Home > Essays > Boston Replaces Meretricious Merit-Based Entry to “Elite” Schools with Metric Based on More Than Test Scores, Grades and Parent Engagement

Boston Replaces Meretricious Merit-Based Entry to “Elite” Schools with Metric Based on More Than Test Scores, Grades and Parent Engagement

July 17, 2021

The NYTimes described the new process Boston plans to implement in order to identify students who gain entry to their “elite” high schools designed for “gifted and talented” students. The system is described in this synopsis: 

The new admissions system will still weigh test results and grades, but, following a model pioneered in Chicago, it will also introduce ways to select applicants who come from poor and disadvantaged neighborhoods.

Under the new system, the applicant pool will be divided into eight groups based on the socioeconomic conditions of their neighborhoods. The admissions team will consider applicants within each group, admitting the top students in each tier in roughly equal numbers.

This new process is in contrast to the former system, which is described here: 

The traditional admissions system, which its supporters defend as merit-based, ranked applicants according to grades and test scores. But it also gave rise to a culture of tutoring and test preparation, and resulted in incoming classes that were overwhelmingly white and Asian.

As the title of this post and several earlier posts indicate (see here, here, and here), any definition of “merit” based on grades and test scores is meretricious. It is superficially objective and precise but has no basis in reality and no integrity. The effect of using test scores not only exacerbates the economic divide, it effectively penalizes students whose parents do not have the time or ability to complete the paperwork needed to apply for schools their children might otherwise be qualified to enter. 

The article does not describe the who will serve on the admissions teams or how these teams will function. It IS clear, however, that test scores and grades will play a significant though not exclusive role in determining students who qualify. But the other factors that come into play will make it harder to defend test scores and GPAs as “merit” The new system that requires a diversity of addresses will undoubtedly lead to a more diverse student body, but the retention of an emphasis on GPAs and test results will ensure that the rigorous curriculum that makes the school “elite” can be sustained. Over time, I am certain that the children from the “un-elite” schools, the ones who lacked “merit”, will do as well as their counterparts. And over even more time, it is possible that might persuade politicians, parents, and the public that the whole notion of “elite schools” for students with “merit” is meretricious. 

 

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