In Boston, New Admissions Policy Stresses Scores

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The Boston school board has approved a new admissions policy for the city's three prestigious exam schools that combines an emphasis on test scores with efforts to reflect the district's racial makeup.

With its 6-0 vote on Dec. 18, the board approved the recommendations of a task force that had sought a replacement for the previous system of racial quotas. Under that policy, 35 percent of the spots at the elite high schools were reserved for minorities. ("Judge Declines To Rule on Quotas in Boston," Nov. 27, 1996.)

Beginning with the 1997-98 freshman class, half the seats in the schools will be awarded to students with the highest composite scores, based on grade-point averages and entrance-exam scores. The remaining half will be filled through a system that considers composite scores in rank order and is based on the proportion of racial and ethnic groups left in the pool of applicants.

"It's really a policy for a transition phase," said Elizabeth Reilinger, the vice chairwoman of the school board, who also co-chaired the task force that developed the rules. "We need to be at a point where all our schools are excellent."

Suit Sought Change

A 1995 lawsuit filed by the father of Julia McLaughlin, a white student, prompted the revisions.

The complaint argued that the 13-year-old girl was denied admission to the well-known Boston Latin School because of the quota system, even though she had earned higher scores than the black and Hispanic students who were admitted.

U.S. District Judge W. Arthur Garrity, however, dismissed the case in November because the district had already agreed to design a new policy. He also said the case was moot because of an earlier ruling that allowed the student to enroll in the school.

Thomas W. Payzant, the superintendent of the 63,000-student district, has also recommended that 300 students who also posted scores high enough to enter the exam schools be invited to enroll this fall. The board is expected to vote on Mr. Payzant's recommendation this week.

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