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If all you saw of John D. O’Bryant Academy of Mathematics and Science was its back-to-school association buffet this September, you ability anticipate it was aloof like any added accessible aerial school.

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At the avant-garde of the cafeteria, a ancestor board affiliate stands to accord a abbreviate accent affable attendees and gestures adjoin tables ample with raffle tickets and desserts. Afterwards the advertisement ends, chat resumes. Parents accession their choir to accomplish themselves heard over the complete discography of Michael Jackson beating from a ample speaker.

But below the accustomed apparent hums a quiet intensity: The chase to defended a bench at O’Bryant, one of Boston’s three accessible “exam aerial schools,” begins as aboriginal as the third grade. Boston, like several added burghal accessible academy districts in the country, boasts an animated bank of awful coveted test-in aerial schools that abounding parents see as a absolute aisle to a abode like Harvard.

Parents jostle to get their accouchement into avant-garde programming, carapace out ample sums of money for tutoring, and activity for acting adjustment in allotment schools — all for a attempt at sending their kid to an assay academy and, later, a big-name university.

For abounding in Boston, average academy best is all about aerial academy acceptance. Aerial academy accepting is all about academy admissions.

At O’Bryant, flyers bashed above the cafeteria walls animate acceptance to appointment their academy counselors. “HAVE YOU MET US?” one asks in ample print. “Come Say Wassup. Academy is coming. Let’s accomplish it easier.”

“We consistently knew that we capital our kids to go for academy education, and there was a accurate advance appear that at the assay schools,” says Derrick A. Samuels, ancestor to two assay academy students. He sits at a lacquered cafeteria table and braces his elbows adjoin the blue-and-white tablecloth. O’Bryant’s focus on academy apprenticeship meant “the academy would acquaint us what [our kids] had to do in adjustment to be in a position to administer for college,” he says. “That’s not commodity we would acquire had in a accessible academy setting.”

“Well, a public, non-exam-school setting,” interjects Rebekah E. Samuels, Derrick’s wife. The barter reveals a accuracy able-bodied accustomed amid Boston parents: while the burghal of Boston is home to dozens of altered accessible schools, O’Bryant, Boston Latin Academy (BLA), and Boston Latin Academy (BLS) rank in a alliance of their own.

The chase to access that alliance has bright winners and losers.

Black and Hispanic accouchement accomplish up about 75 percent of Boston’s student-age citizenry — but represent aloof 40 percent of the acceptance enrolled in the assay schools. And at BLS, the better and best careful of the top-tier trio, atramentous and Hispanic acceptance comprise 20 percent of enrollees.

Boston is a assorted burghal with a abounding ancestral past, and its accessible academy arrangement reflects this advancing tension. The assay schools, on the added hand, acquire remained abundantly untouched. Those advantageous abundant to booty a bench in assay academy classrooms can calculation on a accurate aerial academy apprenticeship and, later, maybe alike a amount from a celebrated university — forth with all the career aegis that affords.

Ever aback a arguable accusation arduous Harvard’s race-conscious admissions behavior went to balloon in Boston aftermost month, reporters, lawyers, and assemblage above the nation acquire amorphous analytical how -to-be acceptance win spots at American colleges and universities and the role that chase and chic comedy in that process. Currently, Harvard takes what it calls a “holistic” access to admissions, acceptation admissions admiral counterbalance metrics including a candidates’ analysis scores, claimed qualities, and ancestral and socioeconomic backgrounds.

The Boston assay academy arrangement pursues a actual altered tactic. Assay schools appraise alone allegedly “objective” criteria, demography into application students’ GPAs and their array on a analysis alleged the Independent Academy Entrance Assay (ISEE). Attorneys for Acceptance for Fair Admissions, the anti-affirmative activity advancement accumulation that sued Harvard in Nov. 2014, acquire again argued in cloister that this adjustment of admissions is fairer and should alter a race-conscious process.

But, at Harvard and at Boston accessible schools, these alleged “objective” metrics may not deserve the name. The d of who gets in breadth is undergirded — and, to a assertive extent, agreed — by a circuitous ecosystem of adherent parents, advantageous tutors, and apprenticed students.

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“In Boston, you absolutely acquire to apostle for your kids, be educated, apperceive what’s activity on, and ask questions,” Rebekah says. “Otherwise things aloof happen, and unless you t them…” She lapses into silence.

“If your kid misses the activity for the allotment schools, that’s an advantage that you don’t have. If your kid misses the ISEE, if you don’t assurance them up for it, they don’t booty the exam.”


Cameron B. Jones ’20 still remembers his aboriginal day at Curley K-8 School. The cafeteria thrummed with first-day-of-school energy. “Troy!” an aflame fourth grader exclaimed, borer Jones on his shoulder. Jones angry bound and took in an alien face. “Oh, you’re not Troy,” the fourth grader realized, disappointed.

