Photo by Allan Foster.
By Marie Holmes
D3 Superintendent Christine Loughlin and Field Support Liaison Matthew Angell attended Thursday’s CEC 3 Middle Schools Committee meeting to discuss this year’s middle school application and selection process.
“This is a time of angst,” Loughlin noted with empathy, explaining that she, too, had once been the parent of a 5th grader.
The good news is that a continuation of pandemic-era adjustments to the process make it somewhat more simplified than in years past.
“Absences are not a factor in our current matching process,” affirmed Angell. In pre-Covid times, the number of absences a student had could impact their chances of getting into screened schools.
In the past, test scores and grades were also used by some schools to screen students. Angell confirmed that academic factors would not be considered this year, either, and noted that District 3 was one of the last districts in the city to stop using screens in its middle school admissions.
He explained how the matching process works: “You put together the list that you are going to apply to, but the matching part on the DOE side is a number—a lottery ranking.”
“Your history as a 5th grader is not a factor,” reiterated Angell.
He advised that families rank their schools according to true order of preference. Even knowing that some top schools will have very few available seats, “your true order of preference is the best strategy you can possibly apply,” he said.
Angell illustrated what this would look like using the coveted Anderson school as an example. Because most students who are in 5th grade at Anderson continue there, there are few open seats available, leading some families to believe that it would be a “waste” of their first-ranked spot to list Anderson.
“Let’s just say there are three spots available at Anderson this year,” Angell posited. Imagining that you draw a lottery number of 5, “you miss out on those top three spots,” he explained, however, “your rank is still 5, you’re going to carry that over into your second choice.” At a second choice school, with that number, you’d almost certainly nab a seat.
The process works, he says, by “matching everybody up with their highest-ranking possibility.” And he believes it works well, citing last year’s statistics: 65% of families were offered a seat in their top-ranked school, and 90% of families were offered one of their top three choices.
Angell’s next piece of advice was to list at least five schools on the application. In the past, some families who only listed two or three choices then had to accept offers at schools they hadn’t listed.
The bad news with this simplified system is that if you draw a high number in the lottery, there’s not much you can do. No report card, test score, or attendance record will alter your number.
The lottery makes some exceptions for children who receive free and reduced-priced lunch and those who receive special education services. Students from low-income households and those with IEPs are assigned lottery numbers, but the algorithm handles them separately in order to keep the distribution even among the district’s schools.
One attendee raised the issue of an empty 6th grade class last year at Booker T. Washington, a school described as “sought-after” by Inside Schools, and which had a wait list.
Angell explained that schools project their number of seats expecting a certain amount of attrition, but that predictions can’t be precise with so many variables involved. “Every one of our schools in District 3 has some amount of attrition between the offer letter and first day of school,” he said. He also clarified that students on waitlists would maintain their lottery numbers, and that the waitlist process ended in mid-August—so if there were open seats remaining in September, they would not be offered to waitlisted students. Students wanting to move schools after the school year begins would need to initiate a transfer process and show cause for needing to move between schools.
“There were not a lot of seats offered last year through the waitlist process,” Angell noted.
Another positive development is the availability of virtual tours and open houses. CEC 3 has made this information accessible on this spreadsheet. Students, too, will have the opportunity to hear about different middle schools via brief webinars presented to District 3 5th graders during the school day.
“The unknowns are always hard for all of us,” said Superintendent Loughlin, “but I will say that I am extremely proud of all our middle schools in District 3, and do trust that wherever your child lands will really be a good place for them.”
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