Parents seeking BPS k2 assignments facing long wait
Parents began signing up their children for kindergarten seats in Boston’s public schools in early January. But those anticipating a quick turnaround may be sorely disappointed. School department officials say parents won’t be notified of their children’s assignments until May 31.
The delay comes due to a new state regulation that changed the date for English language proficiency testing, lengthening the months-long process the district undertakes to make assignments, according to Lisa Harvey, deputy director of evaluation and programs at Boston Public Schools.
“The state requires the district to do language testing on incoming students no earlier than March 1,” she said.
The delayed response creates a conundrum for parents, many of whom may be weighing options including charter schools, parochial schools and private schools. Charter schools accept students from their lotteries as early as March. Many private schools send out letters of acceptance in April and require that parents pay a deposit to hold a slot for their child.
The net result, District 7 City Councilor Kim Janey says, could be that parents with other options will exercise them.
“It’s absurd that anyone would have to wait until the end of May to get an assignment,” she said. “If they don’t have a guarantee that they’ll have placement from BPS, they will make other choices.”
A spokesman for BPS said steps including completing language testing, reviewing student information for accuracy, running the home-based assignment system algorithm and “reviewing results, adjusting limits for assignment at certain schools, updating any logic based on new assignment rules (if applicable), and re-running the algorithm” adds considerably to the time it takes to make assignments.
“After a registration period closes, results typically take 6-8 weeks to publish,” spokesman Dan O’Brien said in an email to the Banner. “During this time, BPS Welcome Services collaborates with the BPS Offices of Technology, Planning & Analysis, English Learners, and Special Education to release results as quickly as possible.”
Once assignments are made, the department must merge five different notification letters in up to 10 different languages and upload the results to the BPS Student Information System, O’Brien said.
But parent activists point out that BPS officials were able to work with MIT to run an algorithm re-configuring the system’s bus routes within 24 hours.
“BPS is very good at running algorithms,” said Jane Walsh Miller, a parent activist with the group Smart Start BPS.
Boston’s months-long process stands in stark contrast with other Massachusetts cities and towns that function under the same guidelines from the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. In Worcester, for instance, parents visiting the Parent Information Welcome Center can register their children and receive a school assignment instantly, regardless of whether the child needs a language assessment. Worcester has a neighborhood-based school assignment system and allows parents to enroll students in schools outside their neighborhood as well.
During a BPS showcase in December, some school department employees told parents about the May 31 date, but BPS has not issued a formal communication about the change. In past years, parents received their kindergarteners’ assignments in March and April.
At-large City Councilor Annissa Essaibi-George said the changes could drive families away from BPS schools.
“We need to actively engage new families and increase enrollment,” she said. “This discourages them and pushes them to look at other districts outside the city.”
Trail of tiers
In January, many parents were upset that the Discover BPS website, which generates a list of schools to which student is eligible to apply, was generating fewer choices than were actually available. Parents visiting BPS welcome centers, sites where parents enroll their children in district schools, found substantially longer lists.
The glitch happened because the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and BPS currently have three different sets of exams by which they’re assigning schools to school quality tiers: the old MCAS, the new MCAS and the PARC test. DESE ranks schools as levels I through V based largely on students’ performance on the tests, but because they are currently shifting away from PARC and the old MCAS, it’s impossible to make apples-to-apples comparisons.
This year, schools that saw their ranking slide from Level I to Level II due to changes in test scores were held harmless by DESE, meaning they were allowed to retain their Level I rank. In Boston, where schools are assigned to tiers through a slightly different ranking system that still relies heavily on test scores, the same allowance was made. Therefore, there are more Tier I schools this year than in past years.
The algorithm that generates choices on the Discover BPS website is designed to add Tier I schools to every student’s list. Because there are now more Tier I schools, the algorithm selected fewer choices, Harvey said.
Harvey cautions that parents must visit welcome centers to get a valid list of their choices.
“The Discover BPS site is only informational,” she said. “It is much more important that people come in a register.”