How School Assignment Works In Boston



Boston Public Schools (BPS) allows students in kindergarten through eighth grade attend specific schools in the city depending on where they live. High schools are available for all students– including Boston’s three exam schools, where students must first pass an entrance exam to attend.

This is how BPS chooses which schools a family may elect to send their student to, and how school assignment works behind the scenes.

What is the Home-Based School Choice Plan?

When a family wishes to register a child for school in Boston, every family receives a customized list of schools to choose from based on where a family lives.

A family’s list includes every school located within a one-mile radius of a family’s home. The list includes at least two top performing BPS schools and at least four schools that are in the top half of district performance.

If the schools within a one-mile radius do not meet these qualifications, BPS will include the nearest high performing schools on a family’s list.

How does BPS determine whether a school is high performing or not?

Schools across the district are grouped into four tiers according to how students performed on MCAS tests over the past two years:

  • Tier I: The top 25 percent of schools in BPS
  • Tier II: The middle 26-50 percent of schools
  • Tier III: The middle 51-75 percent of schools
  • Tier IV: The remaining schools.

The MCAS Tiers account for both performance and growth. The calculation is two-thirds performance and one-third growth.

On families’ customized school choice lists, there will still be at least two schools in the top tier and four in the top half.

Schools over a mile from my home are included on my list. Why’s that?

If there aren’t enough high-performing schools within a one-mile radius, BPS will include the nearest qualifying schools to ensure families have at least two schools in Tier I and at least four schools in Tier I and Tier II.

There are a couple additional reasons why schools farther from home appear on a family’s list:

Option Schools

Some areas of Boston have more families than the schools in the area can handle. For example, Roslindale has more kids living in the area than there are seats in its schools.

When this is the case, a list may also include “option schools.” These schools provide families with additional school choices beyond the mile radius, so as to reduce crowding certain parts of the city.

Option schools may be included for another reason: They will be on a family’s list if they provide access to a program that would not otherwise be available, such as Advanced Work Class or early education programs.

Citywide Schools

There are a handful of schools across that city that families may select regardless of their location. They are: Dudley Street Neighborhood Charter School, Hernández K-8, Timilty Middle, UP Academy Boston, and UP Academy Dorchester.

Regional Schools

A regional school is an option school that is either Tier I or Tier II and is anticipated to have open seats. These schools are included on families’ lists in certain regions in order to give the school a broader reach across the city.

(Gates Foundation/Flickr)

(Gates Foundation/Flickr)

So now I know why I have certain schools on my list. What do I do now?

Decide which schools you’d like to have your student attend.

November marks the beginning of school preview time in Boston. Parents planning to enroll a student in BPS can visit schools and meet principals and teachers. This is probably the most effective way to experience how a school works.

BPS also has a number of Welcome Centers to help parents understand their options for choosing a school.

Be sure to apply within the first registration period. Registration is in January for transition grades (kindergarten, grade 6, and grade 9) and February-March for all other grades. Many schools are full after the first registration period.

List a number of choices (BPS recommends at least five) and order them in the true order of preference to increase the chances of getting the school that you want.

Students are then assigned a school by a computerized lottery.

The computer tries to assign students to their highest listed choice for which they have the highest priority.

What are assignment priorities?

Sometimes a school does not have enough seats for every student who lists it as a choice. When this happens, a student’s priorities come into play.

Sibling Priority

Students that have siblings in the same school are given priority. Although sibling assignment is not guaranteed, BPS tries to assign children to the same school if their family requests it.

Early Education

Students completing the highest grade at BPS early education schools are guaranteed a seat at a pathway school or have priority for the next grade in other schools on their list.

Pathway Schools

Some schools offer guaranteed assignments for students coming from a paired pathway school. BPS writes “For example, the Grew Elementary and Rogers Middle schools form a K-8 pathway: Grew 5th graders are guaranteed admission to the Rogers grade 6.”



Are MCAS scores the only way to measure a school’s quality?

For the moment, yes. However BPS has approved a new school quality framework that will go into effect fall 2015 that takes more than just MCAS scores into consideration for a school’s ranking.

“Everyone wants a quality school,” School Committee Chairman Michael O’Neill said. “But everyone has a different definition of quality.”

Three-quarters of a school’s rating will be derived from scores on the MCAS exam. The remaining quarter will come from feedback on a number of standards: teaching and learning, leadership and collaboration, student access and opportunities and family, community and culture.


Latest Posts: How School Assignment Works In Boston

A Good School Is

What makes a good school? There are as many answers as there are students. On A Good School Is we’re collecting your responses. Shares … Read More →

What Makes A Good School?

How do you pick a school? For some families it's the school's distance from home, or the school's performance on standardized tests. For others it's … Read More →