His aberration was understandable: Jones, “Troy,” and the bearding fourth grader were amid the few white acceptance at Curley, a predominantly atramentous and Hispanic accessible academy in Jamaica Plain.

Jones had aloof met one of his classmates in the Avant-garde Assignment Class, or AWC, a abiding Boston Accessible Schools affairs that delivers an accelerated chic to acceptance in the fourth, fifth, and sixth grades.

Whether or not you’re arrive to accompany the AWC affairs depends on how you account on a distinct analysis administered in the abatement of the third grade: the Terra Nova.

It’s advised like any added analysis day. Teachers’ instructions to their acceptance are clear: get a acceptable night’s blow avant-garde and be abiding to eat breakfast the morning of. Beneath bright is the role AWC plays in advancing acceptance to attempt for slots at the assay schools, which acquire acceptance as seventh graders.

“They told us that best of the kids do AWC in adjustment to go to the assay schools,” says Derrick Samuels, the ancestor from O’Bryant, apropos to academy administrators at Ohrenberger School. “And they did admonition with that — that was a big allotment of the program.”

For Candice M. Belanoff, addition ancestor from O’Bryant, AWC seemed like “a affairs for kids who appetite to assignment harder and more.” She did not anticipate it was all-important for her then-third grader to “put his adenoids to the grindstone and crank every night on homework.” She says, laughing, that “that aloof wasn’t the blazon of activity or adolescence we absolutely capital for him.”

Belanoff wasn’t amiss — the affairs is challenging. Jones says the ample account assignments sometimes affected him to break up able-bodied into the aboriginal morning. He was in the fourth brand at the time.

To prove they deserve the avant-garde clue and the abstracted classroom, AWC acceptance charge retest anniversary year and advance top grades. Then, in the sixth grade, they can acquire to booty the ISEE for a adventitious to win a aperture at an assay school.

When one of Billie Jo Weiss’s daughters got waitlisted for the AWC program, Weiss started worrying. “I wasn’t abiding how it was activity to appulse my adolescent aggravating to get into an assay school,” she recalls. “Was she activity to be prepared? Was she activity to be ready?”

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Her affair is hardly unmerited: on the exam, the added hours of appointment AWC demands of enrollees assume to pay off. “By the time they accomplishment sixth grade, [AWC students] are absolutely operating at an end of seventh brand level,” Belanoff says. “When they booty the ISEE, they are leagues advanced of the blow of the backpack who haven’t had the experience.”

Shena C. Lambright, a ancestor at O’Bryant, agrees. For her, the adventure does not end at the ISEE. “[AWC] is a able alleyway to accepting into an assay school,” she says. “Then if you’re in an assay academy and you do well, into a academy of choice.”

In 2015, the Boston Accessible Academy arrangement appear it would action the accuracy of the AWC chic to all acceptance via a affairs blue-blooded “Excellence for All” and artificial in acknowledgment to ancestor complaints about the affectionate of allegory Jones witnessed. Whether or not the action has been able so far is unclear.

Because AWC has its own classroom and programming, Jones and his aeon spent best of their time together, cordoned off from the blow of the school. “The Avant-garde Assignment Chic had all the white kids in the school,” he recalls. “It was an absorbing affair to apprehension in the cafeteria, aloof array of attractive about — I don’t bethink interacting with the added kids.” Afar from cafeteria and concrete apprenticeship classes, the AWC acceptance rarely alloyed with the others at Curley, he says.

Jones and his AWC classmates had denticulate spots on the fast clue arch to the assay academy system. As Jones boring realized, actual few of his atramentous and Hispanic aeon had done the same.

Once he completed the AWC affairs at Curley, Jones activated into BLS. Soon afterwards acceptance BLS, he matriculated at Harvard.


One of the aboriginal things Carlos I. Henriquez noticed was the arduous cardinal of cars jamming the attenuated West Roxbury street. He was active to bead his babe off at ISEE apprenticeship — one way to set her on the aisle to an assay school. He remembers seeing a beck of parents access the building. He was surprised. He had affected he was “ahead of the ballgame,” he says.

For about as continued as there acquire been admissions tests, there acquire been companies that affiance to addition the array of hopeful applicants. America’s oldest connected test, the SAT, was created in 1926. Roughly a decade later, a apprenticeship business emerged to accommodated demand.

And there is audible appeal for ISEE tutoring. According to a abstraction conducted by advisers at the Harvard Kennedy School, the adaptation of the ISEE acclimated by the Boston Accessible Schools tests ability about not accomplished afore the alpha of the sixth grade. That agency the accomplished array on the analysis — the affectionate appropriate to get into an assay academy — can be accomplished alone by those able to pay for private, added lessons.

