of support.
As the contract with the previous vendor was set to expire, BPS began the process of developing a new RFP during the 2018-19 school year. To develop the RFP, BPS participated in an extensive process that included input and recommendations from an internal working group. BPS received three proposals.
An RFP is required by law in order to contract with an organization for the admissions exam. The assessment is part of the admissions policy and is available to all Boston residents in grades 6, 8, and 9, including students who are not currently enrolled in a BPS school. All three exam schools accept new students for grades 7 and 9. The O’Bryant School also accepts a limited number of new students for grade 10.
“Our organization is driven by our mission of Partnering to help all kids learn. This begins by making the needs of all students more visible to educators, so they can take action in support of students who have not had the same opportunities as their peers,” said Chris Minnich, CEO of NWEA. “We believe that measures like MAP Growth, along with other measures, can help address bias and create a high school system that values diversity and fairness. We are looking forward to supporting Boston Public Schools as they push for greater fairness and equity for the students in the district.”
BPS has taken several steps over the years to increase equitable access to the exam schools. For the first time, during the 2019-20 school year, the district administered the entrance exam to BPS sixth-grade students in their home schools. This change allowed students to take the test in a familiar environment and have the test administered by educators they know. Previously, students taking the entrance test had to travel to one of a handful of testing locations on a Saturday morning.
BPS has also addressed equitable access and student representation at the exam schools by creating and expanding the BPS entrance test prep program, Exam School Initiative (ESI), which focuses on serving Black, Latinx, English Learner, and economically disadvantaged students. With the support of Mayor Walsh and the Boston Latin School Association, the ESI program expanded from serving 400 students in 2014 to serving 775 in 2019. In addition, the BPS Office of Opportunity Gaps overhauled the direction of the program in 2017 and made important changes to ESI recruitment that resulted in enrollment shifts. This summer’s remote ESI program is underway.