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Cambridge Public Schools Support State Bill to Eliminate MCAS Graduation Requirement

The Cambridge Rindge and Latin School is the only public high school in Cambridge.
The Cambridge Rindge and Latin School is the only public high school in Cambridge. By Andrew W.D. Aoyama
By Sally E. Edwards and Ayumi Nagatomi, Crimson Staff Writers

The Cambridge School Committee voted unanimously on April 4 to support the Thrive Act, a bill in the Massachusetts State Legislature to eliminate the state’s MCAS standardized testing requirement for high school graduation.

MCAS is a state-wide standardized test for third to eighth and 10th grade students required by state and federal laws. Students must earn a passing score for English Language Arts, Mathematics, and one Science and Technology or Engineering subject in order to fulfill the high school graduation requirement.

Massachusetts is one of only eight states to require standardized testing for high school graduation.

Last year, 10 percent of Massachusetts students did not meet the state’s benchmark for math, a figure that was 14 percent for science and engineering and 8 percent for English language arts. Under the current laws, schools with low MCAS scores can face administrative takeover by state authorities.

Graduation requirements would be based on students’ coursework rather than their MCAS scores under the proposed Thrive Act. The act would also implement a “comprehensive support and improvement” system for schools and districts with low MCAS scores, instead of state takeover. The bill would also commission a study to evaluate the current assessment system.

Massachusetts waived MCAS graduation requirement for the class of 2021 and 2022 due in part to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Cambridge Mayor Sambul Siddiqui and the School Committee members expressed their support for the act at the meeting.

School Committee member Alfred B. Fantini, who co-wrote the motion with School Committee member David J. Weinstein and vice chair Rachel B. Weinstein, said that MCAS has always been a “lagging indicator” to measure student performances.

Commenting on iReady— an online learning platform that provides personalized support to students outside of school — Fantini said standardized testing alone is not sufficient to assess student performance.

“You want to have the information readily available when you want to start corrective measures,” Fanitini said. “You can still do tests, and maybe the tests are used for other purposes.”

Siddiqui wrote in a statement to The Crimson that she supports the Thrive Act and looks forward to “learning new ways to assess our schools, students, and school districts from the commission.”

Cambridge Education Association President Dan Monahan said in an interview that the Thrive Act “will reduce the harm” to students who experience anxiety over MCAS.

Under the current system, students have no time limit to complete the MCAS. While the tests are usually conducted in the mornings, Monahan noted that the examination period “often spreads into the afternoon.”

“The effectiveness of school in the afternoon is significantly diminished,” he added.

Cambridge Rindge and Latin School graduate Jamie K. Durant ’26 said MCAS was “the scariest test” he took during high school.

“You’re sort of studying to take the test for the whole year,” Durant said. “After that year is done, you kind of just toss it away, so that felt a little bit arbitrary.”

Anais L. Killian ’26, a CRLS graduate, said she remembered how MCAS took about “three whole days out of the school year.”

“Those days could be spent elsewhere, like learning new material,” Killian said. “That may have been more helpful than having those three days taking the test.”

Monahan said he believes establishing a new assessment system is important for accurately evaluating students’ development.

“What we really need to do is to look at other ways of success,” Monahan said. “Many of our students can be highly successful, but yet not be good test-takers.”

Weinstein, the School Committee vice chair, said that while she is not yet ready to ‘throw MCAS out altogether,” she is glad to see alternatives being developed.

“If a 12th grader doesn’t make it across the graduation stage because they’ve failed MCAS, that’s on us, and not on them,” Weinstein said.

—Staff writer Sally E. Edwards can be reached at sally.edwards@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @sallyedwards04.

—Staff writer Ayumi Nagatomi can be reached at ayumi.nagatomi@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @ayumi_nagatomi.

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