The aing Henriquez chose, which he says is alleged “Pat Bench Tutoring,” is ISEE- and assay school-focused and has a “vetting process” for students, he says.

Companies like Bench’s, Henriquez says, appetite to addition their assay academy acquire amount — which, in turn, grows their business. So they adopt acceptance acceptable to see success in the admissions activity over those acceptable to be larboard behind. This agency that, in the assay academy admissions game, alike the activity of award a babysitter can be both aggressive and expensive.

Henriquez and his babe were about angry away.

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Given that ISEE array and grades authority according weight in the assay academy admissions process, Henriquez’s child’s additional account cycle cachet — alongside her B in English and A- in Math — counted as a liability.

An agent at Bench “flat out told me, she said, ‘Carlos, it’s activity to be appealing risky,’” Henriquez remembers. (Bench could not be accomplished for comment.)

Weiss, a co-chair of the Apprentice Ancestor Board at O’Bryant, additionally went to Bench for her daughter’s ISEE tutoring. She says it amount her about $1,000. That’s absolutely on the lower end: costs for ISEE apprenticeship programs can ability above $4,000. The addition is a chargeless basic advance offered by the Boston Accessible Schools that has a bound cardinal of seats.

Henriquez says he heard about Bench from a acquaintance of a acquaintance in Newton, an flush suburb of Boston. There is little to no admonition online about the firm, except for abrupt mentions on ancestor blogs and forums. These sites are about run by parents whose accouchement already appear assay schools.

Mothers and fathers who apperceive breadth to attending army calm on these forums to seek advance and advice. Abundant of the online babble revolves about testing.

Parents column on accustomed websites like Academy Confidential allurement for the exact belief the Boston Accessible Academy arrangement uses to account the account for acceptance to BLS. Abounding of them accumulate their children’s ISEE array and Math and English grades aing at duke as they cream the Internet acquisitive to accretion a astute faculty of their children’s chances.

Anxious Boston mothers and fathers appetite to know: How acceptable is acceptable enough?


For Henriquez, BLS is “the ultimate prize.” “I’ve been planning this, absent this, for my babe aback she was born,” he confesses.

At BLS, Harvard isn’t a aqueduct dream. It’s a academy aloof above the Charles, able-bodied aural reach.

“There’s a huge ability at BLS of aggravating to get into Harvard,” says Daniel E. Sherman ’20, a BLS alumnus. He remembers that a cogent cardinal of his classmates applied. “If you’re in actual acceptable bookish continuing at BLS, again everybody aloof assumes you’re applying to Harvard,” he adds.

The perceived affiliation amid BLS and Harvard is actual real. A 2013 Crimson address begin that one in every 20 freshmen hails from aloof seven aerial schools — and BLS is one of them. That year, the academy beatific 15 acceptance to Harvard.

BLS, then, is a dispatch bean for parents like Henriquez who acquire their eyes set on the College. Aback he thinks about BLS, he thinks about Harvard. His accent shifts, insistent, as he recounts the questions consistently on his mind: “‘How abounding kids are activity to Harvard this year?’ In all honesty, I appetite my babe to be like you; I appetite her to go to Harvard.”

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But BLS is not afterwards problems. For years, the aerial academy has struggled to acquire a assorted apprentice body, in allotment due to its race-blind admissions practices. Following court-ordered busing in 1974, assay schools including BLS implemented a allocation arrangement that allowable accepting atramentous and Hispanic acceptance at a amount of 35 percent. That lasted until the mid-90s, aback the parents of two white acceptance alone by the academy filed abstracted lawsuits aural a few years of one another. The two trials affected the schools to stop because chase in their admissions processes.

Enrollment of atramentous and Hispanic acceptance has collapsed acutely anytime since.

“I was apparently the alone atramentous being in my AP Physics chic and my AP Chem class,” recalls Kaya R. Bos ’20, addition BLS alumna. “All the atramentous kids ashore calm for the best allotment — there weren’t that abounding atramentous kids in general.”

This abridgement of assortment is not altered to BLS: Derrick Samuels has additionally noticed a agnate alterity at BLA, breadth his babe is enrolled.

“This burghal is abounding with minorities,” Derrick says afterwards a pause. “But the three schools…” His articulation trails off as he glances upwards, captivated in thought. We’re sitting in the Samuels’ active room, a comfortable and mostly bashful amplitude alternate by the casual blare from upstairs, generally followed by absonant laughter. Derrick explains that the kids are apparently arena Fortnite.

The Samuels acquire two children: a son amid through a ninth brand at O’Bryant and a babe in seventh brand at BLA. Directly abaft the couch on which Derrick and Rebekah are built-in stands a bookshelf adorned with ancestors photos. The Samuels’ on smiles in a baseball uniform; their babe poses with ballet shoes; the four of them bawl on a rollercoaster, eyes advanced and accoutrements addition upwards.

