Schools

‘The wrong way to go’: Lawmakers urge state education officials to reject raising MCAS passing scores

"This proposal would add even more stress to high school students’ already stressful lives."

Tom Landers / The Boston Globe

Ninety-seven lawmakers on Beacon Hill are urging the state’s education regulators to reject a proposal seeking to raise passing scores for MCAS exams that are necessary for high school graduation, arguing the move would exacerbate longstanding achievement gaps and compound students’ stress.

In a letter to Department of Elementary and Secondary Education Commissioner Jeff Riley and the department’s board members on Monday, the bipartisan group of legislators spoke out against a pending proposal the board is slated to consider on June 28.

If passed, students graduating high school in 2026 through 2029 would have to achieve higher MCAS scores than previous classes for graduation in mathematics, English language arts, and science.

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Lawmakers wrote, however, raising passing grades is “likely to intensify, not reverse, negative consequences of 24 years of the high-stakes MCAS,” with consequences most impacting students who are already facing disproportionate challenges, such as English learners, students with disabilities, and students of color.

Yet, DESE has said that closing achievement gaps between student demographics is one of its top priorities, officials wrote.

The proposal is “unwise and unjust,” lawmakers wrote.

“If the state’s goal is racial and social equity, this is the wrong way to go,” they wrote.

The letter was spearheaded by Sens. Jo Comerford, a Northampton Democrat, and Pat Jehlen, a Somerville Democrat, and Rep. Jim Hawkins, an Attleboro Democrat.

Since MCAS scores were first required for graduation in 2003, over 52,000 students have reached the end of high school without passing the mandated tests, according to officials.

“Students who are denied diplomas based on MCAS scores have effectively been given the status of high school dropouts, regardless of whether or not they have successfully fulfilled all other graduation requirements,” the letter reads. “Their futures have been foreclosed. We believe that all kids in the Commonwealth are worthy of a bright future.”

The Bay State is one of only 11 states that still require some form of standardized tests as a graduation requirement.

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And such tests have broad limitations, lawmakers wrote.

“High-stakes tests, such as MCAS, focus learning on a narrow range of skills, to the detriment of skills needed in the wider world such as problem solving, innovation, communication, social skills, emotional resilience, appreciation of diversity, and teamwork skills,” they wrote.

Legislators also have serious concerns about the impact the COVID-19 pandemic is having on students’ mental health.

“This proposal would add even more stress to high school students’ already stressful lives,” the letter reads. “Many students who fail high-stakes tests suffer from negative emotional consequences, including reduced self-confidence. Even those who pass face weeks of stress during test prep and testing.”

Jehlen, in a statement, said raising the scores “will make it harder for our most vulnerable students to get diplomas, limiting their opportunities for jobs and military service.

“Their schools will focus even more on test preparation; students won’t have the chance to develop skills in collaboration, creativity, and critical thinking,” Jehlen said.

Read the full letter:

20220621 Letter to Board of Elementary and Secondary Education Re Mcas Passing Scores 1 by Christopher Gavin on Scribd

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