Sending a Message on MCAS
Cambridge residents should vote to show opposition to high school graduation test
Residents of Cambridge and four other Massachusetts towns will have the opportunity Nov. 7 to support a non-binding resolution stating that the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) tests should not become a statewide high school graduation requirement. We encourage voters to approve this resolution.
The ballot measure symbolizes the groundswell of opposition to MCAS that has swept the state as the high-stakes and high-standards test approaches for this year's sophomores, who must pass in order to receive a high school diploma. Several groups based in Cambridge have begun lobbying legislators and the state Board of Education to loosen or abolish the requirement. Their effort has not been in vain--there is a bill to that effect pending in the state legislature. In addition, at least 23 school committees around the state have formally stated their opposition to requiring students to pass MCAS to graduate, and the Massachusetts Association of School Committees will consider two similar resolutions when it meets today.
In response to the legitimate concerns of parents and educators alike that one test should not determine whether a student graduates from high school, the state Board of Education has considered several options.
First, it has discussed endorsing alternative graduation certificates for vocational students, special education students and students with limited English proficiency who do not pass the test. These certificates would be explicitly different from a high school diploma. Last year, 66 percent of tenth-graders with limited English proficiency failed the language section of the MCAS, and even more failed the math section. Students with disabilities scored lower on both sections. As the law currently stands, all students will be required to pass the test. While these certificates would be a positive first step, they would not affect the vast majority of students.
The Board has also considered changing the format of the re-tests that students will be allowed to take if they fail the tenth-grade test the first time. Some have argued that more students might pass if the more difficult questions were removed and the passing score increased. This contorted plan would solve nothing. It is difficult to see how an easier test with more difficult grading would give students a fairer shot at graduation.
A third option, proposed by Education Commissioner David P. Driscoll, would give local graduation certificates to students who complete all high school requirements but do not pass the MCAS test. Like the certificates for vocational or special education students, these would not be equivalent to a high school diploma, according to Driscoll. Yet they would mean something, which is a significant and important departure from previous scenarios where students who fulfilled all the graduation requirements--but could not pass MCAS--would come away empty-handed.
This last suggestion has not yet been adopted, but if it were, it would signify that the state Board of Education has reached an important realization: There are worthy students who will not be able to pass MCAS.
Driscoll's proposal does not go as far as it should. As in the New York Regents system, students who fulfill high school graduation requirements but don't pass the test should receive a regular diploma, while students who show a proficient level of knowledge on MCAS should get an "honors" diploma.
The 2000 MCAS results are due to be released Nov. 15. When they are, absent a miracle, they will confirm what people should have known all along: Education is improved by encouraging, motivating and supporting teachers and students, not by putting a gun to their heads.