The Student News Site of Boston Latin School

The Argo

The Student News Site of Boston Latin School

The Argo

The Student News Site of Boston Latin School

The Argo

MCAS Ballot Measure Sparks Debate

This student uses skills from BLS to take their practice MCAS exam. (Source: Isabella Endozo (IV))

A movement from educators has pushed for a proposed ballot initiative to repeal the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) as a graduation requirement while still keeping the test.

Currently, Massachusetts students can only graduate if they pass the ELA and math MCAS taken in tenth grade, in addition to one high school science MCAS.

The movement is led by the Massachusetts Teachers Association with support from teacher unions around the state and the American Federation of Teachers Massachusetts (AFTMA). After getting enough signatures to qualify through the first round, the legislature is required to act on the petition. If the legislature fails to pass the petition or propose a substitute by May 1, then the movement will have to collect more signatures to send the ballot question to Massachusetts voters in November.

Out of about 70,000 students who take the tenth-grade MCAS every year, around 2,500 students, or about four percent of the test-takers, fail. Of those 2,500 students, over 700 students, or about one percent of those who take the test, pass the local graduation requirements but cannot receive a diploma because of the MCAS.

AFTMA president Beth Kontos shares, “The majority of students that can’t pass after multiple attempts are students that don’t have proficiency in English and students with disabilities. So we find it to be unfair and discriminatory that two groups that are affected are two protected classes of people.”

Supporters of the change argue that it will give the over 700 students unable to graduate due to the MCAS each year a chance to move on with their careers. They also argue that it will take an unnecessary strain off teachers who could dedicate more time to instruction.

Boston Latin School English teacher Ms. Kristy Medvetz shares her opinion about the requirement: “I think [the MCAS] tends to reward those students in districts that are already privileged and it tends to unduly punish marginalized populations.”

Opponents argue that the change would create different standards within the state that would cause confusion for students and families. Secretary of Education Patrick Tutwiler, in an interview on WBZ’s Keller @ Large explains, “That question, if it passes, would deliver us to a place of no standard — essentially, 351 different standards for high school graduation. I don’t believe that is the direction to go. The governor does not believe that is the direction to go, so no, I do not support it.”

Opponents also believe that the existing standard helps prepare students for future studies by setting specific benchmarks. BLS English teacher Mr. Andy Zou explains, “We should set high expectations for students because, compared to other states, [the] MCAS is much more difficult, but you must have that because kids should be able to accomplish base levels in mathematics and reading [and] writing.”

Originally created by the state legislature in 1993 to increase school accountability, the MCAS was first administered in 1998 and became a graduation requirement in 2003. The bar to pass was raised recently in August 2022 by the Massachusetts Board of Education and will be raised higher in coming years.

Past action attempting to end the graduation requirement included a 2021-2022 bill that made it out of the Education Committee, but died after no further action was taken.

Governor Maura Healey and Secretary Tutwiler have opposed cutting the MCAS altogether, but are open to making changes in order to support the students who are unable to graduate after failing. The MCAS cannot be cut by Massachusetts according to federal law, but the state can shift its graduation requirements as needed.

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