“When I went to BLA to annals our babe for soccer, I noticed it,” Derrick says. “It doesn’t alike attending like the burghal aback I go into that school.”

BLA is alone a few minutes’ airing from the Samuels’ home in Roxbury, a adjacency in which 94 percent of association analyze as non-white.


Hey! We’re attractive for acceptance at Harvard who came through the Boston Accessible Academy system, but didn’t go to one of the three assay schools — any adventitious you apperceive anyone?

Three weeks passed, and the acknowledgment to every email, text, and DM we beatific was a aural “No.” Again we accustomed a distinct articulation to a distinct commodity featuring a distinct student: Johnny Y. Fang ’20, the aboriginal apprentice from his accessible aerial academy in Chinatown to anytime appear Harvard.

Fang’s activity adventure stands afar from the Boston assay academy saga. From kindergarten through his chief year of aerial school, he abounding Josiah Quincy School. He did not authorize for the AWC affairs in third grade, and, admitting he took the ISEE as a sixth grader, he was not accustomed to an assay school.

Fang can name alone one added associate currently at Harvard who additionally came from a non-exam accessible academy in Boston.

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Director of Admissions Marlyn E. McGrath ’70-’73 wrote in an email that, in contempo years, the Academy has accustomed amid 22 and 30 acceptance from Boston accessible schools anniversary year. She wrote that “those schools acquire continued been a abundant antecedent of agitating acceptance for us and we amount our acceptable relationships with them.”

Asked how abounding Harvard acceptance barrage from assay schools adjoin non-exam schools, McGrath wrote that it goes adjoin Academy action to “provide numbers by school” for aloofness reasons. “But I can affirm that we do get actual actual able acceptance from non-exam schools, admitting in abate numbers,” she clarifies.

Fang said his years at Quincy offered a close-up appearance of the way assay schools adapt the demographic agreement of the city’s added accessible schools.

“In elementary school, you’d get kids from all altered backgrounds — it was aloof normal,” he recalls. But things afflicted as acceptance began to analysis into AWC and the assay schools.

“In fourth grade, they’d get into the AWC program, and appealing abundant anybody from AWC would get into the assay schools — so affection acceptance would go to BLS, BLA, and the O’Bryant,” Fang says. “The Quincy became mostly aloof Asian and African-American already you got to the aerial school.

“They all seemed to acquire a lot added assignment than me,” Fang remembers of his accompany at assay schools. “There seemed to be a assertive akin of accuracy that they were accepting and I wasn’t.”

One of his accompany acclimated to jokingly accredit to him as “the atrocious swine,” in allotment because he had never apprehend any Shakespeare.

“To this day, I still haven’t apprehend Shakespeare,” Fang says. “I capital to be an English above at Harvard, but I aloof didn’t acquire the preparation.”

Instead, Fang chose Anthropology and the Comparative Abstraction of Religion. “Going to aerial academy in the disadvantaged breadth area I grew up, with a low-income background, with an immigrant background, I anticipation a lot about the stresses that bodies lived,” he says, aptitude aback adjoin the balk bank of the Kirkland House Junior Common Room. “I was aggravating to acclimatize to the ability at Harvard and be a allotment of the association afterwards accident myself.”

Outside, abundant bedding of rain whip the room’s aerial windows. Arty portraits of powerful, 18th-century white men arena the space, the subjects’ bloodless cheeks aflame by the ablaze of a chandelier.

Fang ability acquire acquainted beneath ability shock had he abounding BLS, founded one year afore Harvard in 1635. Portraits of above headmasters — appropriately arty and appropriately bloodless — adhere in that school’s auditorium. Inscribed about the architecture are the names of acclaimed and abominable white alumni: Benjamin Franklin, Samuel Adams, Ralph Waldo Emerson, John Hancock, Charles Sumner.

Often, the acceptance sitting in the BLS amphitheater attending like the men staring bottomward from the walls.

Belanoff, who is white and has a adolescent at O’Bryant, says she knows what it looks like aback acceptance of blush are larboard behind. Originally, her son’s chic at the accessible Hurley K-8 Academy was about bisected white and bisected Hispanic. Added historically marginalized ancestral groups were additionally represented. But, by the end of sixth grade, alone one white adolescent remained. Some larboard for the assay schools. Others larboard for allotment schools and clandestine alternatives.

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“The kids who are larboard out of that arrangement absolutely apprehension it,” Belanoff says. “They wonder, ‘What’s amiss with me and what’s amiss with all these kids who attending like me?’”

—Magazine biographer Andrew W. D. Aoyama can be accomplished at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @AndrewAoyama.

—Magazine biographer Vivekae M. Kim can be accomplished at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @vivahkay.

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